July 28 was one of my favorite days of the year. In the Roman Catholic calendar, it is the feast day of a minor saint, Pope Saint Victor I, who was martyred by the Romans around the year 199 AD. Pope Victor was known for being the first pope of African descent, for changing the language of Mass in Rome from Greek to Latin, a practice that continued for over 1,700 years, and for standardizing the celebration Easter on Sunday, rather than celebrating it. different days of the week, such as Passover.
My first pastorate was St. Victor Parish in the Berryessa neighborhood of San Jose. Parishioners celebrated the day with a late afternoon outside mass followed by a barbecue, music for the adults and games for the children – a custom which thankfully continues to this day.
It gave parishioners a chance to worship God in a unique way and enjoy each other’s company with a wholesome “block party” feel.
Shortly after my posting to St. Mary’s Parish in Gilroy, July 28, 2019 became the worst day in our city’s history. The senseless murders of Stephen Romero, Keyla Salazar and Trevor Irby and many others injured and traumatized at our city’s largest community event caused repercussions that still exist today.
At morning mass on July 28 of this year, and likely every year for the foreseeable future, St. Mary’s parishioners prayed for the three deceased victims. Praying for the dead is a practice shared by the majority of Christians around the world, although it is a minority practice among Christians in the United States.
The various Christian traditions that have this practice – Catholic, Orthodox, Coptic, Antiochian and others – do so for a number of theological reasons. Without going into the theological nuances between the traditions, I think the opening words of the Roman Catholic Vigil provide a good summary: “My brothers and sisters, we believe that all the bonds of friendship and affection which unite us throughout throughout our lives do not tangle with death.
By praying for the dead, we assist them, just as our prayers for the living on Earth are effective.
Praying to our God for the dead is part of our Christian witness that the resurrection of Jesus put an end to the false belief that death has the last word in the story of every human being. For us, death is a transition, not the end. Just as mutual love prompts us to pray for each other in this life, it prompts us to pray for our loved ones in the hereafter.
Annual memorials and attendance at “Celebration of Life” gatherings are laudable ways to remember the good people in our lives who have passed away and to honor their accomplishments, but praying for them is a powerful way to express our continuous love.
Reverend Michael Hendrickson is the pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in Gilroy. A 1986 graduate of Live Oak High School, he was a naval chaplain for eight years and a priest for 21 years. Father Hendrickson is an active participant in the South County Interdenominational Clergy Alliance. He can be contacted at [email protected].