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May We Die with You, To Rise with You in Glory

October 15th, 2012by Sr. Marla Gipson

Recently I attended the funeral rites of a young person who experienced a tragic death. The line at the funeral home was continuously long. On the day of the funeral the Church was packed. No one knows what to say. Everyone is grappling with mixed emotions-one minute sad, another minute angry, another perplexed. 

Its times like this, at crisis moments in life, that I feel helpless. What do we do as Catholics during these moments? We return to ritual. I love that the Catholic Church knows how to do its rituals. During these rituals we get to do something, engaging all our senses. We use our bodies to express ourselves whether it be our ears to hear, our minds to listen, using gestures with our arms, hands, and legs, or our verbal responses. 

And so we gathered together during the funeral rites of our beloved person to remember what God says. We heard from God about God’s love. We heard consoling words, God’s words. We heard words which will help us, in time, get unstuck from our anger and bewilderment. At these times the Church has a message which is powerful and consoling. Our beloved person is now in the arms of the ultimate Beloved.

In ritual we united ourselves and our beloved with the death of Jesus. In our grief a part of us is dying too. Our loss is so great but we know the story doesn’t end there. Jesus lives on. Jesus lives within each one of us to this present moment, this present day. But he died to his human body so that we might have life in union, in friendship, with him throughout all our days. Its friendship with Jesus which gets us through the death of someone we love, let alone an unexpected tragic death.

During funeral liturgies like this one, the Great Amen was sung with so much feeling. I love it when we sing the roof off. Singing the roof off is an expression of passionate feeling. This also happens during joyous occasions. In this case it was the heartfelt conviction that Jesus transcends all. It’s staking our lives on Christ because without him, where would we be? He conquers all and in our lack of understanding he will see us through all. 

After the procession to the altar to receive Jesus, we were still not finished. At this parish the gravesite service was in the parish cemetery. It was a march of people out of the front and side doors of the Church, moving into procession, then walking alongside one another down the adjacent country road for about a quarter of a mile. Hundreds of people were led by a multiple number of vested priests, one with a cross held high. In our movement we were a visible sign of the united Christian community. And no one was saying a word.

It was a silent procession with only the sound of everyone’s feet clicking the pavement. I deeply felt the power of this part of the ritual. We could physically act out our grief.  We communally put our bodies into that final walk of goodbye. Together we physically walked our beloved to his promised land, sending him off with our minds, our hearts, and our final words. Then almost each person took their turn in a long line in order to sprinkle holy water on the casket.

And after that there was nothing more to say, nothing more to do. People quietly lingered and finally, slowly, began to walk out of the cemetery.

Now, since that day, life just continues. But healing will come as sure as the resurrection.

Sr. Marla Gipson

Sr. Marla Gipson C.PP.S is a Sister of the Precious Blood. She currently lives in Minster, Ohio with a local community of Sisters where she ministers part-time as a Pastoral Associate at St. Augustine Church. She also ministers part-time as a Religious Education Consultant for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in the northern area regional Office of Evangelization and Catechesis and serves as one of the many Course Instructors for catechist certification. She holds a B.A. in Sociology from Ohio State University and an M.A. in Theological Studies from the University of Dayton.