“May angels carry you into Paradise. May the martyrs greet your arrival, and may they lead you into the Holy City, Jerusalem. May choirs of angels sing to you, and with Lazarus, who was once a beggar, may you have eternal rest.”
The choir chanted in Latin the ancient song of farewell after all the names were read aloud: the priests of the Jefferson City diocese who had died since its founding in 1956.
About 35 of their successors were gathered with Bishop W. Shawn McKnight in St. Brendan Church in Mexico Nov. 7 to offer Mass for the repose of the departed priests’ souls.
“They were our brothers. They were our leaders in the faith. They were our fathers,” said Bishop McKnight. “As members of the family of God, confident in His mercy and love, we remember them in prayer.”
Joining the priests at Mass were parishioners from St. Brendan and nearby parishes, as well as several classes of students from St. Brendan School.
The sanctuary was adorned with candles. Before the altar stood the lighted Easter Candle, a prie-dieu, the incense and a book containing the deceased priests’ names, along with the date of their priestly ordination, the date of their death and the place of their burial.
“We believe in the hope and the mercy of God, Who created us as His children and longs for us to be with Him in heaven forever as His children,” said Bishop McKnight. “We have no idea the beauty of what that existence will be like. And yet, we all long for it, for ourselves and for those who are dear to us.”
For followers of Christ, death is not simply a life being taken away but is instead a life offered back to God, joyfully and in gratitude.
“That’s what it means to live and to die as a Christian,” the bishop stated, “knowing that we belong to the family of God.”
That family — the Church — is an essential part of the Father’s plan for salvation for the whole world.
“It is a very profound mystery that God would plan to have us fallible human beings be so important, so significant, in the spiritual lives of others,” said Bishop McKnight. “And yet ... that is how God has planned it — that salvation comes from Him ... through other people, through His Church and the ministry of priests and bishops and the Pope.”
In order to die well
God makes it clear through Scripture that He desires all people to be with Him forever in heaven. But because of Original Sin, death is part of human existence.
“It was even a part of the experience of the Son of God, Who became man,” Bishop McKnight noted. “He died for our redemption. He died because of our sins.”
And through God’s grace, given in baptism, human beings share in the ability to die like Christ.
“We are called to learn how to die like a grain of wheat,” said Bishop McKnight. “For most of us, it takes a whole life to do that.”
God offers baptism, the sacraments and the Church “in order to help us die well,” the bishop said.
“When we fail in any way, when our dying to self is left incomplete, we at least have the consolation of a place called purgatory, a place of purgation,” he said.
Purgatory is not a place just outside of hell. “Rather, it is a place just outside of heaven,” he stated. “It is a place where we become prepared for the perfection that God demands of everyone to be in His presence.”
That’s why it’s so important for Catholics to pray and offer the Sacrifice of the Mass for the dead.
“We do not give up hope. And we help one another along the way,” he said.
Through the celebration of Catholic funeral rites, “we are passing our loved ones on from this earth, from this life, to the angels and saints, as they continue their pilgrimage toward heaven,” he said.
Referring to the reading from 2 Maccabees (12:38-46), he stated, “the holy and pious thing to do is to pray for those who have died, that they may be relieved of their sins.”
“Catholics understand that our prayers can help — that it’s something we can do, and that we should do,” said Bishop McKnight.
After Holy Communion, bells were rung as Father Jerry Kaimann and Father Patrick Dolan took turns reading the names of the deceased priests in the order of their passing.
In between each group of names, the choir sang, to the tune of “Old Hundredth”: “Receive their souls, O holy ones. Present them now to God Most High.”
The choir, directed and accompanied by Tom Halpin of Cathedral of St. Joseph parish in Jefferson City, then chanted the “In Paradisum.”
Father Dylan Schrader, pastor of St. Brendan parish, thanked Bishop McKnight and his fellow priests for attending, as well as all who helped plan the Liturgy.
After the bishop gave the blessing, he and the priests processed out of the church while chanting the ancient “Salve Regina” (“Hail, Holy Queen”), which concelebrating priests traditionally sing at the end of a Funeral Mass for one of their own.
Outside, Bishop McKnight greeted school children and adults.
The priests then adjourned to the Knights of Columbus Hall for a reception and fellowship with the bishop and one another.