We had another funeral this morning. This was the seventh sister that passed away this year. Although I did not know Sr. Mary Anne Schiller personally, I always appreciate being able to attend a funeral with the Sisters. The first funeral I attended with the Sisters was a profound experience of Precious Blood Spirituality and helped me appreciate the depth and holiness of these women I work with and for.
When it’s written on paper, there’s nothing spectacular about the ritual. The sisters participate in a public sharing of memories before the funeral liturgy, then celebrate Mass together. At the conclusion of Mass, those that are able, walk to the community cemetery on the property to say a final farewell. As all good Catholics do, we continue the celebration by sharing a meal together.
Again, there is nothing groundbreaking about the ritual itself. But the remarkable way each sister gathers, honors, laughs and cries for the deceased sister is beautiful. Each word of the funeral liturgy is not only said, but lived out each and every day. Recalling the faith of the deceased sister, we are able to mourn with hope, because it actually feels more like a “see you later” versus a “good-bye”.
The ritual encompasses the grief of letting go, the joy of knowing the person is well on their way to heaven and the hope that we may join them someday. I know my words are failing to capture the gentle spirit that fills the chapel on the day of a funeral, but I truly believe it’s holy ground. Perhaps it’s because this our chance to actually live out what we believe, that we are to be joyful when a sister passes on from this life into the next. Yes, we can grieve because we miss her presence with us; but the paschal mystery reminds us that she will join Jesus in the New Jerusalem, and one day, we also will join them. Isn’t that a cause for celebration?
I’ll leave you with the hymn the sisters sing at the gravesite as they sprinkle holy water on the coffin one final time.
“Glory be to Jesus, who in bitter pains poured for us that life-blood which love’s sign remains
Grace and life eternal in that blood we find.
Consummate compassion! Infinitely Kind!
Lift up then your voices! Great that mighty flood!
Louder still and louder!
Praise Christ who shed Precious Blood!”
— Blog entry by Jenna Legg; illustration by Sister Eileen Tomlinson