Archbishop Patrick Kelly celebrated the annual outdoor Mass in Yew Tree Cemetery on Sunday 4 July. On a very windy day, with the threat of rain, hundreds came to pray for those buried there and the rain never came. The Archbishop reminded the congregation that while it is good for us to grieve at the death of family members and friends (we remember that jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus) the Mass should make us appreciate and enjoy our lives and that we should recall happy memories of our loved ones who have died - they are even more alive than we are because they are closer to Jesus. We are close to them in the moment of Holy Communion.
Introduction to Mass and Homily preached by the Most Reverend Patrick Kelly, Archbishop of Liverpool, at open air Mass in Yew Tree Cemetery, Liverpool. Sunday 4 July 2010 at
Introduction to Mass:
‘The truth will make you free.’ Someone once wrote a book called; ‘Hospital, the Place of Truth’. He meant many things: you cannot pretend in the face of serious illness; if you look at what forms of frailty claim most resources you see the values of a society. But today I suggest this: our Lord’s word: the truth will set you free encourage me to name Yew Tree: a Cemetery: a place of truth. There is no pretending: monuments or the lack of them speak clearly; and the truth will set us free. And today it takes this form: one obvious fact: you have to die before you qualify for a plot here. And the word of God, we will soon receive offers us three different ways in which death comes: to the young; to members of our community; to the Lord Jesus himself. And what we receive will set us free to prepare, to grieve, and to live securely, strongly, at peace.
Those words from the Book of Wisdom are chosen for many funerals. But I think it is wise and is a truth to set us free to notice this: they were written not about any death, but of good, honest, wise people dying young. It was written about those who suffered because they spoke the truth, did not compromise, whatever the cost.
So, the first truth to set us free: to live, do, speak the truth, to bear witness to the Lord who is the way, the truth, the life, by, for example celebrating the Lord’s Day, Sunday by taking part in the Mass, may lead others to make fun of us, smirk at us, suggest we are out of touch, not living in the real world, keeping up with the times. The truth of the Book of Wisdom sets us free: what you suffer for being faithful to our Lord is only being tested like gold: the promise is ours: ‘They who trust him will understand the truth; those who are faithful will live with him in love; for grace and mercy await those he has chosen.’
And the second way of dying: the death of our brothers and sisters who have been one with us in the Church, part of our family in our Lord; who have become one body, one spirit with us through the one bread and one cup. The truth is certain: ‘those who have died within this family will be taken up with us ’to meet the Lord. So we shall stay with the Lord for ever.’ And that is why we ‘do not grieve about them like the other people who have no hope.’ St Paul did not say we do not grieve: the truth that sets us free says: we do grieve; after all through our Lord our love for one another is stronger than in the life of so many others: we love each other as he has loved us; and the greater our love, the more we will miss them and the more keen will be our loss, the deeper our sorrow; we know the truth: Jesus wept. We do grieve; but not like those who have no hope. That is why it is so important to make sure the Funeral Mass is always that and never becomes a funeral service or a celebration of someone’s life. Our reason for not grieving like those who have no hope is that we place our confidence in this fact: we place the whole story of those we love into the Mass, the sacrifice of the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. We would be the saddest of all people if we were reduced to placing our hope in what we or those dear to us have accomplished.
And so to the Gospel: the pattern of the dying of our Lord: he was not just put to death: he took hold of his dying and the final word was not of Judas or the Religious Leaders or Herod, or Pilate or the executioners; the last word was his: ‘Father into your hands I commend my spirit’. Some of you may remember when we used to talk about the last sacraments, the last rites. We usually meant the anointing; but as we celebrated yesterday at St Agnes: the anointing is the touch, the word, of Our Lord and an outpouring of the Holy Spirit to enable some of our sisters and brothers to serve our Lord and all of us in a new way: not in health, but in sickness, not in strength but weakness, not in the vigour of youth, but the frailty of advancing years. It is by no means meant to be a last rite, a last sacrament.
But we do have a last sacrament; we do have a gift that is meant to be received in the full awareness that it is time for us to face the fact of death close at hand. Sadly, we have failed to proclaim this gift as we should have done. Some rejoiced when we could anoint people earlier and so not scare them; but that is not the whole story; St Paul taught us: ‘If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.’
It is communion accompanied by words of Our Lord such as ‘anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the last day.’ There can be a renewal of baptismal promises; after all baptism plunged us into the death and the rising of Our Lord. And after the usual words at communion these words are added: ‘May the Lord Jesus Christ protect you and lead you to eternal life.’ And what is going to be essential for us all to know in the very near future: since there will be far fewer priests: this final gift can be brought not only by a priest, or deacon, but Eucharistic ministers too.
The truth will set us free: the clarity of the word of God about suffering for the sake of truth, about where we place our hope, about the absolute certainty of death and the gift of a wonderful, clear, no pretending celebration of the presence of our Lord at the end of our pilgrimage on earth: it all sets us free: the Mass in this cemetery is a place of truth.