Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., was principal celebrant of a Mass of Requiem June 17 in St. Anne Mausoleum, Wall. The Mass was offered as a time to pray for all souls who have died during the months of pandemic. In the foreground is a packet of pages containing the names of more than 1,100 men and women who have died in the past several months. Screenshot photo
Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., was principal celebrant of a Mass of Requiem June 17 in St. Anne Mausoleum, Wall. The Mass was offered as a time to pray for all souls who have died during the months of pandemic. In the foreground is a packet of pages containing the names of more than 1,100 men and women who have died in the past several months. Screenshot photo
Looking intently upon a packet of neatly folded white pages placed atop a closed walnut casket, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., described June 17 as a “special and important day” for all the faithful in the Diocese of Trenton. It was the day he celebrated a Mass of Requiem in the chapel of St. Anne Mausoleum, Wall, to remember those who have died from throughout the Diocese during the recent pandemic shutdown, and pray for “almighty God to lift their souls to be with him in heaven.”

Celebrated without a congregation with only a handful of concelebrants, the Mass was shown on diocesan media sites, reaching several thousand viewers in the first few hours. Recorded on the white pages were more than 1,100 names of persons who had died since March 1.  They had been submitted for the purpose of this Mass at the Bishop’s invitation by 65 parishes in the Diocese. Because churches had been closed and Masses of Christian Burial could not be held for much of that time, the Requiem Mass was an occasion “to remember and pray for our beloved dead,” when the customary sources of comfort and community were not available, Bishop O’Connell explained.

Time of Remembrance

Noting that the pandemic itself had claimed the lives of some of the deceased, but for most, “their eyes closed on this world for many and varied causes,”  the Bishop added, “We lift them all to almighty God at this diocesan Memorial Mass, praying that God might have mercy on their souls to bring them to rest, to bring them to peace.”

In his homily, Bishop O’Connell acknowledged that with any death, sadness weighs heavily upon the loved ones of the deceased. But during the past several months, the weight, he said, “is a little heavier than any other time because safety measures imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic kept us from saying goodbye to our beloved dead in the ways with which we are familiar and accustomed in the Catholic Church.

“Today we gather up all the grief and all the sadness from throughout the Diocese of Trenton and its parishes and its families and we present that sadness and grief to God,” he said.

“Please join with me in praying for them as we call to mind their names written on these pages. We call to mind their faces, the sounds of their voices, all the things that have meant so much to us because they were part of our lives,” said the Bishop, who then bowed his head, folded his hands in prayer and led a few moments of silence.

Message of Comfort and Hope

Drawing from the day’s Readings, the Bishop cited several key points for the bereaved to remember as they cope with their loss.

“Our grieving is the price we pay for loving,” Bishop O’Connell said, referring to the Raising of Lazarus in John’s Gospel and how Mary, Martha and Jesus mourned the death of their brother and friend, Lazarus. Focusing on the “three beautiful words, ‘And Jesus wept,’” the Bishop described them as “very consoling words for those of us who have lost a loved one in recent months.

“When you think about those words, you sense the humanity of the Lord Jesus who was moved to tears at the death of someone close to him,” said Bishop O’Connell. “In the Lord Jesus, we have a God who knows our pain, who has felt our pain, who grieves and weeps with us in our time of suffering. Yes, our grief is the price we pay for love.”

In a second point, the Bishop said, “Death is more than loss or grief alone.” Bishop O’Connell pointed to the Second Reading of St. Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians and how the apostle Paul counseled us that in our faith “we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus, will raise us also.”

“Death is more than the physical loss or the accompanying feeling of grief; death is our passage to the Lord Jesus, to eternity,” said the Bishop, reiterating that, “The loss is real, the grief, the emptiness, the hurt for us who remain are real, but for our beloved dead, an eternal dwelling place awaits them in heaven.

“It is the experience of the Lord Jesus taking the hand of those who love and at the moment of death, leading them safely, peacefully and joyfully home,” he said.

The Bishop also emphasized, “We must remember our beloved dead,” reminding mourners that in addition to the immortality of having life with God, there is also the immortality of our memories.

“We must remember our beloved dead, sometimes with tears, sometimes with melancholy, sometimes with smiles and laughter, sometimes with a wish that they were still there, but always with gratitude to almighty God for the gift they were, for the gift they still are,” he said. “That’s the one thing that death cannot take away from us. We must remember them, pray for them and believe in our faith and in our hearts that they remember and pray for us.”

Father Carlos Aguirre, parochial vicar of St. Joseph Parish in Toms River, offered parts of the Mass in Spanish, extending the day’s outreach to the Hispanic Catholic community which has been hit particularly hard by COVID-19. Joining Bishop and Father Aguirre at the altar was Father Damian McElroy, pastor of St. Catharine-St. Margaret Parish, Spring Lake, to which St. Anne Mausoleum and Chapel belongs.

Bishop O’Connell offered acknowledgements for this special Mass, including Father Jason Parzynski, diocesan director of vocations, and Father Chris Dayton, parochial vicar in St. Rose Parish, Belmar, who served as masters of ceremonies and organized details for the day. The Bishop also recognized Deacon David O’Connor, the Diocese’s director of cemeteries, who served at the Mass, and several other diocesan staff who assisted in the planning and commemoration.

Eternal Rest

In a poignant conclusion to the Mass of Requiem, the names that had been submitted and prayed over were to be buried in a section of St. Anne Cemetery where babies had been laid to rest.

Father Dayton explained that the decision to bury the names there was made by staff from St. Catharine-St. Margaret Parish and the O’Brien Funeral Home, which provided the casket for the Mass.

According to accounts, many years ago a baby who had been found was taken to the hospital and passed away. The hospital contacted O'Brien's Funeral Home and St. Catharine-St. Margaret Parish about handling the funeral arrangements and burial. When Msgr. Thomas Luebking, who was the pastor at the time, was informed, he named the baby John and the parish donated a grave for John’s burial. John was the first baby to be buried in St Anne Cemetery. 

Father Dayton said the packet of names of all who died during the pandemic months will be buried near baby John.  

To view the Mass video, go to YouTube.com/trentondiocese.