I like to consider myself a person of deep faith, but as I kissed my lifeless mother good-bye, I wondered: What if there is no eternal life? What if Catholic teaching is wrong about this? What if we live a few years and then perish forever? What if my faith is a fantasy to console myself in the face of this gut-wrenching parting?
To die suddenly as she did seemed to be a blessing, but it was also cruel. That her prayer to die at home was granted was consoling, but that she died alone was not. Belief and disbelief danced inside my mind after my mother’s death.
The Church Intercedes, the Church Ministers
My mother’s funeral Mass was celebrated twelve days following her death. The Order of Christian Funerals explains: “At the death of a Christian, whose life of faith was begun in the waters of Baptism and strengthened at the Eucharistic table, the Church intercedes on behalf of the deceased because of its confident belief that death is not the end, nor does it break the bonds forged in life. The Church also ministers to the sorrowing and consoles them in the funeral rites with the comforting Word of God and the Sacrament of the Eucharist.”
I was indeed consoled by the Church during the three parts of Christian burial: vigil service, funeral liturgy, and rite of committal. The Mass was celebrated by six priests dearly beloved of our family. As the grandchildren carried mom’s casket out of the Church, the six priests spontaneously sang “Salve Regina” for my mother. My heart soared. Many people were awe-struck.
At the end of mom’s burial day, my father said to me, “Promise that you will have the same beautiful Mass offered when my death comes, please. I especially loved the Mass and the priests.”
The beauty of the liturgy with its depth of meaning in each word and gesture lifted my heart toward Heaven. In the three services the Church celebrated for my mom on her burial day, those temptations to unbelief were overcome by the grace of faith that I saw to be real, not imagined. Through the Mass, I ceased to look only at the death and separation. I could raise my eyes to Heaven to remember God’s promises.
Kathleen Beckman, L.H.S., is president of the Foundation of Prayer for Priests and hosts the weekly radio program Eucharist, Mercy & Saints on Radio Maria. Her latest book is When Women Pray: Eleven Catholic Women on the Power of Prayer. For more on her work, see her website. “What If We Perish Forever?” is taken from a longer article on Catholic Exchange titled Burying Mom.