In November, each year, we remember all those who have passed on before us. November is known as the ‘Month of the Dead’, but actually, it should, more appropriately, be called the ‘Month of the Living’, because we know that, those who have gone before us, are not in an empty void for ever. I would rather call it the ‘Month of All Saints’! Those who have died are truly alive, if in union with God, for the life we have been living on this earth, is a preparation for the life to come, the life of pure, and total, happiness in heaven, for which people yearn. This assertion is based on our faith, but it is faith that, at one and the same time, is also knowledge – not in the sense of things we see – like material things, but in the sense ephemeral qualities such as love and wisdom; we all know what they are, though we cannot see them with our eyes.  There are many other qualities like admiration, compassion, awe in the presence of things much greater than ourselves and grief; all of these are very real to us, and truly, we know them to be real – yet invisible.

Photo of the Michelangelo ‘Pieta’ 

To move on, the significance of that heart-breaking moment when Mary was with her dead Son, at the foot of the Cross, came back to me last Sunday, when, in the ‘Readings’, we thought about the ‘End of the World’. We have all, from time to time, reflected on that Crucifixion scene and ‘observed’ the fullness of life ‘snuffed out’ – out of love for us – together with the utter beauty and simplicity of grief, an experience that all human beings face. Yet, look at the face of Mary!


Photo of a Close-up of Mary’s Face 

She is lost in her own thoughts and grief – how could she be otherwise? But, in that very same face, the genius of Michelangelo has ‘captured’ her with a wonderful sense of divine serenity. Furthermore, she looks younger than her son, Jesus, and, even if you take into account the terrible sufferings throughout his Passion and death, nonetheless Mary would have been roughly fifty years of age, given that Jesus died at three and thirty. Michelangelo had a vast spiritual and theological knowledge; quite deliberately, he would have sculpted his statue to make her look young. As Jesus is the one in whom all human beings die to sin – and thence to ‘light’ – so this death of Jesus and his placement in the arms of his beloved mother, connects with our death and our human grieving; it links with us, and our experiences and feelings. I think it shows that in every circumstance of life, if we remain in God, then ‘Hope Springs Eternal’. That is what ‘youth’ is about and our world, compared to the God who exists before all time, is a young, vulnerable offshoot; yet despite all the vulnerability and limitations – including sinfulness and evil – we have a sure sign of hope that nothing can destroy, as long as we ‘abide in Him, and He abides in us’.

Now, in contrast, I invite you to look at how Michelangelo portrays despair; the contrast between Mary’s serenity – in grief – and despair is very marked; the two are ‘poles apart’ And, despair inevitably is the fate of one who refuses to abide in God, thinking he, or she, can go it alone.


Picture of the Damned going to Hell in the Sistine Chapel, by Michelangelo 

Tradition has it that, of all the disciples of Jesus, Mary, his Mother, did not need Jesus appearing to her, immediately after the Resurrection, as he did to Mary Magdalene, for instance.  This was because she ‘knew’ in her heart that, despite the dreadful tragedy she had experienced at the foot of the cross, all would be well. She lived, and experienced, what we now call the theological virtues of perfect faith, hope and love.  These ‘perfect virtues’ are gifts from God to a person, impossible to achieve without the help of God himself. Ourselves alone, we cannot – without divine help – achieve these qualities.

In conversation with a parishioner, whose husband died, very suddenly, last week, she told me in her sorrow that, when the paramedics arrived and tried their best to resuscitate him, his arm just ‘flopped’;  in her view, the life in her husband had already ‘gone’. This last action of the body, as death takes hold, is so well portrayed in the sculpture, below. Again, Michelangelo has caught, in the marble he worked so marvellously, a moment that is ‘eternal’. Each of us – in our own way – can read into this beautiful work of art, many different reactions’.


Picture of Jesus Truly Dead in the Lap of Mary 

Still in November, the Parish has ‘enjoyed’ two liturgies for those of our community who have died; many of them, I am sure, have achieved high levels of holiness. The first was the 11.00am Mass on the first Sunday of November, and the second – not a Mass but a ‘Service of Light, Song, Remembrance and Thanksgiving’ – embraced words of hope from the scriptures, to envelop us; projected photographs of those who have died in the past two years, brought back for a time, our beloved memories of them. At both liturgies, there was a sense of enormous grief, at the loss of those we have loved. This sense of grief happens for believers and unbelievers alike. On this note, I sometimes wonder whether the Christian actually feels more grief, than the person with no faith.  I question this, precisely, because the Christian has allowed the human ‘essence’, fully to develop and grow, largely because there is small reason to be afraid of any hurt we cannot bear. Without that knowledge, the hurt could be too much for some, and, in that regard, they may then protect themselves by not allowing themselves to become too close to another, as their loss would be so painful.

I make no apology for my essay on the subject of November and its timeless association with ‘Those Who Have Died’, because, as I said earlier, on the ‘other side of the coin’ there is hope, there is light, there is sainthood. This means that we can always reflect on our ‘everlasting’ and ‘youthful’ hope in the ‘Light of the World’ – Jesus – portrayed by the Paschal Candle, in any Church. Here, below, is shown the Easter candle from St. Mary’s in Leyland, together with the candles lighted at the service, this week, when people came to be in communion, with those that have gone before us, and whom we all remembered, before God, knowing they too will be in communion with us: each little candle shines a light for each and every one of them – lighting our way to them – and their way to us.

Picture of the Paschal Candle and Smaller Candles on the Altar 

I conclude with the very famous prayer of the now Blessed, Cardinal Newman; this beautiful prayer is printed on the memorial card, of my mother, now already resting in Christ, for 14 years. It was he who helped her to take the step to enter into full communion with our Church.  Blessed John Henry Newman, pray for us. 


Prayer of Cardinal Newman