THE DEAD GO TO THEIR OWN COUNTRY
By CLARE DAWSON
WHATEVER sort of life a human baby is destined to live, one thing is absolutely certain— the close of it will he death. This is one of the basic facts about human nature. and it has roused in every age fears, hopes, questioning. and longings.
Devotion to the dead in one form or another was no more new than the idea of marriage. or the offering of sacrifice, when Christ came into the world.
Every ancient society seems to have had its burial customs, some strange. a little repellant to our way of thinking, but all expressing
the natural and inextinguishable hope that there is a future life. and that the dead do not become extinct but pass into another stage of existence.
Very far back in the dawn of civilization a huntsman might be buried with his weapons beside him, and we know the kings and queens of Egypt were buried in the sort of state in which they had lived; they may not have had a very dear idea of what sort of immortality they could expect but they wanted no confusion about the position they had held in this world.
THIS instinct for honouring the dead reflects perhaps, a fellow feeling for those who have only preceded us along a road we all must take; it also points sometimes to a desire for certainty about their mysterious abode.
Until Christ came the enigma of death was unresolved. and it is still unresolved for those who do not know Him.
One of the things that is said to be sure to put up the sales of a paper is a discussion on life beyond the grave, or what becomes of the dead.
Such anxiety is not condemned by Chi ist, though He gives no detailed answer. He tells us little except that He has complete power over death, and is to every man both lifc and resurrection.
The certainty of Christian hope rests less on Christ's words than on the whole great action of redemption which begins with His taking our flesh, and as a man entering into human affairs.
The importance of Christ's human acts can never be overstated; so far as actions signify approval or disapproval of situations His acts have the finality of a divine verdict. He hallowed birth, infancy. youth. manhood by sharing them, and as He did not disdain the hidden life of an un
born child neither did he refuse the deeper seclusion of the state of the dead.
MORTALITY is our due. Death is the punishment for racial sin, hut Christ is the founder of a new race. and His death was a voluntary act, a deliberate shouldering of humanity's burden.
Every man belongs to Christ, whether they worship Him or not.
creation nd the whole is renewed,
d mankind's history especially brought to a glorious conclusion in His resurrection and ascension into heaven as complete and perfect man.
He explains death by undergoing it, so that life beyond the grave is unhomely, a plunge into no longer the terrors ofthe unknown, but a following of Him through a country He has made familiar. by a path He has trodden out for us.
ALL this underlies the Christian attitude to death, and come out strongly in Catholic prayers for the dead. especially the liturgical prayers. The requiem Mass is not unmindful of sin and of judgement. hut it is full of calm assurance rising to a note of joy as the angels are repeatedly summoned to meet the departed soul and bear it swiftly into the presence of its Saviour. The word that sums up the secret joy, in spite of the black vestments, the mournful chants. is parriurro. The dead who went from us, whether or not they were already marked for glory by the holy anointing. have not gone to a strange land but to their own country.
rr HERE are several notes in the Church's prayer that give us a clue as to how we are to think of the dead. First there is the idea of sleep. which we find in St. Paul's writings; this comes into the Canon of the Mass when the priest prays for those who "sleep the sleep of peace ": from that idea of sleep comes the most familiar of all prayers for the dead—that they may rest in peace. and that perpetual light may shine on them.
It is a very human thought: after all life is a wearying affair, and those who reach old age feel the weight of it. They want rest after their labours as we want sleep at the end of a long day, but, for the Church, the idea of thedead as resting is quite unlike the heavy sleep of a tired man. It is a rest at the end of the journey, where the light shines bright in welcome. Confidently the saints and angels are commanded to come forth and befriend the newly dead, as if the soul in putting off the flesh had put on a sort of greatness so that the great ones of the kingdom are called to minister to it.
THE dignity of the souls redeemed by Christ is reflected in the care and reverence for the dead body. It is not simply a husk. to be cast off. useless and worthless. It has been hallowed by sacred signs. fed with the Food of immortality, and so deep has been its union with the soul in every act that it is sad to see them parted even for a time. although we know that the body we bury with tears is the seed of a more perfect body that will serve the soul once more in eternity. There is a great change here from the old questions. fears. and faint hope alternating with despair. no and a m
There is certainty w.
sense of achievement. The pains of purgatory are real enough. but the cleansing will be welcome. It would be a poor satisfaction if we could creep into heaven as we are, so unsuitably dressed that we should want to hide ourselves as Adam on hid from the face of the Lord. But oddly enough the liturgical prayers do not harp on pain that may have to be undergone. They sound at once the note of joy, of an exile over and gates thrown open to let in the soul with its escort of angels.
Only picture language, of course, but the pictures were painted for our instruction by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and they are based on the indisputable fact that to die in Christ is no disaster, but an entrance into life fuller and richer than mortal man can know.