The Catholic etiquette for mourning-A A +A
By Luci Lizares
Monday, June 25, 2012
THERE have been so many deaths of cherished people this first half of the year that eulogies and odes seem to be the preoccupation of these past articles. Just a few days ago, we buried the husband of my good friend Lanibelle Velayo Javelosa, Cirilo G. Javelosa Jr.
Death is such a painful experience for the living. We cry and we grieve and we mourn for our nearest and dearest. We are sad that our loved ones have left us, but the most comforting consolation is the knowledge that they are united with our Creator. We are still here in this valley of tears struggling, coping and trying to live a meaningful life so that when our time is up, we too can be welcomed into the heavenly home.
There are many rituals of mourning. When my Dad passed on in 1991, my Mom was in mourning black for a good number of years. My Mom was very Vatican 1 and she carried the tradition of the elders when widows practically never shed the black attire. It was many years after, upon the coaxing of Fr. Bernard OCD, that she finally started wearing black and white and other subtle colors.
My Mom mentioned to me, many years back when she was well, in those intimate moments of girl conversations that she did not want to be cremated. And to make a point while presenting it in a question she said: "Basi tatlo palang ka bulan, ga decolor na kamo . . ." I knew then that was my cue that when the inevitable happened she would be happy that I would likewise respect the tradition of wearing black.
Queen Victoria wore mourning clothes for 40 years, until her own death in January of 1901. Queen Victoria was not the first royal woman to adopt perpetual mourning. After her husband Franz I died, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria cut her hair short and wore black for the rest of her life.
Catherine de Medici also went into black and wore it until she died in mourning for her husband, Henri II of France. Marianna of Spain cut her hair and wore black religious garb after her husband, Philip IV, died, even though she fully participated in government as regent for her son, Carlos II. This was very much a Spanish tradition for royal women. To this day, in traditional regions of Mexico, Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece widows maintain the custom of wearing black for the rest of their lives. It seems strange that as I was reading about these women cutting their hair, I too, cut my long locks a week after my Mom's demise not realizing that this was a manifestation of mourning.
Being an events coordinator and a resource person on Philippine Protocol and Social Graces, there is protocol to follow in weddings and other functions. But never did I know that there was a Catholic book on etiquette written in 1962 by Marian T. Horvat Ph.D. for social behavior while mourning.
In the past, these rules of behavior were strictly carried out. Today, the practices are relative to the aggrieved. Depending on the proximity of the relation to the deceased, the person wore the mourning clothing for certain lengths of time.
To name a few practices, the person in mourning does not go to large public functions, balls or dinner parties. Neither does he or she host parties or social functions during the mourning period. He/she does not dine in restaurants but can dine with friends at home. He/she may continue his/her favorite sport but the attire must be dark colored. A widow or a widower should not accept or offer attentions to the opposite sex for a year. I noticed likewise in further research that the other religions are also very adamant about this. If this rule is to be disregarded, all mourning clothing should likewise be discarded so as not to be pretentious to society. As to children who have lost a parent, they may continue with their activities like recitals and music lessons, community and church groups, sports events etc. However, dances and birthday celebrations are to be shunned for at least 3 months.
In the early 1800s, there were 3 periods of mourning: There is what is called as the heavy or deep mourning which requires all-black costume and no jewelry with colored stones. An all-white wardrobe is also considered as full mourning and may be worn in necessary social functions or in the country. This is followed up by the period called half mourning which requires black clothing with white touches or white with black touches. And the third period is the light or second mourning with clothing in black and white mixtures, grey, mauve, violet, lavender and similar colors, including patterned fabric.
As to children, those below 12 wore white during the summer and grey in the winter but to manifest the mourning, they were trimmed in black.
As to the periods of mourning, these rules from in Catholic Europe were exercised: A widow goes into one year of heavy mourning, followed by six months of half mourning, and six months of light mourning, for a total of two years. For a widower: one year of heavy mourning, six months of light, for a total of 18 months. Strange how rules for men are always lighter than those applied to the female gender.
For the death of parents and children: six months of heavy mourning, six months of half, three months of light, for a total of 15 months.
For the death of grandparents and siblings: four months of heavy mourning, four months of light: for a total of 8 months.
For the death of aunts and uncles, or nieces and nephews: one month of full mourning, one month of light, for a total of two months.
In the latter years, these observances were modified. The new guidelines were: For a spouse - a year and a day; For a parent or child - six months; For a grandparent or sibling - three months.
By the 20th century, children under 14 generally did not wear mourning clothing. In fact these days, after the funeral, you rarely see widows in black. They usually don white if ever.
One lady who carried the Catholic etiquette of widowhood was Jacqueline Kennedy. She became the epitome of how a widow is garbed and how a funeral for a great person should be. To this day, the memory of John-john saluting his father is still so very etched in our minds.
I believe that outward observances of mourning are totally meaningless if there are no sincere attachments to mourning. Mourning is an intimate and a personal journey. The Bible states in Ecclesiastes 3:1-4 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.
Psychologists say that there must be a time of grieving. But let it be for a season only. Then from the sorrow and hurts, we pick up the pieces, be valiant and move forward.
Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on June 25, 2012.