Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What to wear for a funeral???

An entry by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf over at WDTPRS concerning Bishop Morlino (Madison) and the color to be used for funerals has occasioned a memory and a response.
I was a student at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, MI when (then) Fr. Morlino was a much loved part time professor (he was also the rector of his home diocese's cathedral - what a guy!).  I recall clearly his talking about how his brother priests looked askance at his use of a purple stole for the annual Mass offered for the repose of the souls of the clergy who had died during the previous year.  His response to the dismay was: "Given what I believe about judgement, purgatory, heaven, & hell you're lucky I'm not wearing black!"  Such was the truthful humor of this faithful and pointedly jovial priest.  No wonder he was made a bishop!
I made a clear choice, in my own priestly ministry, to wear purple for funerals.  Because this is a choice made well within the boundaries of what is allowed by Holy Mother Church (One of my rules of thumb: "What is allowed by holy Mother is not to be disallowed") this is not a blog entry seeking to justify my own decision, nor am I seeking to start a debate.  I am simply adding my own humble insight, or at least, line of thinking to the conversation.
Colors mean something in the Church.  I teach my children that purple (violet) is a color for Preparation and for Penance.  In the English language this works out very well pedagogically because it's the rule of "P's"- Purple = Preparation & Penance.  I explain to the children that the funeral liturgy is also about these "P's".  This becomes most evident when one takes the time to study the orations for the "Funeral Mass outside of Easter".
People are most familiar with purple vestments in the context of the preparatory seasons of Advent and Lent.  In these seasons we prepare for, and make a journey (a Pilgrimage!) towards the great seasons of Christmas and Easter wherein we celebrate the great mysteries of our redemption.  Thus, while purple is not a color of exultation/rejoicing, neither is it a color of despair/horror/misery.  It's somewhere in the middle, not in a "I can't make up my mind" way, but rather in a way that recognizes that I have a "well-founded hope in the resurrection" but my loved one maybe isn't there quite yet and so I need to pray for him and for the forgiveness of his sins.
Thus, we come to penance.  Advent and Lent, especially Lent, are well remembered as a particular time of penance for sins.  We do penance for our sins to demonstrate our awareness that we have fallen short of God's grace and as an effort to do what little we can to make things aright; which, in cooperation with God's grace, is actually quite a lot!
In the context of the funeral liturgy we recognize that we are indeed gathered to assist our dear departed on their journey to heaven.  Through the sacred rites we offer prayers and sacrifice for our departed loved ones for the forgiveness of sins.  One sees very quickly that for the period outside of Easter the prayers direct us very pointedly to ask God for the forgiveness of the sins and vestiges of sin (near-occasions of sin, desire to sin, etc.) left on the soul of the one's we love.
In the seasons of Advent and Lent we are called upon to undertake a holy pilgrimage, a pilgrimage being a sacred journey to a holy place as a physical demonstration of our journey to salvation - the kingdom of heaven.  Is not death the last stage, the last mile if you will, of our journey to heaven.  And in taking that journey, this definitive pilgrimage, do we not take our final steps into everlasting beatitude?
All this being said, there is one time when I will wear white for a funeral - the Easter Season.  As I said above, color speaks.  When one examines the orations for a funeral Mass during the Easter Season there is a firm change in focus away from the forgiveness of sins and towards the resurrection.  I will also wear white during the octave of Christmas, although, I'm not married to that one yet.  It just seems, on a visceral level, to be appropriate.  However, I'm open to arguments either way on that one.
So, these are my thoughts on funeral colors.  Am I against black?  No.  I just don't see it speaking to our contemporary culture in a way that is going to effectively evangelize.  But, again, I'm open to it.  If I ever begin offering the sacred rites in the extraordinary form I'll most definitely find myself in black, and I'm still contemplating it for next All Soul's Day.  We shall see.
Your comments are invited.  Please be charitable.

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Comments are most welcome! As always, be charitable and remember the 8th Commandment (Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor).