Dies Irae, Dies Illa, …

Some of you may recall this hymn. Traditionally, it was sung at Requiem Masses, that is, for the dead , which are here no longer sung in Latin. In our German parish, it is part of the All Souls’ Day mass our Gregorian chant choir sings every November 2.

Four days before we flew here from Duesseldorf, Judith and I spoke at length with our local undertaking firm. We pretty well have plans in case of our deaths whether in Germany or here in Wisconsin. Our gravestones have stood prepared in Oshkosh since the year 2000. Our daughter Rebecca doesn’t want to hear about such details. Our son Adrian is more open to thinking of our demise.

My personal experiences with death are few. One was with my mother, with whom I sat till five minutes before she died. The other was with my father with whom I had sat a whole night through, until 30 minutes before he chose to die. Dying people seem to want to select their last moments when they are alone.

At present, I, at 83, think about my father’s oldest brother who lived till he was 96, or my Irish grandfather who lived till 88. As the poster says it, “Growing old is not for sissies”. How long will I, or any of us gathered here together, remain free from accident, bodily sickness, psychological or emotional illness at our present age?

Our family has made use of the German health insurance policies and programs to have regular examinations. We have life styles that tend to keep us healthy. As in the case with many people, members of our family have “living wills” which set out the circumstances in which we do not want to be held alive by life-support systems and by decisions contrary to our written wishes. In several European countries , death by medically assisted suicide is technically not legally allowed, but often enough takes place elsewhere on the continent in cases where people just don’t want to endure their personal painful situation any longer and where no cure or betterment is judged possible.

Another aspect to consider is the deaths of animals, birds, fish, and poultry in food factories to satisfy the needs of people for nourishment and clothing for style as well as warmth.

Today’s readings don’t have anything directly to do with thoughts of death. But in the readings from last Thursday, St. Paul asks where the victory of death is, where is its sting. In a reading from the next day, Paul states that, death, the last enemy of believers, will be destroyed by Christ. But in the real unfathomable pain of lasting separation from loved ones, do these words give us consolation?

The news of the deaths of prominent people in the USA has brought us up short on a personal level. Statistics have been made public, that state that suicide is the greatest cause of death in the USA, followed by car accidents and health problems related to cancer.

Multiple deaths are rampant in countries from all over the world. The numbers tend to give us numb feelings concerning the terrible and soul-wrenching sorrow of family members. Whether people die from guns or bombs, or military actions, or natural catastrophes, or car or gun or swimming accidents, or illness, or suicide, we cannot forget about death and its searing pain. It’s hard to appreciate the mental and emotional sufferings of survivors of loved ones in far away places or in neighboring areas, who are not of our family. On the other hand many here have suffered the agonies of lasting separation from loved ones through death.

A closing word of consolation from a Latin Marian hymn: Salve Regina, Mater misericordiae, Vita, Dulcedo, et Spes nostra, Salve. Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, Our Life, Our Sweetness, and Our Hope, care for us. AMEN

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