Enrico Finotti

In the reorganization of the deposits annexed to the Church, we admire a wealth of museum-worthy furnishings for funerals. Could it be possible to recover the use of these theologically significant symbols to enrich the Catholic faith?

A sacristan

There is no lack of zealous sacristans and faithful sensitive to the liturgical tradition and careful to cautiously and intelligently preserve furnishings, which may have been temporarily abandoned, but always recoverable in a broad scheme of things. However, it is good that in churches there is an environment conducive to the preservation and showcasing of the many sacred furnishings no longer in use but, nonetheless, singular for their art and value.

In the specific case of the commemoration of all the faithful departed, it is not clear why the use of valuable funeral apparatuses cannot be encouraged by offering intelligent catechesis to the people of God. It could constitute the visual icon, which liturgically characterizes these days of solemn suffrage. In the East, for example, the icon that recalls the mystery of death is the “epitaph” which joins together the representation of the Lord placed in the tomb with the mystery of our bodily death. The “great and holy Saturday” in the Byzantine liturgy celebrates at the same time the burial of the Lord and the remembrance of all those who were buried with him and await the resurrection in him. It is, therefore, difficult to see how a sign transmitted by our Latin liturgical tradition cannot also be pertinent. In the event that this layer was decorated with a theological mind, depicting biblical facts that refer to the Paschal mystery of the Lord, it could also become an effective instrument for catechesis. Representations such as the dry bones enlivened by the Spirit blowing from the four winds (cf. Ez 37:1-14), or the story of the prophet Jonah, who lies in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights (cf. Gn 2:1 ), or other symbols such as the phoenix, the peacock, etc., which recall immortality, make these funeral furnishings powerful liturgical expressions. A similar representation in the floor mosaics of ancient basilicas is not foreign to the tradition of Christian art (see Basilica of Aquileia). The centrality of the glorious Cross, finely woven in gold and silver across the exquisite surface, configures the mystery of Christ’s victory precisely over that last enemy to be defeated, death (cf. 1 Cor 15:26). The contribution desired by the Second Vatican Council of the Paschal candle in the funeral liturgy, completes the composition, proclaiming the victory of the Risen Lord. Erected on its candlestick and placed near the coffin, it seems to visually subdue death and, with its living flame, illuminate the darkness of all those who died in Christ. It seems to say: “Do not be afraid! I am the First and the Last and the Living One. I was dead, but now I live forever and have power over death and hell” (Rev 1, 17b-18). And the faithful who pass by are in some way solicited to hear the biblical warning: “Wake up, O you who sleep, rise from the dead and Christ will enlighten you” (Eph 5:14).

(From “La spada e la Parola. Il liturgista risponde”, 2018©Chorabooks. Translated by Aurelio Porfiri. Used with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved)

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