The Ottawa Citizen
Saturday, November 29, 2008
An old man I know told me how he became a Roman Catholic, after an upbringing that would perhaps have better fitted him to become some sort of "humanist." He was young, at the rebellious age, and weighted more with questions than with answers. His relation with his father was tense and difficult, perhaps creatively so. His father died, and his world shattered. The inadequate Christian faith he had absorbed in childhood was tested, against grief, and found wanting.
On the question of weight, a lady I know said, "I remember when my father died, it felt like someone weighing five hundred pounds was sitting on my chest." People may do strange things under such circumstances. But usually they are muffled, quiet.
The man began sitting at the back of Catholic churches, during Mass. He needed something to do with all his time. Those were the days when the old Tridentine Mass was available everywhere; was the bond that held Catholics together. He did not go to church to look at the Catholics, he went as a spectator of that Mass. He was a young man with a classical education, and some poetry in his soul: he wanted to hear the Latin words and the music. (To this day, people who are not even slightly Catholic go to concerts, and buy CDs, to hear the old Mass ordinary -- because it has been set, gloriously and repeatedly, by so many of the world's greatest musical composers, over so many centuries.)
Went to hear, and inevitably, went to think, while the words of the Mass were sung for him, from the invocation of the Kyrie, a text old as the Psalms if not older: "Lord have mercy."
From one Mass, he was drawn curiously to another, until in due course his diverse thoughts organized themselves into a single thought. And that thought was: "This is the only thing that is equal to my father's death."And, of course, it speaks to my mood of late, YES, that is how , when feelings are at the forefront, it feels, or should feel, when we assist at a funeral.
That is certainly how M's funeral was -- the Mass was big enough, powerful enough to be more than equal to Death, and to him, and to all of us and our inchoate needs.
Indeed, Death seemed puny, insignificant.
As it is.