November 9, 2015

"For the wake does not so much wake up the dead as wake up the living"

Mark Milburn writes In Praise of Wakes in First Things.

As a social gathering, the wake is numb business right from the start.,,,,the call of the traditional wake, followed by a Mass and burial, is stronger than you know. Because, despite your neurotic apprehensions, you don’t send flowers. You go. To the wake. You almost always decide to go to the wake. Why?

You go because the casket visit, the pious obsequies, and the shunt into wet, cold mud—not to mention the little after party offered to the remnant who have followed the cortege to the grave—all these ceremonies, together create, an oddly restorative effect. You go because the spritz of something foreign to the soul follows the trinity of wake, funeral and cemetery. The feeling is so oddly beautiful it’s something a Catholic has to think of as grace.  Then again, maybe you feel better just knowing you’re still alive.

….You go because a wake, and funeral, and burial are the greatest cure ever for that miasma which medieval philosophers called acedia, or sloth. The funeral wake is a tonic that shakes into vivacity the sluggard soul. For the wake does not so much wake up the dead as wake up the living—we—who sleepwalk in the anesthesia of everyday life. The wake startles out of dropsy the listless soul. I mean the modern soul who gazes at the chasm between himself and a life of holiness, and who can only respond by reaching for his smartphone to touch-start his new app, thinking “Oh, Hell, I’ll just send flowers?”

….Whether we are at the casket or at the graveside, or at Mass, there we join the community of the living and the dead. And so as in The Odyssey, Book XI where the dead tell their stories, here at a wake and funeral we hear the stories of our dead.
Posted by Jill Fallon at November 9, 2015 11:51 AM | Permalink