Day of the Dead: How Christians Invest Death

That summer afternoon, the family is gathered around a coffin in a northern cemetery. A few moments before, many people followed one another in the village church to pay homage to the life of the husband, the father, the grandfather and the friend, who died suddenly. A fervent Christian, with a life given to others and deployed through numerous associative commitments.

Near the family vault, at the moment of the final goodbye, and under a superb sunny sky, the notes of Santiano, by Hugues Aufray. His wife comes forward, surrounded by children and grandchildren, and together, moored to the coffin, they sing the refrain: ” Hold on to the wave and hold on to the wind / Hoist high! Santiano! / God willing, always straight ahead…” The moment comes to install, using cords, the coffin at the bottom of the vault. A last prayer is read, a last gesture proposed: in procession, everyone comes to throw an ear of wheat on the coffin, recalling the earthly roots of the deceased. That day, in the heart of this little country cemetery, Life was here !

Root the memory

“During the liturgical celebration, we experience a certain intensity of emotions. There are the various speeches, to repeat what the life of the deceased was like and to say goodbye to him. During eulogies, we hear things that we did not know, that escaped us, and that we would have liked to have known before. It’s really the moment of the break, when we will be able to agree to let the person go. We do not leave the church as we entered it », observes Sister Emmanuelle Duez-Luchez, superior general of the diocesan congregation of the Daughters of the Child Jesus, whose charism is turned towards the most fragile.

“When we arrive at the cemetery, before the time of the burial, the possibility is given to share a last word, in a small committee, to end this goodbye. This helps to root a memory. » This nun buries each of her sisters: “I have no particular ritual to live this time”, she warns us. She adapts to every situation. ” We are sometimes only two, sometimes more than 50. I suggest praying the Our Father or the Hail Mary. It happens that we extend by sharing of great richness. »

This time of expression in the cemetery is necessary, she insists: “It is here that we become aware that we have known part of the person, but what we do not know about her will remain her secret, it does not belong to our history. If death is an opportunity to remember, the only thing that remains is eternal in it. There is something mysterious there. It is sometimes painful. Hence the importance of allowing speaking time. »

Walk with families

Accompanying families, whose mourning is difficult, is precisely the mission to which Damien Boulet, a priest in Tourcoing (North), works. He observes the evolutions of our lifestyles and our practices and our relationship to death. What can be the word of Christians when it comes to mow down a loved one? What hope to proclaim when the horizon has suddenly closed? Priests, deacons, nuns or members of funeral teams, what gestures can be taken to comfort? “Death, we don’t want to talk about it, Damien Boulet knows from experience. Grieving is experienced in isolation, few express themselves. And when it is particularly difficult to live, it is not on All Saints’ Day that we go to the cemetery “, he assures. How, then, to join them?

If now the funeral directors provide ceremonies adapted to the requests of the families or of the deceased himself, by offering secular rituals, what “plus” does the Christian community bring? Damien Boulet recalls the meaning of funerals celebrated in the church: “That day, a community of brothers and sistersœurs come together to signify something of the risen Christ, and we are all called to this Resurrection which we celebrate on Easter morning. »

As for the meaning of death, in a dechristianized society, what answer should we give? “Memory, in the Greek sense of the word, has the same root as the word tomb. Work is not saying “Is this hell or heaven waiting for me?”, but more “Am I carried in someone’s memory or am I going to into nothingness, as if I had never existed? » In his parish, a Eucharistic celebration takes place on the Sunday following the burial, with the gathered community carrying the memory of the deceased.

It was following the pope’s appeal in 2013, around the migrants who died in Lampedusa, that this young priest wondered: ” Who will pray for missing persons? » He thought about how to ensure a Christian presence by taking advantage of the proximity of his church to the main cemetery of Tourcoing. A group of about ten parishioners now takes turns to constantly support this prayer project. “When people go to gather at the graves of their deceased, they come to put a candle in the church. They can then meet Christians to talk to, and be accompanied.

Update the way of accompanying

The collective, in conjunction with the diocesan liturgical and sacramental pastoral service of Lille, also met members of Espérance et Vie, a Christian movement for the first years of widowhood and support for widows and widowers ( ).

From there was born the idea of ​​offering a step further to people in pain to take care of them, by welcoming them 24 hours, from November 10, 5 p.m. to 5 p.m. the next day, away, in a diocesan house. , in Merville (North). Everyone will be able to explore the autumnal garden – and ask themselves: what does autumn mean in my life? –, take part in pottery and meditation workshops (information: Étel Lepetit, email:

His dream would be to set up teams of companions for these passages in each deanery of the diocese. “Prayer is one thing, the psychological and spiritual dimension another. » It draws on the experience of Canadian priest Jean Monbourquette, who reflects on new and concrete ways that would revisit our anthropologies and our rituals, to find ways to reach those people, far from the Church, for whom mourning is difficult, in order to walk with them.

Damien Boulet draws a parallel with the Companions of Emmaus: “Jesus joins them, lets them talk. IWe must begin where the people are in order to accompany them and then announce Christ to them. » For him, eternal life is not in the hereafter, “She is already in the below. When we are baptized, we are immersed in the Passion and the Resurrection. Funeral rites are those of baptism., he recalls. He likes to meet the families where their deceased lived his last moments.

The cemetery is not everything. The idea is tobring life. He returns home a few days after the funeral, to spend some time with the family, and offers to write a few words: a ” thank you “ to the deceased for what he has given us, and a “please », « by asking him things: we make him active again. » A personal text that has authentic prayer value.

A gesture to dare!
You don’t have any graves to flower near your home on All Saints’ Day? Valérie, one of our readers, has a solution for you. With her husband and their children, they buy flowers, go to the cemetery closest to their place of residence, together choose a grave that they flower and pray for the deceased concerned.

Pray at the cemetery the rest of the year
Not waiting for the Day of the Dead to pray for their intentions in cemeteries, this is what priest Damien Boulet is experimenting with with a committee of lay people from Tourcoing (North). Here are three inspiring ideas for your parish communities:
-On the Feast of the Glorious Cross, September 14: the collective organizes a rosary with meditation on Gospel passages linked to the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity (1 Cor 13, 13). It relies on texts evoking the Resurrection, such as the widow of Naim whose only son, dead, is brought to Jesus (Gospel according to Saint Luke 7, 11-17). Each month, a mass is celebrated on Mondays, around the 14th of the month, for bereaved families.
-Easter morning: the lauds are celebrated at the entrance of the cemetery, in the presence of about thirty people. ” The water from the Easter Vigil and the palms from the previous Sunday are brought, and at the end of the prayer, everyone goes to bless the graves of their family and all around. This gesture recalls the rites of baptism. It is a way of saying “To you too, the resurrection is announced.” »
-After Easter, the Saturday before the Feast of Mercy: a “path of light”, a prayer that dates from the Middle Ages, is proposed: the collective rereads the stories of Mary Magdalene at the tomb of Christ, and then leaves to walk, from place to place, crossing the cemetery, where the appearances of the Risen One. Everyone is invited to observe how in their life, concretely, they experience mourning, and to entrust their dead to the resurrection of Christ.

See you on November 10-11
24 hours to get through the ordeal in Christian hope: this experience is offered by the diocesan service for the accompaniment of people in mourning, to people who have lost a child, a spouse, a friend…: step aside to move forward. The 24 hours in Merville will be an opportunity to put you aside to find your resources, the strength, the desire to continue on the road. Meeting led by Father Raphaël Buyse.
From Thursday November 10 at 5 p.m. to Friday November 11, 2022 at 5 p.m. Between €60 and €80, which includes accommodation, meals, entertainment.
Registration: diocesan support service for people in mourning. Contact: Étel Lepetit tel. : 06 50 39 33 51.

Day of the Dead: How Christians Invest Death