How can we offer a memorial service for those who have died under ill-fated circumstances? Is there a memorial service for the dead in Christianity?
The term “memorial service” has a variety of meanings. Christianity does not think in terms of consoling wandering spirits that were unable to attain Buddhahood, and so on. We have no way of knowing as to what the situation now is, with regard to the people who died. Since it is only God who has knowledge of each person’s life and of the thoughts hidden within their hearts, we have no choice but to entrust the deceased people to the merciful hands of God.
Nevertheless though, showing concern for ancestors and family members who have passed away, is in my opinion a beautiful Japanese custom. This is something that needs to be greatly encouraged even within Christian settings. In Christianity, both those who have passed away and those still in the world are linked together as a family of God, by bonds transcending space and time. We refer to this as the “Communion of Saints” because we believe it to be a mutual solidarity in God, where we share in His life, share in His grace, and assist one another. That is the reason why in the Catholic Church in particular, starting with the Blessed Virgin Mary we value greatly the respect shown to all the Saints. This also leads to the spirit of ancestor worship that is peculiar to the Japanese people.
We pray that the departed ones be embraced by the merciful hands of God and welcomed into eternal rest, and it is proper also to pray that those who are now with God intercede for us who are still on the earth.