Sunday of the Faithful Departed

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The amazing Maronite icon for the “Sunday of the Faithful Departed” perfectly encapsulates the Maronite view of death. In the Maronite incense hymn for the departed we hear in verse 5 (although often we do not understand because we hear it in Syriac):

“5. A new vessel has been seen laden with a great reward 

traversing a stormy sea enriched by its store.

Mary is the vessel’s name, Christ-within-her, the reward, 

who travels throughout the world to give mortals life.”

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Looking at the icon we see the departed person in a boat, and as we hear in the hymn, the boat is representative of Mary who assists us as we journey through the dangerous seas of fire to heaven. For some of us (depending on how we lived our life on earth) the journey is more dangerous and treacherous than others. Mary is often depicted as a boat because she is the vessel through which God was made Man. In the boat is Christ, represented by the bread and wine which has been consumed by the departed to give them life. Christ even now, accompanies the departed on the journey to heaven.

The scene at the top of the icon is a depiction of what is contained in Revelations 20-22. In the icon we can see that the departed is travelling to be judged according to their deeds.

“Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them.  And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelations 20:11-15)

The anchor in the icon is one of the earliest Christian symbols and represents hope. In Hebrews 6:19 we hear: “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” The symbol of the anchor was often found on first century Christian tombs. We live in hope for all the faithful departed that they may reach the new Jerusalem.

It is important that we pray for the souls of the deceased, that the Lord might have mercy on them. As a young child my mother taught me never to leave Mass early if there was a memorial Mass, because our prayers for the deceased, even if we did not know them accompany them on their journey as we hope others prayers will accompany us on ours.

Read the full Maronite incense hymn for the deceased below.

The Gospel for the week is the rick man and Lazarus and we are being reminded and also warned that one day we will be one of the faithful departed. The comparative fates of Lazarus and the rich man present us with a choice about where we are headed. This Gospel is perfectly positioned in the Maronite liturgical season to remind us that if we have lost our way, Great Lent is the time when we can commit and repent.

The fate of Lazarus and the rich man are tied to their experiences of wealth and poverty in this life. The rich man has no name. Lazarus is the only name given to anyone in Jesus’ parables. It means El-azar, “God has helped.” There does not seem to be a connection between this Lazarus and the Lazarus in John 11:1-44, except that they are both in their own way are raised from the dead. Lazarus was a very popular name in ancient Israel.

The rich man had beautiful clothes and lavish feasts. Lazarus was covered with sores, was hungry, and had only dogs to lick his sores. After his death, Lazarus is in an honoured place beside Abraham. The rich man is in Hades, a place of torment and eternal punishment.

The rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus to ease his pain in Hades, but Abraham responds that this cannot be done. A distance exists between the two which cannot be crossed. The rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his five brothers about Hades. Abraham replies that they already had Moses and the prophets to warn them. The rich man believes his brothers will change their ways if someone comes to them from the dead. Abraham replies if they have not listened to Moses and the prophets, they definitely will not be convinced by someone being raised from the dead. This is perhaps a foreshadowing of Jesus’ resurrection and the failure to believe.

The Gospel of Luke stresses the way the status of the rich and the poor is reversed in the kingdom of God. When Jesus is conceived in Mary’s womb, she exults that the hungry have been filled and the rich sent away empty. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells the poor that God favours them and that the kingdom of God belongs to them. We also see this theme throughout Great Lent when the kingdom of God is compared to a wedding banquet where the invitation will be extended to “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” (Luke 14:21).

The story of the rich man and Lazarus challenges us. Our lifestyles are in contrast with people in the world who live on much less. But this is about how we use our wealth in this life and whether we help those less fortunate than us. Like the rich man’s five brothers, we are all being warned. We do not need people who claim private revelations about the after life to tell us, if we do not heed the warning of the Gospel, like the five brothers, we will not heed any.

The Scriptures and the Church provide the guide, but only those willing to accept the guidance will enter. We are either moving closer to sitting next to Abraham or towards Hades with the rich man. This Gospel is a serious warning. Lent will soon be here. This is the time to reflect and meditate on our life’s journey and which side we are headed for.

1.  On these clouds of fragrant smoke, and the scent of sweet perfume

O Lord, grant remembrance to the faithful who died.

All those who with fervent faith fed upon your holy flesh

and drank of your sacred blood, then died in your hope.

2. Faithfully the just have died resurrection is their hope; 

awaiting the Lord to come and give them their due. 

Nothing any eye has seen, nothing human ear has heard, nor what any mind has thought, the just shall receive.

3. Let us hear the Son who speaks at the time the dead will hear 

the life-giving voice of God and rise incorrupt.

For those who accomplished good, resurrection and new life;

but those who accomplished ill, will stand to be judged.

4. Isaac buried Abraham as he grieved and mourned for him, 

since life after death was hid, unknown to mankind.

But to Moses God appeared, speaking with him to reveal 

the just and the righteous are alive with their God.

 5. A new vessel has been seen laden with a great reward 

traversing a stormy sea enriched by its store.

Mary is the vessel’s name, Christ-within-her, the reward, 

who travels throughout the world to give mortals life.

6. O you saints’ when brought to court,

you confounded magistrates and made Satan run for fear; you conquered deceit.

Like gold tasted in the fire, you emerged from your distress;

triumphant your memory in heaven and earth.

7. We commemorate the saints who proclaimed the truth on earth, 

and martyrs who won the prize, receiving the crown.

We commemorate the church and God ‘s mother, Mary blest,

and all those who left this world awaiting your hope.


Go back to The 3 Weeks of the Commemoration of the Deceased