Memorial Mass for those buried in a Trappist Casket or Urn

Scripture Readings: Rom 8:14-23; Mt 11:25-30                                                  

Today we celebrate our annual Mass of Remembrance for those buried in a Trappist Casket or urn and for their loved ones.  Because of the pandemic, the Abbey has not been able to celebrate a Memorial Mass in the presence of all the relatives and friends of those who have died. 

Today’s Mass is one of the ways we pray for a person who is buried in a Trappist Casket or urn.  Another way we remember these loved ones is by planting a tree in their honor within New Melleray’s forest.  The memorial tree is planted in the springtime of the year with a blessing by the monks.  These trees are not individually marked for each person, but they are planted together with the other memorial trees for those who have died in the previous year. 

A third way we pray for these loved ones is by blessing each casket or urn before it is delivered.  A card is attached containing the blessing and signed by one of the monks.  The blessings express our Christian belief in eternal life, and remind us of the hope we have for heaven. 

Here is the blessing for a casket: “Merciful Father, by your Son’s suffering, death, and rising from the dead, we are freed from death and promised a share in your divine life. We ask you now to bless this casket. Receive the soul of our departed brother or sister who is laid in this humble bed as in a cradle, safe in your care until the day of resurrection, when we will all be reunited in the vision of your glory who are Father, Son, and Spirit, God forever and ever.  Amen.”

And here is the blessing for an urn: “Lord, we rejoice in the victory of your son over death: by rising from the tomb to new life, he gives us new hope and promise.  Bless this urn and bless the soul of our departed loved one whose ashes it will contain. Surround them with your love and protection until they are safely restored to you in eternal life where death will be no more. We make this prayer in the name of Jesus Christ your Son. Amen”

There is yet a fourth way that we pray for these loved ones.  At the celebration of Vespers, our daily evening prayer, which is the prayer of Christ in the Church, we intercede for them. Along with other intentions the community prays with Christ for those buried in a Trappist Casket or urn, not just once a year, or once a week, but every day.  Because the liturgy is an action of Christ and of His Body which is the Church, it is a sacred action surpassing all others.  In the Constitution on the Liturgy at the Second Vatican Council we read that “[No] other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree” (Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, #7).

Christ is always present in His Church in her liturgical celebrations, especially the Mass and the sacraments.  He is present in His word, since it is Christ Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church. And He is present when the Church prays and sings together, for He promised: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20).

So, every time the monastic community gathers together in this beautiful church to pray for those who have gone before us, it is a prayer of the whole Mystical Body of Jesus Christ. That is why it is a sacred action surpassing all others.  In our earthly liturgy we take part in the heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God.  We sing with all the saints in heaven, and we hope for some part and fellowship with them.

Now, I want to tell you a story about mixing sorrow at the death of a loved one, with moving forward on life’s journey.  It’s a true story about my own mother’s death from cancer at the age of 50, and my behavior at her wake when I was only ten years old.  Back in 1948 it was common to have a wake in one’s own home.  My mother’s casket, (I like to think of it as a treasure chest), was placed in our living room.  Chairs lined the walls and flowers in vases covered every available table space.  I realized the significance of my mother’s death, but I was also a young entrepreneur, always looking for ways to make a little money.  Not being able to change the past, I was alert to ways of enhancing the future.  As relatives, neighbors and friends of my parents came to offer their condolences I met them at the door and began selling the flowers and a place to sit in the living room.  My father was in another room at the time, when a very close friend approached him saying, “Frank, I’m sorry to be laughing, I mean no disrespect, but your son, Stephen, is at the front door selling flowers and places to sit.”  My mother’s death would bring tears to my eyes for years to come, but at that moment in time opportunity was knocking and I became a little salesperson.  Being so young all these good people cut me a little slack, and cooperated with my unseemly behavior at my mother’s wake.  But of all those who witnessed this scene, I believe my mother was also present in her spirit, laughing with joy at my ingenuity and pleased to see her little son moving forward in life.  As Charles Vaughan once expressed it, “In joy remember sorrow.  In sorrow remember joy.”1

  1. 1. “Lessons in Life and Godliness: A Selection of Sermons” by Charles Vaughan, Macmillan, London, 1862.