Auburn Mass honors deceased infants - Catholic Courier

Auburn Mass honors deceased infants

Each year on the first Tuesday evening in August dozens of people gather in the infant section of St. Joseph Cemetery in Auburn to commemorate the lives of babies who died too soon.

The Father Albert Shamon Fourth Degree Assembly of the Knights of Columbus sponsors the annual Rachel Mass to remember these little ones who passed away due to abortion, miscarriage, stillbirth or other types of early death.

"We want to honor the fact that they were conceived and were and are important in the eyes of God, and that they still linger in the hearts and minds of those people with whom they were associated," explained Father Frank Lioi, chaplain for the fourth degree assembly.

This year’s Rachel Mass was to be held at 7 p.m. Aug. 6 at St. Joseph Cemetery, located at 6020 Lake Ave. in Auburn.

The assembly held the inaugural Rachel Mass at the cemetery in 2000, said Al Lane, a member and former leader of the assembly. The Mass has been held each year since then in the infant section near a statue of Rachel, a biblical figure who often is associated with grieving parents.

According to the Book of Genesis, Rachel was one of Jacob’s wives. She struggled with infertility for many years before God finally granted her fervent request to bear children. She gave Jacob two sons before dying in childbirth. Jacob had 12 sons, representative of the 12 tribes of Israel, and later in the Old Testament the prophet Jeremiah says that Rachel mourns the exile and suffering of her descendants, Lane said.

"The image of Rachel weeping is projected into New Testament times as she weeps for the children massacred by King Herod in his attempt to kill the newborn savior," added Father Lioi, who also is pastor at St. Mary Parish in Auburn. "And in our own day, Rachel stands for those mothers who weep the loss of their own children."

Father Lioi and Lane have worked hard to spread the word about the Rachel Mass among parishioners at parishes in the Auburn area. Their efforts have been paying off, and last year more than 50 people attended the liturgy, Father Lioi said. The Mass is appealing to anyone who has loved and lost an infant, including grandparents, family members and friends, as well as people who haven’t personally experienced such a loss but are sympathetic to such situations, he said. The Rachel Mass is particularly significant for parents who’ve lost babies, a fact he noted in the homily he gave at last year’s Mass.

"The loss of a child due to death is a tremendous heartache for a family and in a special way for mothers and fathers. It does not matter how the child died, whether it was through abortion or miscarriage or stillbirth or early death," he remarked during the homily. "We come here to remember the lives of these little ones now joined to the life of God in the fullest possible way. In God’s eyes, a life span is just as complete in one day as it is in a thousand days. … Each life, like a flower, is a unique creation. It mirrors its creator, no matter how brief its existence."

Even the smallest babies who have passed away are now happy in the great heavenly assembly, Father Lioi noted. Those who participate in the Rachel Mass offer consolation and support to the parents of these babies, mourn with them, and ask God for strength, healing and love.

"We know that however hard we try, none of us can really enter into the desolate world of a parent who has lost a child and share their pain. Their sorrow is something that only they themselves can know. But for those who trust in God, in the pain of sorrow there is consolation, in the face of despair there is hope and in the midst of death there is life," Father Lioi said.

St. Mary parishioners Tricia and Tom Indelicato are very familiar with the pain of losing a child. In February 2006 Tricia gave birth to a baby girl who was born with anencephaly, a birth defect that is almost always fatal. Their child died the same day she was born, and is buried in the infant section at St. Joseph Cemetery. Since then, the Indelicatos and their six children have made it a point to attend the Rachel Mass every year. Tricia Indelicato said it’s nice to see others acknowledge the short lives of her daughter and the other babies who’ve passed away.

"It’s just nice that they go and everyone pays their respects. I just like the fact that they do a special little blessing just for the kids," she said.

Rachel Mass participants frequently share their stories with Lane and tell him how grateful they are for the Mass, he said. One such woman told Lane that her mother had recently passed away. Before her death, her mother had told the woman that she’d had another daughter who had died shortly after birth, Lane recalled.

"She came over to me and she said, ‘I’m so happy you did this. … I feel so relieved right now to know the Mass was said for those people.’ Basically the Mass more or less made her feel closure," he said. "The people are really grateful. I’m so delighted to be part of it."

 

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