The choice of readings and hymnody for Mary’s requiem are her own. One might be
asking oneself why these readings, and in particular this gospel? Mary never saw herself
as saintly, but neither could one say that Mary’s life had a great deal in common with the
thieves on their crosses either side of the Lord. The impact of Mary’s life has been
profound, more than she would ever realise and the reaction to her death in many people
is testimony to this fact.

So why this reading? I believe Mary chose this gospel reading because it demonstrates a
profound truth about the nature of God and the means of our salvation. The thief that
asked the Lord to ‘remember me when you come into your kingdom’, received a
response that he could never have expected — ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with
me in paradise.’ This thief couldn’t claim that he had led a good or holy life and therefore
deserved to get into heaven. He had no appeal to make other than to be aware of his own
sin and asked to not be forgotten by the Lord.

The truth that is so wonderfully and terribly revealed in this encounter of the thief and the
Lord, is that the complexities of our lives, with all that is beautiful and true and that which
is not so beautiful and is destructive is not payed out on the scales. This would be an
utterly precarious position hoping that one may out weigh the other – if it were, then none
of us could have much to look forward too. Heaven or hell and the drama of our lives are
played out on the much larger canvas framed by the grace, mercy and love of the Father,
revealed in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Even in our human relationships, although we have rights and responsibilities towards
each other, we are diminished if alongside that there isn’t an element of grace, mercy and
love. A parent may house, clothe, feed and educate a child but if that child doesn’t
experience grace, mercy and love as well, the child will be impoverished and will find it
difficult to thrive and flourish as a person.

Relationships are not meant to be contractual but covenantal where each person freely
gives themselves to another. This self giving in love is something that we all long for in the
depths of our hearts. St. Paul put this rather well when he stated that if I can speak in the
tongues of men and angel and understand all the mysteries of the world but don’t have
love then I am like a clanging cymbal, I gain nothing, I am nothing.

Keeping this in mind we return to our gospel reading. One thief sees something more in
the person at the centre of all this drama. In his silence and vulnerability, for those who
are willing to look beyond themselves, a dignity, holiness and innocence, that speaks of
the divine, is evident – and the thief perceives it. How often do the innocent pay the price
for our own folly?

Here humanity has cast it judgement upon love, truth and holiness and sought to crucify
it. Yet even while the Lord in his humanity is dying he reveals the nature of God’s will by
uttering; ‘Father forgive them, for they know not what they do’ and to the thief, ‘today you
will be with me in paradise’.

On the Cross the Lord reveals the longing of the Father’s heart that all might turn to him.
In the Church we call this movement towards God repentance, and it is in turning to him
that we find our true life, hope and joy. Mary, I believe, tasted something of that joy. She
knew that, although rightly we all have a duty to do the right and avoid the wrong, it was
in seeking to rest in the Lord’s grace, mercy and love that we would find our true life and
joy. This seeking and resting in the Lord allows something of that grace, mercy and love
to be reflected in our words and deeds and enable others to discover the way of great joy
that is found in the Lord.

Mary, however imperfectly, had a faith that is rooted in trust, a hope that is based on a
promise and a love that is rooted in the divine. It is why Mary chose the psalm to express
the longing of her own heart to follow the Lord wherever it might lead and the beautiful
vision in Isaiah of the heavenly banquet where every tear and reproach will be wiped away
of which the mass we have celebrate is a foretaste and a promise. The mass also put
right at the centre of the Lord’s sacrifice on the cross and allows us to plead for ourselves
and for others that the Lord would not forget or forsake.

Faith, hope and love knows that death in the Lord is not the end. Death could not contain
or extinguish His love and divine life, and his humanity was raised with him into glory.
Mary’s identification with the thief was not about the way they lived their lives but that
Mary in faith, hope and love could turn to the Lord, as the thief had done, and say
‘remember me when you come into your kingdom’ and in return hear those most beautiful
words ‘truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise’.

We have gathered here before God, not in the first instance to celebrate Mary’s life, there
will be plenty of opportunities to do that, but in thanksgiving to prayerfully offer the mass
to the Lord for Mary. Beseeching him that Mary might be enfolded by the wonder of his
merciful love and find her way in the presence of the Lord alongside the Blessed Virgin
Mary and all the saints and martyrs in the worship and everlasting joy of heaven.

Requiem Mass

Mass was celebrated in the Ordinariate Use | Booklet (PDF, 521kB)
St Mary Magdalen Church, Upper North Street, Brighton : 8 January 2020

Introit: Requiem aeternam
Ordinary of the Mass: John Merbecke
Reading: Isaiah 25:6–9
Psalm: 41(42) Like as the deer that yearns for flowing waters, so longs my soul for God, the living God (Watson)
Gospel: Luke 23:33, 39–43
Offertory: Lady of Walsingham (Rogers)
Communion: Russian Kontakion; Soul of my Saviour
Ceremonies after Mass: May the choirs of angels (Ernest Sands); Praise to the Holiest