By Michael McKenna, Archdiocesan Master of Ceremonies

In discussing fate and the individual’s role in it, Tolkien’s great wizard Gandalf responds to his young hobbit companion Frodo Baggins lamenting a time of great evil by saying, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us”.

November is the month most associated with the practice of meditation on death – both of those in Heaven and those whose salvation is being worked out in Purgatory.

The Feast of All Souls’ follows swiftly that of All Saints’ and orients our minds to all things eternal as the cycle of the liturgical year approaches its close.

Certainly, the souls in Purgatory benefit from our attention and prayers throughout November. The saints in Heaven don’t need our prayers but we benefit from their intercession and witness.

But there is a third element that as Catholics we often overlook… Memento mori!

Memento mori from the Latin means ‘remember your death’ or ‘remember you must die’.

The Church has long embraced meditation on death. In addition to being among the monastic disciplines, the saints frequently referenced the importance of meditating on the inexorable fact of our death.

St Alphonsus Liguori instructed that if you “even embrace death to fulfill His holy will, assuredly you will die a saint”.

Such exhortations arise not from a macabre or morbid fascination but rather a wisdom that recognises meditating on death can lead us to live better lives.

Psalm 90 reveals, “So teach us to number our days/ that we may get a heart of wisdom”. To meditate on the shortness of our mortal lives, informs us as to how to live well and to receive the time allotted to us as a precious and finite gift rather than an endless resource to be squandered.

Memento mori recalls the fleeting nature of this life, that it might urge us to a remembrance of God and Heaven. For when we examine our lives in this context we come to appreciate how little time there is to invest in prayer, spiritual reading, a family rosary, or going to Mass.

The commendable practice ought instill in us that while we do not know the day or hour (Matt 24), it is left to us to decide what to do with the time that is given.

Tags: Liturgy