Honoring the dead of COVID-19

Deacon Tom Hardie prays the Office for the Dead weekly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

A small procession of family members wearing face masks (except for the baby) walked behind the coffin of Jose Gabriel Martinez toward the sanctuary of St. Joseph Catholic Church in West Liberty. Martinez, 58, died of COVID-19 on April 21. His family, two of whom also contracted coronavirus but survived, sent him off on his journey to eternal life during the funeral Mass on May 2. The masks and limited gathering created an indelible image of the devastation the coronavirus pandemic has created.

Six days later, Deacon William Sch­roe­der, who was ordained in the Dio­cese of Dav­en­port 32 years ago, died of COVID-19 in West Des Moines, Iowa. His obituary included this now familiar line: “Due to current coronavirus conditions, a celebration of life service will be held at a later date.” Families sometimes postpone celebration of life services because of the difficulty in trying to limit the number of mourners to 10, one of the social distancing practices aimed at eliminating the spread of the coronavirus.

Most people in the diocese know of someone who has taken ill or died of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Honoring the memory of those who have died of COVID-19 has taken shape in two different ways in the diocese. First, the deacons of the diocese, on a voluntary basis, pray the Office for the Dead as a substitute for either Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer, two of the prayer times within the Liturgy of the Hours.


Deacon Tom Hardie said the coronavirus pandemic caused him to ask his fellow deacons to join him in prayer “as we are ministers of service” dealing with “the restrictions imposed on us by this virus. I thought the best way we could be of service to those dying of the disease was to join in prayer on their behalf,” said Deacon Hardie, who serves St. Anthony Parish-Knoxville and Sacred Heart Parish-Melcher.

It troubles him that “when folks die of this disease they are often unaware of what’s going on because they are sedated and have no assistance of family or clergy to help them transition from this life to the next. Having been present at the death of many folks in my life, including my own family members, I am acutely aware that there is a great deal going on at those last moments before surrendering to sister death,” the deacon said.

“I pray the Office for the Dead on Friday morning each week and will put it in on one other occasion each week at different times. I don’t use specific names as I don’t have them available to me. I just use the closing prayer for multiple individuals and name ‘those who have died this day of the COVID-19 virus.’ Praying this gives me hope for all touched by this virus. As Paul states in his letter to the Romans, hope does not disappoint.”

Deacon Mike Snyder, diocesan director of the diaconate, said the Office for the Dead is typically substituted for either morning or evening prayer on any day except Sunday or a solemnity. “People who have died from COVID-19, especially those who did not receive end-of-life sacraments, are included in the Intercessions.”

Each of the deacons received a request to pray the Office for the Dead a couple times a week. Some may be praying once or twice a week; others may be praying three or four times a week,” Deacon Snyder said. They began praying this special prayer during Holy Week and will continue indefinitely. “I would invite everyone who prays the Liturgy of the Hours to join the deacons in this prayer for people who have died from COVID-19,” Deacon Snyder said.

“We would also like to reach out to the families of people who have died from COVID-19 without end-of-life sacraments. God is merciful and just. He knows what is in our hearts, our desires and our intentions. He also knows that the dying person was not responsible for the situation in which they could not receive sacraments,” Deacon Snyder continued. “We have full reason to have certain hope that God will be merciful to them, and this is what we ask for in our prayers for your loved ones.” 

Another way to remember the dead

The Catholic Messenger also desires to put a face on COVID-19 by remembering parishioners who have died of the disease or its complications. The Messenger will publish brief obituaries of these parishioners each week as names are provided from parishes or families. Submit the following information: name, age, date of death, parish and city, family (such as spouse, surviving or deceased, and number of children and grandchildren). A photo of the parishioner may be submitted. Please send information to messenger@davenportdiocese.org.

The coronavirus has taken the lives of people in our diocese, people connected as brothers and sisters in Christ from all walks of life. Remembering them puts a face on a disease that has devastated the world.

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