Throughout most of 2020 news and social media outlets have provided us with daily updates on the number of deaths recorded with or from Covid-19. After so many months, we can easily tire of listening to these news items and, unintentionally, desensitise ourselves to these deaths as they become just another sad statistic. The Church, however, offers us the month of November as a special moment in the year to pause, reflect and remember the dead, to pray for their eternal rest and to appreciate that many families are still mourning.
Dame Cicely Saunders, the founder of the modern Hospice movement, famously said: “How people die remains in the memory of those who live on”. For many, the memory of the death of loved ones in 2020 will be particularly painful as Covid-19 restrictions made being close to their loved ones in those last days and moments impossible or very difficult. Even though most people did not die as a result of Covid-19, the restrictions on social gatherings meant that all those who mourn could not have the regular support networks of extended family and friends present at wakes and funeral liturgies, as they would have had at any other time. Also, the stipulated closure of churches and places of worship meant that those sanctuaries of peace and prayer were not available to them; it was a most difficult time to mourn.
Even though church buildings were closed, all the while, the Church continually prayed for the deceased and their families. In the hospital, with nearly every patient I visited, we prayed together for the sick and dying, the dead and their families; many patients asked to pray for those who had no-one left to pray for them. Chaplains, nurses and auxiliaries stayed by bedsides keeping vigil as people slowly breathed their last. Chaplains and parish priests did their utmost to pray and comfort families over the phone. Indeed, for all of us, many more than we will ever know will have been close to us in prayer. As St Paul reminds us, we, too, are God’s temple and the Spirit of God lives among us (1 Corinthians 3:16). Now more than ever, the bereaved need the support of our prayers, a Church continually at prayer; they need to know that the Spirit of God is close to them.
During these past months, the Church has been offering special Masses for all in these times of Covid-19. Throughout November, in our homes, let us unite with the whole Church and take a moment to light a candle and pray for all the dead and those who mourn. I encourage you to pray the beautiful Collect, the initial prayer, of the Mass In time of Pandemic:
Almighty and eternal God,
our refuge in every danger,
to whom we turn in our distress;
in faith we pray:
look with compassion on the afflicted,
grant eternal rest to the dead, comfort to mourners,
healing to the sick, peace to the dying,
strength to healthcare workers, wisdom to our leaders
and the courage to reach out to all in love,
so that together we may give glory to your holy name. Amen.
Fr Robert Sloan
Chaplain, Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast
President, Northern Ireland Healthcare Chaplains Association