Thursday 22 November 2018

Remembrance Sunday

I was struck by the number of photographs I saw for Remembrance Sunday with various depictions of poppies. As well as offering Requiem Mass in the morning, I attended an outdoor evening service at the South Ribble Memorial at the top of the road where our church is situated. Poems were read, the Last Post sounded, a beacon lighted and prayers were led.

What I did notice in the many photographs going around was the abundance of different interpretations in Catholic churches. Cascades of poppies, candles and tea lights, flags and banners.

Although I did see one which had the altar draped in the national flag, which I think is strictly forbidden. I think canon law actually forbids the draping of coffins within the church at Mass with any national flag. Only Christian symbols are permitted - the crucifix being the most commonly seen. (Sadly, I now keep a crucifix to hand on the sanctuary at funerals because I've been surprised more than once by a coffin arriving in with no crucifix upon it.)

But I digress.

As artistic and thoughtful as many of these representations were, it did cross my mind that we were once again re-inventing the wheel. In our Catholic tradition we have a long standing and (until recent times) liturgically mandated way of presenting a symbolic image to call to mind those who had died.

 The catafalque.

This, what we might call a sacramental, is a powerful reminder of death - of those who fell in combat or for those for whom we are praying, for example on All Souls Day. It is powerful because it is personal. After all, when did we last see a coffin on that very spot in the church? Probably when we attended the funeral of a family member or friend. It reminds us that wee too will one day be on that same spot. A powerful incentive indeed, to pray for ourselves and for others. Also, a real experience in a society where death is put at a distance from us or sadly trivialized by the "celebration of life" fixation, which leaves the soul un-prayed for and again, distances us from the harsh realities of life and death.

Uncomfortable to bring thoughts of death so near and stir up perhaps painful memories? Indeed quite possibly so. But if our Faith asks anything of us, it is to confront the Truth. With Jesus at our side, the Truth can then begin to set us free - even from slavery to sin and death.

The word "religion" comes from the Latin "religare", meaning "to bind". From a sociological point of view, a religion is a coherent system of practices and beliefs through which the community of believers know who thy are and what they are to do. These beliefs and practices tell and enact the story that holds the community together. When we're all doing something different, this begins to fall apart. On a grander scale, the loss of Christian religion in the West has been accelerating precisely because of the loss of these shared experiences and practices. 

To me, this seems like one more example in the long, long list of what we have stopped sharing from our own Tradition in favour of mimicking the secular world around us... and therefore fragments and weakens us.

There is still room for creativity - as is evidenced from these images.

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