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Question 38.

Father your blessing!

This may sound strange, however I have heard that in the Jewish tradition especially those who lived in the time of Jesus, they would pay professional mourners to mourn over their dead. When Jesus performed resurrections there would be mourners that would weep over the dead and it is clearly stated in the miracle of Jairus’ Daughter that there were mourners there. Therefore would you be able to tell me where this tradition arose from, and what benefit is there-if there is one- in hiring mourners to attend the dead. Also is the miracle of Jairus’s Daughter the confirmation of the promise given to the prophet Ezekiel that God will one day open the graves and raise all the dead (Ezk 37:1-14)?

Love in Christ,
Clovis
 

 

Answer to Question 38

Dear Clovis,

 

Professional mourners were widely used in ancient Greece, Rome, and the Middle East, and the practice held strong in many countries through the Middle Ages and, in some countries, even into the present day. The role of the professional mourners was to make the mourning more intense thus helping the true mourners to channel and synchronize their own expressions of grief. The professional mourners would wail or cry with certain rhymes which mentioned the good things the person had done in his life and how he would be missed – a kind of eulogy in wailing rhyme. Of course this was all artificial, but it showed to others how much they loved the person and how great a loss his/her death was for them. From very early on, the Church condemned such practices because it showed a lack of faith in the Christian belief that when a person’s body dies, it is not the end, for the soul is eternal and passes over to another life close to Christ. This is also a temporary situation until the Second Coming of Christ when the bodies of the dead will rise again and body and soul will once again be reunited for all eternity. For if we truly believe in this very hope of the Resurrection it should not permit us to cry for those departed but rather to rejoice that they have passed over to eternity and now live with Christ in heaven. This does not mean that the Church forbids crying for our departed for even Christ cried for his dead friend Lazarus, thus it is only human to cry at the loss of a loved one and is part of the healing process, but our crying must be done with dignity without the exhibition of howling and wailings. Also our tears should be temporary and only for our personal loss and not because the person has died as though we should not see him again.

As to the second part of your question Ezekiel’s prophecy cannot refer to Jairus’ daughter because although she died there was no time for her to be buried and Ezekiel clearly mentions graves with bodies having long decomposed to leave only the bones. This could refer to Jesus’ own Resurrection from the dead as we are told in Matthew that: “the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many” Matt. 27:52-53, but it is more likely referring to the General resurrection of the dead when the bones of all the departed will rise and receive once more their flesh, which will happen with the Second coming of Christ.

 

With love in Christ

Fr. Christopher