Occasionally I am asked if I get nervous singing at church. The short answer is no, but the one ministerial task that trips me up from time to time is reading the name(s) of those for whom mass is being offered. When I have a name of unclear pronunciation I make something up and hope that the people sitting awkwardly near the gifts table don’t happen to be the entire extended family of the deceased, now even more distraught at having heard their family name butchered by the church singer.
Having mass said for someone is one of those peculiar Catholic customs that you hope doesn’t come up in mixed company. Since it usually involves a donation, on the surface it might look like a moneymaking scheme, reinforcing the misconception that Catholicism is pay-to-pray. There are as many reasons for requesting mass be said for someone as there are families and friends who have sent mass cards or gathered a memorial liturgies. There is grace in gathering together loved ones for worship, but there must be something more to it than that it makes us all feel nice to be in one place.
In the Eucharist we encounter Christ broken – could it be that that is some comfort in our own time of brokenness?
Death is such a great mystery that most of us avoid giving it much thought. It doesn’t surprise me that we bring this mystery to the great mysterion, the Eucharist. I have found comfort in a faith that doesn’t avoid mystery but sanctifies it, insisting on frequent celebration of a ritual we can never understand. We celebrate that magnum mysterium, that God got down in the muck with us and suffered just like we do. When we hold someone in our heart during the sacrifice of mass we offer their memory and ourselves up to that great mystery of a Triune, loving God.
I am remembering today two loved ones who died a year ago, so what began as a prosaic reflection on mispronounced names and grandkids bringing up the gifts has turned into something more serious. How fortunate I feel to participate regularly in ritual that doesn’t depend on answers but revels in questions: How is it that our community is knit together by bread broken? Why does God continue to meet us- sinful, silly, distracted people that we are?
How could the horror of death become an instrument of our salvation?