This morning, just before I awoke finally, I dreamed I saw my mother. She was youngish, perhaps in her 40s, and was coming out of an office in the West End of London where she never worked, wearing a fur jacket she never owned. She was wreathed in smiles, the end of a happy day with colleagues who had become friends, and pleased to see me unexpectedly. When she saw my expression she asked me what was wrong: had I lost something, was I carrying too much? The answer to both questions, I realise now, was yes; but I said that I had just got off a bus without paying my fare and gone past my stop, chatting to the woman sitting next to me, and remarking to her how rare it was that someone nowadays would bid you "Good morning" in valediction.
I've been dreaming, memorably, a lot recently. I put it down to the recent increase in my anti-hypertension medication, although the blurb that comes with the capsules does not list vivid dreams as an observed side-effect. And while the dreams are not nightmares, they often involve me in situations which give rise to anxiety or mild distress - ironically associated with raised blood pressure. My mother has featured in a number of these dreams. In them, she is never the poor, pain-wracked creature of her last miserable year; but rather the one I remember from childhood: in her prime, hopeful, always smiling, somehow glowing.
It occurs to me that, in my recalling her in my dreams, I am subconsciously praying for her. I am commending her to the God who created her and in whose closer presence I hope she now rests. And I am commending her, not in the condition in which she passed from this life; but as she was when her life was at its fullest. Some will say that my prayers, conscious or subconscious, cannot help her; that she is dead and beyond my help. What can my commendation avail one who rests in His closer presence? "Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher", in his sharp suit or pressed Levis, "all is vanity". I am not going to argue with them, though I confidently ignore them. Prayer for the dead comes naturally and easily to me, and I believe it is of God. It is not chantry prayer, no vain petition for time off purgatory. It is the prayer of the beloved. It is my prayer, prayed in faith, and it is heard.
We claim to believe - and I often preach - that eternal life is a continuum. It is here and now, and it is there and then, its progress uninterrupted as it passes through the grave and gate of death: "Now is eternal life, if risen with Christ we stand", we sing (well, some of us, anyway). The dead are still on their pilgrimage towards God, just further on than I am. If I prayed for them when they were within my sight, why should I not do so now that I see them no longer? If I believe it helped them then, I must believe it helps them now.
The Eucharistic Prayer (or Great Prayer of Thanksgiving) includes what is called the anamnesis: the "calling to mind" of the mighty acts of God in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. By calling them to mind, we in some sense relive them, re-enact them, cause them to happen again, for us, at every celebration. This recalling is part of our offering to God. We do something similar, though in a different register, when we recall and commend those who have gone before us. Each soul is a creation of the Lord, and made in his image. We offer this extraordinary gift back to God, with love and gratitude. For "all things come from you, and of your own do we give you".