By Father Richard D. Wilson
FALL RIVER, Mass. — Father Edward J. Burns died December 14 at the Catholic Memorial Home in Fall River. He was 88.
Father Burns was the son of the late Edward J. and Ann (Reilly) Burns. He was the brother of the late M. Dolores Burns, Nathan Burns, and Ann (Burns) Hoversen. He is survived by nieces and nephews.
Father Burns was ordained to the priesthood on May 22, 1954, by the Bishop James L. Connolly.
Following his ordination, he served as curate of St. Joseph Parish, St. Louis Parish, and St. William Parish, all in Fall River.
In 1972, he was appointed administrator of Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Swansea. He also served as pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Fall River, St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Provincetown, and St. Mark’s Parish in Attleboro Falls.
He retired from St. Mark’s Parish on June 26, 1996.
His funeral was celebrated by Bishop Edgar da Cunha, S.D.V., on December 19 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fall River. Twenty-one priests and four deacons also participated in the Mass.
Father Paul A. Caron, V.F., dean of New Bedford, preached the Mass. In his homily he began with a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Protestant cleric who was killed by the Nazis. Bonhoeffer said, “There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so. One must simply hold out and endure it. At first that sounds very hard, but at the same time it is also a great comfort. For to the extent the emptiness truly remains unfilled one remains connected to the other person through it. It is wrong to say that God fills the emptiness. God in no way fills it but much more leaves it precisely unfilled and thus helps us preserve — even in pain — the authentic relationship.”
Father Caron then explained that as priests “our death and the death of the Lord is always before us. Even in the face of death, there is always hope. The readings point out that even in darkness, there is light.”
Following Father Burns’ practice of referring to every reading in a homily, Father Caron applied each of the them (Lamentations 3:17-26, Romans 6:3-4, 8-9, and John 14:1-6) to his old friend’s priesthood.
He said that Father Ted loved the passage in Romans where St. Paul links our Baptisms to eternal life and that John 14 was one of his favorite Gospels, where Jesus tells the Apostles to have hope and to follow Him.
Father Caron quoted from the exhortation to priests at their ordinations, where they are told to “apply your duties” to teaching in “Christ, the true Teacher.” He remembered how Father Burns would quiz altar servers before Mass about “religion or world capitals, several of which he had visited.” He also discussed his friend’s prayer life, spending an hour in prayer after Mass, after having prayed the Liturgy of the Hours beforehand.
Father Caron recalled that Father Burns would often quote at the end of his funeral homilies an Orthodox prayer: “Blessed is the road on which you go today because during your life you were one of Christ’s friends.”
During the Orthodox Liturgy the “royal doors” leading to where the Eucharist is celebrated are opened at certain points of the ceremony. Linking that to the passing of Father Burns, Father Caron quoted Eugene Trubetskoy, a Russian Orthodox prince and a religious philosopher, who cried out before dying, “The royal doors are opening! The great Liturgy is about to begin.” This was the celestial Liturgy that Father Burns awaited with great anticipation.