Friday, November 11, 2011

Korean Office of the Dead

In Korea when one enters a large  funeral home,  you have many grieving families in their own rooms greeting the mourners. The Desk columnist of the  Catholic Times tells us it is easy to find the  Catholics because of their  singing the prayers for  the dead--'yeon do'.

November is the month of the  liturgical year in which we remember the dead: the  last month before the new year of Advent. Catholics during this month will have the occasion of  remembering the souls in purgatory by reciting the 'yeon do' in groups, according to their traditional melody and rhythm. A large group would be divided into two 'choirs' that alternate  with the responses.  It is something only seen in Korea.

The meaning of the two words  'yeon do' means prayer for the souls in purgatory. The columnist tells us that many think that the 'yeon-do' is a translation from prayers of the Western Church, but this is not correct. Those who have made a study of the issue say it was part of the early Korean  Church. Prayers of the Church were set to their own music and in a special order by the Korean ancestors in the faith.

The 'yeon do' is a very important part of the Catholic rites for  the dead. Since in the beginning Catholics did not follow the ordinary Korean rites for the dead the 'yeon do' helped to take the place of the traditional rites. After religious freedom was declared the purgatorial societies had a big role in helping  the grieving families.  After the Korea War with the introduction of  the Legion of Mary they also played an important role in helping the mourning families.  It is well known that this help to the grieving families was  instrumental in spreading Catholicism.

There are many who have been moved greatly by the response of the Catholics in  the help given the  families when someone has died. With the 'yeon do' and the service to the bereaving families this has moved many to see Catholicism in a different light. 

To show their respect for the dead, which many in society thought was missing from Catholicism, and one of the reasons for the persecutions, the Catholic ancestors devised the praying of the 'yeon do' for the deceased which in later times became a means of spreading the faith. This gives us plenty of matter for thought.


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