Prayerfully Remembering Our Deceased Brothers

In November, we pray for the dead

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Bonnar (new)Job said, “Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb, / and naked shall I go back there. / The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; / blessed be the name of the LORD!” (Jb 1:21).

While we enter this world with nothing and leave in the same way, in between our birth and death we are clothed with many blessings from God. These precious blessings take the form of relationships, communities, experiences, opportunities, accomplishments, health, money and possessions, just to name a few. As we live our lives, we learn rather quickly that these blessings can be suddenly and irretrievably lost. Some of these losses, especially when it comes to possessions, may be recovered, if we are lucky, in the local lost and found. Nevertheless, most of our losses can never be reclaimed, particularly when it involves the death of a dear loved one. In so many ways, life is about learning how to live and move on from loss.

In our parishes, it is the custom in the month of November to pray for the dead. A note in the 2023 Ordo states, “During November, we are called in a special way to remember ‘our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection’ (Eucharistic Prayer II).” We enter this solemn remembrance through the solemnity of All Saints and the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed otherwise known as All Souls’ Day.

It is not uncommon for parishes to host a special Mass of Remembrance for parish members who were buried in the past year. Candles are often lit in their memory as their names are announced. And throughout the rest of the month, in our personal prayer and visits to the cemetery, we pray for the dead, while at the same time prayerfully preparing ourselves for our own passage from this world. To that end, this time is opportune for us to make sure that we have a last will and testament with a living will that includes advanced directives along with an executor and power of attorney. Our eventual loss is mitigated by the presence of these documents.

As priests, we have an obligation to remember our deceased brother priests. One way we can do that is by reviewing the necrology found in the Ordo for each day and intentionally remembering those who have gone before us in faith. I know of one priest who lists the names of the deceased priests from his diocese on his schedule for each day. He even mentions their names when celebrating holy Mass. For example, he says, “And we pray for these men who died on this day.” Still, another way to accomplish this task of remembering our brothers is taking time in groups that support us and in priest gatherings to call out the name of the deceased priests with whom we served.

One of the remembrances we can take of our brothers, if we attended their wake or funeral liturgy, is the prayer card with their name listed. Many of these cards fill the pages of our breviaries. After 35 years of priesthood, I have accumulated many of these cards. November is a good time to gather these cards and pray for our brothers one by one.

There is yet another way we can remember our deceased priests. Usually, in Catholic cemeteries, there is a priest section where all the clergy are laid to rest. I would suggest trying to visit the priest section, to behold the tombstones, and to pray the Sorrowful or Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary.

In prayerfully remembering our deceased brothers, there is a sense in which we remind ourselves of our own mortality and the fact that we entered this world with nothing and will leave in the same way. Therefore, we might want to, in these November days, assess what we have and seek to live more simply by decluttering our lives. As we move from assignment to assignment, we can accumulate so much. But do we really need all that we have? Would someone else less fortunate benefit from what we have? Indeed, life is not only about learning how to live with loss, but also, how to let go.

BISHOP DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown.

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