An ancient prayer in November, month of All Souls

(This will be the last in a series of occasional posts in November, the Month of All Souls)

One night, just as I was ready to go our for dinner, I was paged by one of the nursing homes in my parish to come and anoint a dying resident. Her name was Anne. I had only met Anne the previous summer, when she was still living in her own apartment and doing quite well for an 89 year old woman who didn't look a day over 75.

Long before I took up residence in the rectory where I now hang my hat, Anne had worked for years as a cook, serving a number of priests at the table in the formal dining room now pretty much reserved for when company comes. I wonder how many meals she served to pastors and curates. I'm sure they were entertained by her sense of humor and her endless stream of stories. I hope they were kind to her over the years, kinder than life had sometimes been to Anne.

Anne's health has failed significantly and quickly since my summer visits. Some months back when she was no longer able to care for herself she came to the nursing home where more than one of the nursing staff has told me, "She's my favorite!" Indeed, while I was there the night I was called, four nurses stopped by Anne's room to hold her hand and to speak to her, although her awareness of those around her had grown quite dim.

Although she was awake and her wide opened eyes followed us who were huddled around her bed, Anne seemed preoccupied with a presence invisible to us. Although she occasionally spoke, we were unable to understand what she said. Still, there were two times when, with grace and reverence, she traced the sign of the cross upon herself. These gestures seemed unrelated to the moments when we prayed aloud or when I anointed her. Anne and the object of her gaze followed some spiritual horarium unknown to those at her side.

Around her neck was her rosary, the only jewelry adorning her as she took her last steps towards the kingdom's door. This rosary was a simple string of beads, each shaped something like a black olive. I noticed that the middle, the fattest part of each bead was worn bare of it's black hue by God-only-knows how many times Anne fingered those beads in prayer for God-only-knows how many prayerful intentions.

And I thought of the words Anne prayed perhaps hundreds of thousands of times:

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.  
Blessed art thou amongst women 
and blessed is the fruit of they womb, Jesus.  
Holy Mary, Mother of God,  
pray for us, sinners, 
now and at the hour of our death...

And at the hour of our death... That's where I met Anne in the nursing home that night. Although her "hour" may lasted several more days, she soon became one of all the souls we pray for each November.

So deeply patterned on Anne's life was the sign of the Cross that she was able to prayerfully trace it in herself even when unable to speak with those around her.

In this month of November, for whom might each of us offer a Hail Mail

And perhaps we might consider making it a daily practice to pray the same for ourselves every day, asking the Mother of God to pray for us now and a the hour of our death...

And please pray for Anne who has gone to God, 

and for those who love her 
and for those whom she loved...

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  1. It was good that Anne was able to have you there for those precious times.I was particularly struck by what you said here :
    "Anne seemed preoccupied with a presence invisible to us.... Anne and the object of her gaze followed some spiritual horarium unknown to those at her side."
    A few days before my mother died I took her into the hospice chapel where there was a triptych of a harbour scene and she was fixated on this for some time. She really did seem to be in a different place. She was one of 8 children and her youngest brother, my Uncle Tommy was lost at sea aged 18 enroute to America from Ireland; sunk by a German sub during WWII. A few days later she died;it was the anniversary date of when was lost at sea and I often wonder if he was there in that harbour triptych to welcome her home. Sounds stupid but that moment remains so vivid to me. Thanks for the lovely reminder of a precious time.

  2. Beautiful reflection on a beautiful woman. Thank you.

  3. My mother suffers from Alzheimer's disease. We have recently been told that "the hour of (her) death" is near.

    Despite the fact that she recognizes nobody around her, including my father, her care giving, and loving husband of 60-years, she does clearly pray to God. He has not left her and she has not left Him.

    It is clear to me, that she understands in some way and is preparing herself to be welcomed into God's loving arms to be with those who she loved in a time she can remember.

    Thank you, CP, for this marvelous piece. It brings me solace in my time of worry and sadness.


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