ECENTLY, MY FAMILY and I attended the funeral of a friend who succumbed to cancer at the early age of 54. She was the receptionist at the local university Catholic Center, a consecrated virgin in the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity and one of the most joyful Christians one could hope to meet. Having received the Sacraments and the Apostolic Pardon, she died holding the same crucifix that her father and other family members had held at their deaths, with her mother holding one arm and her cousin, a priest, holding the other and reciting the Prayers for the Dying, while family members filled the room.
One of the most amazing things happened after the service at the grave. Everyone stood around talking—young families and children, elderly, priests, sisters and some who looked like they hadn’t seen the inside of a church in years—so the cemetery worker began to close the lid on the vault. Suddenly, someone began singing a hymn, and soon everyone, young and old, joined in. We sang hymn after hymn as the coffin was lowered into the grave. A brother of the deceased, showing that grief filled with hope, reached down and picked up a handful of dirt and threw it into the grave, and then gave handfuls of dirt to his nieces and nephews. Soon other parents did the same and passed dirt to their children (who provided us all with a bit of laughter as they joyfully threw in the dirt). Finally, someone intoned the Salve Regina and we left.
On the way back to the church for the luncheon, my 4-year-old son wanted to know why we threw dirt into the grave, so I asked him if he remembered the Mass (Ash Wednesday) when the priest put ashes on his head in the shape of a cross. The priest said “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” I explained that God created man from the earth, and while at death our soul goes, pray God, to be with Him, our earthly body returns to the earth to await the joyful day of Resurrection, when Christ will come in all of His glory (my son has been asking about these things a lot lately, so my wife and I try not to let any of these beautiful catechetical moments pass by). I happened to have Handel’s Messiah in the van, so we listened to The Trumpet Shall Sound, Worthy is the Lamb and finished with the great Amen fugue. It amazed me how intently he listened and took it all in.
I guess the point I want to make in all of this is, please, please don’t ever underestimate the power of good music to touch hearts in either the work of evangelization or catechesis, and I look forward to that great day when we will all hopefully join in the final Amen that will resound for all eternity!