Her Last Rites — Funeral Homily for Jeanette “Ginny” Kelly, 92

All of you who know Jeanette have a sense of the great woman she is. Perhaps you know her as a wonderful mother, who, when asked by any one of her eight children “Do you love me better than everybody else?” would honestly and beautifully reply, “I love you in a special way, just like all your siblings.” Or perhaps you know her as a faithful aunt, grandmother, great grandmother, or friend, whose joy and optimism always shone forth, and who, when she spoke to you, regarded you as if you were the most important person in the world.

She’s the kind of woman who some fifty years ago, when a petition went around her Connecticut neighborhood trying to run minority households out of town, refused to sign based upon firm Christian conviction, strongly rebuked the very idea, and befriended black families to help them feel more welcome there. She’s the kind of woman who felt very sad after her beloved husband Richard’s death in 1998 but, rather than turning-in on herself, intentionally looked around for others in need, volunteering and mentoring. I would bet that each of us here who knows Jeanette has a story about her, and I hope that you would recount them to one another. Today, I would like to share with you a story of mine about something God did for her less than twenty-four hours before she passed.

Ordinarily, on Tuesday afternoons, I visit Dove Nursing Home, where Jeanette has lived in recent years. But before last Tuesday, I had not been there for eight weeks. The facility had been on lockdown due to Covid and November 2nd was my first time back to celebrate Mass for the residents. After Mass, by providence, I was tipped off that Jeanette could use a room visit. I had previously given her the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, but I was informed her condition had declined since then. After seeing her, praying for her, and blessing her, I realized that it was now time for Jeanette to receive Last Rites. I fetched my ritual book and holy oil from my car and returned to her that hour. Jeanette knew that I was there because once I began she made a feeble Sign of the Cross and weakly said, “Amen.” The highlights of the Last Rites feature the Apostolic Pardon, the Anointing, the Litany of the Saints, and the Final Commendation.

First, I pronounced over Jeanette the Apostolic Pardon:

“Through the holy mysteries of our redemption may almighty God release you from all punishments in this life and in the life to come. May he open to you the gates of paradise and welcome you to everlasting joy. … By the authority which the Apostolic See has given me, I grant you a full pardon and the remission of all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

On the first Easter Sunday evening, the Risen Jesus appeared to his apostles in the Upper Room saying, “Peace be with you… Peace be with you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” Jesus did this that his apostles may be witnesses to the Resurrection and ministers of the forgiveness of sins after baptism.

Next, I anointed her head and hands with blessed olive oil, saying:

“Through this holy anointing, may the Lord in His love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.”

In our bodies we suffer and in our bodies, when connected with Christ, we are sanctified. Unless Jesus returns first, in these bodies we shall die and in these bodies we shall rise.

With the Litany of the Saints we call upon our holy friends in heaven, for the dead in Christ are not truly dead. As Jesus told Martha mourning at the death of her brother, Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” “He is not the God of the dead but of the living,” so they are ‘all are alive in him.’ With this hope, we pray for the purification, perfection, and peace of our dearly departed and ask the saints in heaven to pray for us.

And last of all, came Jeanette’s Final Commendation. I said:

“I commend you, my dear sister, to almighty God, and entrust you to your Creator. May you return to Him who formed you from the dust of the earth. May holy Mary, the angels, and all the saints come to meet you as you go forth from this life. May Christ who was crucified for you bring you freedom and peace. May Christ who died for you admit you into his garden of paradise. May Christ, the true Shepherd, acknowledge you as one of his flock. May He forgive all your sins, and set you among those He has chosen. May you see your Redeemer face to face, and enjoy the vision of God for ever. Amen.”

I hope that I am graced to hear these words and receive these holy rites myself someday. After these blessed sacraments, prayers, and benedictions, I suspect Jeanette was very grateful and felt ready and well-prepared to go to meet our Lord. She passed away the next morning.

On November 1st, we in the Church celebrated All Saints. On November 2nd, we celebrated All Souls. And on November 3rd, Jeanette followed after them. This is not the end of all stories about Jeanette, but the beginning of new stories; stories which she will joyfully share with us one day, if you and I faithfully follow Jesus Christ like her.

One Response to “Her Last Rites — Funeral Homily for Jeanette “Ginny” Kelly, 92”

  1. JoyceU Says:

    Now I want Last Rites. :) Seems rare now that anyone could receive that Sacrament. Your priest and the people around you have to think it is important enough to bother with. Assuming you don’t just get hit by a bus.

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