Saying goodbye in the faith

First slide
First slide
Previous Next

After Mass on Sunday mornings, most parishioners pour out of church to shake hands with the priest, socialize with friends and hurry off to brunch. A few, however, slip away from the crowd. One family goes to place flowers on the graves of grandparents, a widower visits the headstone of his late wife.

Having a final resting place on church grounds is one vital way the church lives out the corporal work of mercy to bury the dead. A few churches in the diocese have the space and ability to set aside land as hallowed ground. Since a group of Eastern European immigrants in the early 1900s first constructed a place to worship near Manassas, Sacred Heart Parish has had a graveyard as well. Their current cemetery is beside a small white chapel that dates back to 1937.

Kathy Mindock, the longtime parish office manager, helps people choose burial plots and arranges funerals. In spite of the difficult circumstances, Mindock finds fulfillment in working with the grieving families. She tries to make the process easy and prays her work will further unite the family to the church family.

"It gives parishioners great comfort to have their loved ones still in a part of the parish community," said Mindock. Both she and her husband plan to be buried on the grounds of the church that has been their spiritual home for 35 years.

Arimatheans

Even churches without a cemetery bury the dead by offering funeral Masses that honor the departed and send prayers to heaven on behalf of their souls.

Jack Grace has been an Arimathean at the chapel on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Arlington for 20 years. He and the other Arimatheans take turns serving as ushers, lectors, and extraordinary ministers of holy Communion for the funeral Masses of military members, many of whom are then buried at Arlington National Cemetery or a cemetery near Marine Corps Base Quantico.

The former Marine and parishioner of St. Agnes Church in Arlington first served at a friend's funeral, and then felt compelled to keep coming back.

Seeing death in the Korean and the Vietnam wars strengthened Grace's belief that God had a better home prepared for his comrades. "Even if you make it home, you know of a guy that didn't. (You know) there must be another power that's taking care of him," said Grace.

Confederate General Stonewall Jackson's last words were, "Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees," said Grace. "We're going to have a great reunion when we all get together on the other side of the river."

Sisters in Song

Like the Arimatheans, the all-female Resurrection Choir at St. Mark Church in Vienna focuses on God's promise of eternal life while serving at the church's funeral Masses. "Without a vision of the life after this life, we couldn't make it," said Nancy Novelly, parish music director. "It's the heart of our faith."

St. Mark parishioner Peggy Kelly has been singing her whole life, but she considers the Resurrection Choir the most important group she's ever sung with. "We feel like God has given us a gift that we can comfort (the bereaved) in their hour of need," she said.

She and the 20 other women in the choir sing classics like "On Eagle's Wings," "Be Not Afraid," "Amazing Grace" or whatever hymn the family prefers, said Novelly. "Music is language that speaks so much more than words can ever say, and that's especially true when someone is grieving."

The choir performs at up to12 funeral Masses a month, and through the active ministry the members have become friends, said Kelly. "We pray for each other and think of each other as sisters in song," she said.

"It's my favorite ministry," said Novelly. "They sound like angels."

The singers have witnessed many moving funerals, said Kelly, but serving at the Masses of the two departed members of the Resurrection Choir was a great gift. "We sang and took turns dabbing our eyes," she said. "They're up in heaven, and we will eventually join them.

Di Mauro can be reached at zdimauro@catholicherald.com or on Twitter @zoeydimauro.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016