Recently we’ve been reading Canticle of the Sun: A Hymn of Saint Francis of Assisi illustrated by Fiona French. I love the brightly colored mosaic-style illustrations. Sophie especially keeps coming back to this one.
It’s reminded me of a discussion I had some years ago with a Protestant blogger who objected to the stanza:
Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whose embrace no living person can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Happy those she finds doing your most holy will. The second death can do no harm to them.
She said death was never good nor should we thank God for it.
On one hand I see her point. On the other, there is a long tradition in the Church that looks at it in a slightly different way. I was reminded of this yet again yesterday when I prayed the Office of Readings:
Death is then no cause for mourning, for it is the cause of mankind�s salvation. Death is not something to be avoided, for the Son of God did not think it beneath his dignity, nor did he seek to escape it.
Death was not part of nature; it became part of nature. God did not decree death from the beginning; he prescribed it as a remedy. Human life was condemned because of sin to unremitting labour and unbearable sorrow and so began to experience the burden of wretchedness. There had to be a limit to its evils; death had to restore what life had forfeited. Without the assistance of grace, immortality is more of a burden than a blessing.
St Ambrose, a book on the death of his brother Satyrus
from the Office of Reading for All Souls Day
For some reason that line “he prescribed it as a remedy” really resonates for me.
And isn’t this last bit about immortality without grace being a burden exactly what Tolkien is getting at with the elves in the Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion?