Bishop reissues Festival Letter on ‘Prayers for the Dead’

Photo Caption: “Our theology of death needs to be renewed and re-taught,” Bishop Jenky said in explaining why he has reissued his popular 2008 Festival Letter.

By: By Jennifer Willems

Of the 13 Festival Letters Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, has written to offer in-depth teaching on a particular topic each year, the one that is most requested for reprint by the clergy is “Prayers for the Dead”. Responding to that continued demand and “the pastoral needs of today,” he has reissued the Festival Letter, which was originally published in 2008.

Bishop Jenky said he chose to do it now to coincide with the month of November, which begins with All Saints’ Day on Nov. 1 and the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls’ Day) on Nov. 2.

“Our theology of death needs to be renewed and re-taught,” he recently told The Catholic Post.

“When you open the obituary pages you’ll see some devout member of St. So-and-So Parish, close to the church all their life, and no Mass,” Bishop Jenky said. “It’s usually because another generation says, ‘Oh they died at 99. All their friends are gone. What’s the point?’ The point is to offer the holy sacrifice of the Mass for the repose of their soul.”

In the Festival Letter, he emphasizes that “except in the most extraordinary circumstances” every Catholic should have a Mass of Christian Burial offered on their behalf after death and reminds readers that “the Mass is always an effective means of grace for both the living and the dead and must never be neglected.”

In addition, Bishop Jenky says remembering the dead in prayer “is both a work of mercy and an unbroken practice of the Holy Catholic Church.”

“We simply have no better way to express our love for those who have died than to arrange for Masses to be offered on their behalf. As we loved them in life, we must never forget them in death,” he writes, noting that the church’s intercessory rites provide an opportunity to “retell our family story to our children and their children’s children.”

“In the face of a culture, increasingly without memory, we can share with the young the unwavering faith of our Catholic ancestors and pass on the Church’s beautiful and sustaining traditions of familial prayer and piety,” he says.

Bishop Jenky told The Post that funeral liturgies are not the moment for “canonization” of the deceased, no matter how special they were to us.

“A funeral is how our death is involved and participates in the death and rising of Jesus,” he said. “It’s Christ that is preached at every funeral.”

While the funeral rites certainly celebrate the life of the person who has died, they are designed to remind us that “they were loved by Christ before they were ever loved by us,” the bishop explained.

He said he would like to bring back an understanding of the “sacral side” of dying.

“We all die. You’re not going to get out of this life alive,” he said. “We need to bring that to Jesus Christ. We do not mourn as those who have no faith.”

Part of helping people to recognize that has to do with the language we use, he said. For example, people are said to “pass away” now.

“No. They die. There is a role for being sad,” Bishop Jenky said. “It involves grief, but at the end of it we trust in the risen Christ, who will make sense of even the most awful things.”

He urged people to turn to the Blessed Mother for comfort in times of sorrow. She knelt at the foot of the cross when everyone else had abandoned Jesus and knows the searing pain we feel, he said. “She understands.”

Most people wonder about the transformation from this world to the world to come and that’s natural, according to the bishop. His own mother used to say, “I believe everything. I’m not afraid of dying, but the only thing I know is this life.”

The way we cope with that uncertainty is to pray — over and over again, he said. It is also vital to visit the cemetery and tell the story of those who went before us.

“All Souls’ Day is an important day of the year and so is the month of November,” Bishop Jenky said. “We are all going to die. . . . So shouldn’t we prepare for it?”

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