FATHER RICHARD’S PARISH LETTER
The month of November is sometimes known as the Month of the Dead. November 1st is All Saints Day when we bless God for those among our human family who have exhibited so beautifully that we all have the capacity, and indeed vocation, to ‘mirror’ God – in whose image we are made.
On November 2nd, we remember in our thoughts and prayers all those who like us have striven to bare/be the image of God, sometimes achieving that by the grace of God, but too often failing. The day after All Saints Day – we remember all the dead, for their healing and transfiguration.
I write this letter on the last night of my holiday, and during that time I have read Susan Hill’s novel, ‘In the Springtime of the Year’. It is a wonderful book and I recommend you reading it. Ruth is a widow bereaved of her young husband, Ben. The novel deals sensitively with the various stages of bereavement and loss.
There is a beautiful part of the novel where she attends the Easter Mass, she encounters what the Church calls ‘The Communion of Saints’, that the dead have not just ‘gone’, but gone to the God of the living and the dead.
‘But what she became aware of after that was not the presence of the village people sitting or kneeling behind her, but of others, the church was full of all those who had ever prayed in it, the air was crammed and vibrating with their goodness and the freedom and power of their resurrection, and she felt herself to be part of some great, living and growing tapestry, every thread of which joined with and crossed and belonged to every other, though each one was entirely and distinctly itself. She heard again the strange music in her head and her ears, and yet somewhere far outside of them.
‘But it also came to her that she might, after all, be simply going out of her mind, and she wondered if grief could become a sort of madness, which did not only cause one to weep and to despair, but to be light-headed, with invisible sights and unheard sounds, imaginary consolations.
She opened her eyes again and saw the flowers and the sun on the walls, and these were real, living and beautiful, she was not imagining them or the joy they gave her, the reassurance; and when the clergy came in and they stood to sing the Easter hymn, she felt for the first time, not since Ben’s death, but since coming here at all, that she truly belonged, that these people were part of her life, as she was of theirs, and there was no need for her suspicion and hostility, her pride and fear, these were dangerous, cancerous, and could, in the end, destroy her. Everything, everything, she was and believed and understood, that Easter morning. She knelt. She said, ‘I shall never do wrong again. I shall not weep out of pity for myself, or doubt what is true or fail to be grateful. I shall be well. I shall be well.’ And it seemed impossible that it should not be so, she was so full of strength and purpose and assurance, so far away from the nights of bitterness and despair.
Nothing could ever harm her again.’*
At every Mass we say or sing ‘therefore with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Thy glorious name evermore praising Thee and saying, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy.’ Do we live as if we really believed it?
My Mother died just before I came to Hay, back in 2001. I remember at every Mass her saying, “We are very close with our beloved dead when we received Holy Communion”.
I think of her words every time I celebrate the Mass. I heard her words as a child, but as I get older, I know them.
With Love and Prayers
*Quoted from ‘In the Springtime of the Year’ by Susan Hill. Published by Vintage Books 2012