Inevitably in November, our thoughts and prayers turn instinctively towards the dead – that is true, at least that was so for an older generation, but that is less the case today. There is a tendency even to avoid the word “death” – people now usually “pass on.” There is also a trend to privatising our funerals and our grieving. A recent item about people feeling their funerals were being gate-crashed by parishioners who just turned up at the church received wide coverage on BBC Radio. It earned a riposte in The Tablet from the Melanie McDonagh who, declared in good Irish Catholic style, “everyone is welcome to my funeral.”
In “Ashes to Ashes: Changing Funeral Patterns in Ireland,” Triona Doherty takes a look at the changes in the rituals of death in Ireland such as the decline of the wake and the evening removal to the church, the rise of the funeral home especially in rural Ireland, the increasing popularity of cremation and the non-religious funeral service. Sarah Adams in “Praying Our Good Byes” explores how the liturgy offers words and rituals that enable individuals and families to grieve while also offering a window into hope. The editor outlines the history of cremation, and discusses the recent Vatican instruction, ““Ad resurgendum cum Christo: Regarding the burial of the
deceased and the conservation of the ashes in the case of cremation.” As is frequently the case, media reporting focused on the negative – you shall not scatter the ashes on a hill-side or at sea or make them into jewellery – while failing to see the positive, especially the faith vision that inspired it in the first place.
“Living in Memory” is a photographic essay on the way of life of our Redemptoristine sisters in their monastery in Drumcondra. In addition to the sisters’ routine of divine office and prayer, it offers glimpses into their daily work of making hosts, candles and icons, and celebrates key moments, such as a new postulant, Sr Maire Brid, being greeted by the wonderfully fresh-faced Sr Jacinta celebrating 70 years in the community this year.
In our Year of the Family section, a young mother, Jenna Haley, describes how she and her husband Dan prepared for the birth of their son, Shane Michael, whom they had been warned suffered from “a fatal foetal abnormality” and who would die shortly after birth. They were determined to do with him before his birth everything they would have dreamed of doing with him had he lived to be a healthy baby (including by the way, a visit to the shrine of St John Neumann). Shane Michael was baptised shortly after his birth in the presence of both sides of his family and died within a short time. As Jenna says, “for 39 weeks we carried our son with us through adventures together as a family. We created memories that would last us a lifetime, and a journey that, in itself, was a miracle. We learned what true love was, and what it meant to be parents to a child who wouldn’t be here long on earth with us…. We are forever changed by Shane and are thankful for the time that God blessed us to have him here on earth.”
George Wadding continues his series of imaginative gospel reflections in the “Prayer Corner” by helping us to imagine how the Rich Young Man in the gospel story may have looked back in later life on the day he declined Jesus’ invitation to follow him. Carmel Wynne, who is probably better known for her monthly column on relationships, also has an interest in spirituality and introduces us to “Anthony de Mello’s Four Stages of Prayer.”
“Under the Microscope” is our regular look at books or cinema. The microscope this month is turned on a very large book on the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Refuge (elder sisters of the Good Shepherd) and their work for ‘Magdalenes’ in High Park and Gloucester St in Dublin. The author of this highly academic study is Dr Jacinta Prunty, head of the Maynooth University History department, and a sister of the Congregation of Holy Faith and by patient use of sources, it tries to set the record straight in a story that has become very distorted by one sided and inaccurate reporting.
The usual columns are there – Young Voice, Family and Relationships, Peter McVerry’s Reality Check and God’s Word this month. Let me leave you with gem of a “Reflection” by the great Michael O Muircheartaigh of a Tipperary-Galway encounter: “Pat Fox has it on his hurl and is motoring well now, but here comes Joe Rabbitte, hot on his tail… I’ve seen it all now, a Rabbitte chasing a Fox around Croke Park!”