This year, our family is wrapping up a seven-year Lenten journey through the corporal works of mercy. We’ve given food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, and visited the imprisoned, which leads us to finally burying the dead! This is the seventh corporal work of mercy, and although it’s not mentioned in Matthew 35 (or on the now tattered, food-stained, and wax-speckled Lenten prayer card that originally inspired our family’s journey), I think we’d be remiss to stop at six!
Burying the Dead
If you’re making your way through all seven of the corporal works of mercy during Lent, the beginning of Holy Week will have you focusing on burying the dead. What a perfect corporal work of mercy to center on as you journey with Our Lord towards Calvary this week! The ministry of burying the dead not only provides comfort and meaning to loved ones left behind but also acknowledges and upholds the dignity of the deceased. For our family, this will mean attending and serving at funerals in our parish, but this is also a good time to make a mindful cemetery visit to deceased friends and relatives. From a young age, we’ve taken our children to explore nearby and unfamiliar graveyards, so that hopefully, they have come to see a cemetery (and death itself!) not as spooky or scary, but as a place of joy and peace.
This is also a good time to pray vigilantly for the dead; this is not just an act of remembrance, but also continued care for our loved ones and an expression of our hope in eternal life. You might also take extra time to meditate on the thirteenth and fourteenth stations of the cross this week (Jesus is taken down from the cross, and Jesus is laid in the tomb), listening attentively to the final part of the Gospel reading on Good Friday, or simply pointing out and explaining the images of the stations in the church to smaller children.
Our patron saint(s) of burying the dead: Two saints have the misfortune of sharing a feast day with a much more popular saint: St. Patrick! But March 17th is also the feast day of the less celebrated St. Joseph of Arimathea, who of course was the secret disciple of Jesus who requested His body from Pilate and laid it in his own tomb. It’s also the feast day of an even less renowned saint, St. Gertrude of Nivelles, who was known for her hospitality to pilgrims. Apparently, her hospitality extended beyond the grave: popular folklore had it that upon death a soul embarked on a three-day journey to the next world, spending the first night in the care of St. Gertrude (and the second with Michael the Archangel)!
Have a blessed Holy Week!