Wednesday, November 16, 2011
The Funeral Rites of the Church: An Annual Plea
This past week my homily centered on our stewardship of the sacred rites (i.e. the Mass). I made the point that the sacred rites are not ours to do with as we might wish, but are given to us as a sacred trust by the Church for our salvation and the salvation of the whole world. I made the point, in passing, that even (especially?) weddings and funerals are not OUR weddings and funerals. While we might be the subject of that particular liturgy, it is still the Church’s liturgy and when we stray from gratefully and reverently receiving what the Church has given us we risk missing out on the graces we are intended to receive through the celebration of those sacred rites.
In this month of November in which we are particularly attentive to The Last Things it seems particularly appropriate to say something about the Church’s funeral rites. There have been, of late, quite a lot of strange things creeping into our funeral rites. This is very unfortunate since our funeral rites are so very beautiful and present to us the depth of the Church’s experience and reflection on our communion with Christ in his passion, death, and resurrection.
The funeral rites of the Church are a very balanced celebration of our salvation in Christ coupled at once with our hope in our own salvation and eventual resurrection and our recognition that most of us stand in need of prayer (especially the through great graces which come to us through our praying of the Mass) in order to make those final steps through the gates of heaven.
The funeral Mass is very much for our beloved dead! This is attested to in the introduction to the Church’s funeral rites which reflect the long established wisdom of the Holy Scriptures and the Father’s of the Church, as well as our long established traditions which come out of these two fonts of wisdom. This is not to say that the funeral rites are not also for the living, those of us who are left behind - if only temporarily!
The process of moving from the prayers for the dying (or very recently deceased) – to the first viewing of the body and prayers in its presence – to the wake and accompanying service – to the funeral AND burial is very important and really should not be short-circuited as too often happens now-a-days.
The wake is so important, even for someone who is very old and wouldn’t have many coming for a “visitation”, because this is the opportunity for the family to begin the formal process of commending their loved one to God and saying “good-bye”. This is also the venue for focusing on our dear decedent. This is the time for remembering their virtues and the joys and sorrows we shared with that person. This is the appropriate time for sharing favorite poems and songs that would be otherwise out of place in the context of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. This is also an important time for sharing memories and eulogizing our beloved dead. If a family does not think that there would be many in attendance it might be better to shorten the time for the visitation rather than cut it out, and the wake service that accompanies it, completely.
The funeral Mass is the time for making the connection between the passion of our beloved dead with the passion of Christ in the well-founded hope of sharing also in His resurrection. We pray with the whole Church for the repose of our loved one’s soul as well as our own closer relationship with God in Jesus Christ through our experience of these sacred rites in this very important moment in our life of faith.
The burial too is an important expression of our belief in the resurrection of the dead. It should not be delayed without very serious reason, nor must it be tampered with lest we cover over the important Truths these sacred rites convey to us through our observance and celebration of them.
There really is much more to say, but there is only so much time right now and with God’s good grace I will have more opportunities in the future to share with you the glorious riches that are to be found in our rites for the dying and for the dead in the years ahead.
Pray Well!Fr. Klos