Irish Papist

Irish Papist
Statute of the Blessed Virgin in Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Church, UCD Belfield

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Corpse

Saturday morning. Me and the world were fresh
As I made my way, my usual way, to church.
The Mass on Saturday morning was the one
I liked the best in the whole week. No choir
Crooning out banal hymns, no schoolkids dragged along
And sniggering in the pews, no rambling homily
Larded with clich├ęs; some old girls, and me,
And a dozen other regulars, all bent
Upon our silent, sacramental task.

Except today, it was a different scene;
The church was thronged with people, young, well-dressed,
Self-confident, entitled to be there.
I stood outside the gate, not knowing what to do.

A funeral Mass. I didn't know the corpse.
But wasn't it still Mass, in spite of that?
And who would mind another mourner there?
And why should death disturb my sweet routine?

I ventured in. I'd never seen the church
So full of life. The pew that I sat in
Was full of teens and twenty-somethings. They
Were not the least bit awkward, even though
They'd no idea what to do or say.
This is their house as much as it is yours
I told myself. Don't be a Pharisee.

Then came the homily. And it was plain
This was no heart attack or accident.
It had been in the news; a violent death.
Senseless, the priest said. But I sat there thinking
How every death is violent, anyway.

And there the coffin lay, exposed to view,
Awkward before the altar. One more trip
And that was it; the guy would just be left
Stuck in the ground. The knees that had been grazed
So many times, the hair that had been cut
So many times, the body that had grown
So slowly, and required such looking after,
Would be deposited into a hole
And covered over, and left there for good.

Stop the proceedings, I felt like protesting,
This is a travesty. This can't be done
In half an hour
. It felt downright obscene.
A man is a million men. A life is a million lives.
Each death should get a hundred funerals
A thousand funerals, or none at all.
How don't these people know the world has ended?

Of course, I didn't care a hoot for him
And they all loved or liked him. But so what?
My horror was untinged by sentiment.

I didn't sign the book. I fled the scene.

If only death was terrible! But death
Is trivial as a cancelled train. Death is
An incident, the business of a day.

Oh Christ, the tears you shed for Lazarus!
Teach us those tears, teach us those tears, oh Christ!

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