The Catholic Times Sunday, July 3rd 1994
I AM unfirmly convinced that the beauty of Christianity and glory of Catholicism can be expressed in the sublime absurdity of the ordinary, better than by scholarly polemic. This dates from my first reading of Leo Rosten’s lovely book Hooray for Yiddish, in which he explains that Yiddish is 72% German, 18% Hebrew, 16% Slavic tongues, 5.6% Romance languages, and 3.55% English.
He adds: ‘... these figures add up to more than 100%.... I KNOW they are to be trusted ... I made them up myself.’ Now, that’s the spirit that inspires belief.
Searching for the Spirit behind the belief of Catholics, I asked a recent convert friend what had been the mile-stones on his Damascus Road. He said that, over the years, he had attended baptisms, weddings, and even first communions of Catholic friends, but the blinding flash had come at Jim Alexander’s requiem, when he heard the voice of God, though the bystanders had only heard a ‘Rugby Song’!
I knew exactly what he meant, for though it is some years ago now, and the celebrant, Father Anthony, is now away in Rome, I suspect the scene is still as vivid in his memory as it is crystal clear in mine.
It was a fairly typical RC funeral, with a decidedly untypical congregation. Jim had spent many years at Sefton Rugby Club as player, coach, selector, chairman, president, et al, so a host of his rugby friends had turned up to pay their last respects.
A sensitive and balanced liturgy included a homily which was a nice mixture of sermon and panagyric. But the memorable climax was the final hymn. ‘Jim’s favourite hymn,’ ‘the celebrant announced, ’was Cwm Rhondda. It is not usually sung at funerals, but Penny has approved it as our recessional hymn.’
Then, looking round at the throng of veteran loose forwards, and looser backs, he added with a smile: ‘And let’s try to stick to the words on the hymn sheets.’ And we did. And it was superb.
Not the singing, you understand, but the spirit of the singing. Quite a few of the good pagans present told me that they would love, one day, to deserve a requiem like that. I was not at all surprised to learn later that it had brought some of the congregation into the arms of Holy Mother Church. Sent off for an early baptism.
I especially enjoyed the spirit of that particular muscular hymnody because when God created me, He breathed into me a great love of singing, but forgot to supply any of the necessary skills which would have made me any good at it.
Rather as though He had given me an expensive present which I could not use, since it was marked: ‘Batteries not included’.
I also particularly enjoyed the spirit of that Requiem Mass because it manifested something which Christians ought always to proclaim, but seldom do, namely that death is coming home.
The further away we’ve been and the longer the trip with however many changes and diversions, the greater the anticipatory joy must be. After all, Heaven is not a brief post-script to Now: Now is merely a short prologue to Everlasting Life.
The New Catechism, even under MASS, see Eucharistic Sacrifice, has no reference to REQUIEM, but under funerals is the advice: ‘The litany of the
Word during funerals demands very careful preparation because the assembly present for the funerals may include some faithful who rarely attend the liturgy, and friends of the deceased who are not Christians.’
Then, swing lo and behold, closing the section on sacraments, St. Symeon of Thessalonica sums up the lesson of Jim’s Requiem: ... ‘we sing for his departure from this life and separation from us, because there is a communion and a reunion.
For, even dead we are not at all separated from one another, because we all run the same course, and will find one another again in the same place. We shall never be separated because we live in Christ …….’
Oh, and it doesn’t say so, but purgatory is only a scrum-down on the twenty-two with the try-line in sight.
Note: Jim Alexander died 16/2/1989
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