Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Requiem for the Requiem

Eleven days ago my father passed away after a long battle with prostate cancer. Despite his struggles and hospitalization for an infection, the initial cause of his stay in the facility had cleared out and he was due for a discharge in a few days when a blood clot budged from his right leg and traveled to his lung, instantly bringing him from a Texan hospital bed to the "awesome judgement seat of Christ" against which we pray for a good answer in the Divine Liturgy.

My father detested the changes to the Church in the 1960s, complaining that "there were never deacons or sermons before all that Vatican II stuff." The vernacularization of the Mass coincided with a divorce and his shadow only rarely haunted a Church after 1970. He always considered himself a Catholic despite, like many of his generation, ignoring what the Church taught and asked for. He was away from the Church for longer than he rested in her bosom. After his passing I reviewed an old wallet that included a 1963 driver's license, two miraculous medals, a 1964 Goldwater campaign pin, and a Crucifix.

Two weeks before his somewhat unexpected death we arranged a local parish priest to pay a visit and see if my father would consent to the Last Rites of the Church. Mostly unconscious, he did have his Lord Marchmain moment. He greeted the priest and welcomed him before his cognition failed. The priest anointed him, said the prayers prescribed by the Roman Ritual, and ended with an Our Father. At this moment my father regained full awareness, said the Lord's prayers in its entirety, and fell back asleep. He had his entire life to practice for this moment. How did he do? God knows.

What has followed is the unhappy realization that modern funerals more often focus on the living than the dead. Fearful of death, he only made two requests in his life: that he not be cremated and that he receive a traditional Catholic funeral. Sadly, he never committed these requests to writing. Against his desire and my objection, he has gone to flames in this world, although hopefully not in the next. I arranged a Tridentine Requiem Mass only to be overridden by [Protestant] family who demanded the cancellation of the affair on the grounds that flowers ought not be in the church, that eulogies are not said, that Methodist hymns may not supplant the texts of the Roman Missal, and that the "Catholic Church has a very grim and un-hopeful Tradition on death." The Requiem Mass is now dead.

Our post-Protestant, secular society is so very fearful of death that we have become unaccustomed to something every single person who ever has and ever will live will do at least once: die. Unless one lives to see the End Times, we will all die just as all before us have died. Death is unhappy, miserable, the wage for sin, but certainly it is normal. For most funerals are less focused on commending the deceased to God or even respectfully closing out a life. Instead, like Google executives who decide to opt out of death, they are ways for friends and family to manage and avoid grief.

One often hears "So and so is in a better place." Really? Then cry not for his loss. "He's gone to meet [insert deceased relative's name]." Really? The only barbecue in eternity is one replete with unhappy guests.

I cannot reasonably fault my extended family for following our culture in their aversion to something embedded in our lapsed nature. Society has no foundation for dealing with death anymore. We cannot manage to deal with it religiously because our little remaining religion is superficial and institutional, not felt in the heart. There are no philosophers either capable of dealing with death, only atheistic writers obsessed with Darwinian evolution and the pointlessness of existence. Indeed, we are less equipped to deal with death than the pagans who lived before the coming of the Lord Jesus, who at least had philosophy and the experience of a difficult life to empower them. We are too comfortable even to be people.

A proper Requiem Mass in the older rite will happen and several have already been said. In the interim, tempus fugit, momento mori! Pray from my father in your charity.

Incline Thy ear, O Lord, to the prayers with which we suppliantly entreat Thy mercy, and do Thou, in a place of peace and rest, establish the soul of Thy servant Francis Joseph, whom Thou hast called out of this world; and cause him to be joined to the fellowship of Thy saints.


  1. My condolences. Rest assured of my prayers for your father.
    A couple of months ago I had the privilege of serving at a Requiem Mass (a bit of a strange affair as it was sung, though only one server and no incense). I had heard recordings amd seen videos but there is nothing like actually being there. While sober, it is an extremely hopeful Mass and I can only guess at why someone would say it is a sombre affair.
    We try not to hide the reality of death from our little ones. We took them to a relative's wake last year, in spite of family protestations against.

  2. Requiescat in pace.

    I could not agree more about the strange "flight from death" which is a flight from reality, since death reminds us that we are not gods who are immortal but creatures dependent on a source external to us.

    I wrote something recently about Nicolas Diat's (to my knowledge, not yet well known) book on what monks can teach us about dying:

  3. Prayers assured for your dear Father (R.I.P.).

  4. I'm sorry for your loss. Prayers ascending!

  5. May he rest in peace and my condolences to you Rad Trad and to your family.

  6. Requiem aeternam. My condolences to you, my right honourable friend. Love the Lord Marchmain reference, and even more so, for what it means.

  7. May he rest in peace - I am sorry for your loss, and for the conflicts with your family. Prayers.