Our custom is to remember the dead by placing two candles by a plate turned upside down in the refectory for 30 days after the death:
This old monastic custom, which had been dropped after the Second Vatican Council, was revived some years ago at the urging of Br. Frank Kacmarcik. When I told family and friends of the new (old) custom, the most common reaction was a bit of horror – almost as if we were drinking out of skulls as some religious have done, I’m told, to “keep death daily before one’s eyes” (cf. Rule for Monasteries, ch. 4).
My parents (my dad was alive then) recalled that there had been times of mourning in southern Minnesota many decades ago, but this too fell away. For a year after the death of one’s spouse, they explained to me, it was understood that one wouldn’t attend public entertainment such as a dance or movie. One still went out for Sunday Mass, but wore black. Then “they got it down to six months” and people were seen sooner at things. Then it was reduced quickly, and then it was gone.
I don’t know what psychologists would say about all this. But we Christians should take care to remember the deadly with loving respect, and to pray for them. We don’t want to be morbidly obsessed with the afterlife or unduly fearful about God’s judgment, and it is for good reason that the Second Vatican Council called for a reform of the funeral rites to “express more clearly the paschal character of Christian death,” which includes the resurrection.
But I for one am glad that we once again remember deceased monks in the refectory for 30 days, and I hope there are people around to pray for my wretched soul when I go.
What do you think about our ritualization of remembering and praying for the dead, and about possible ways to ritualize a time of bereavement and healing? I look forward to your thoughts.