A few years ago I wrote a column on Catholic Funerals for my previous parish. Normally, each Catholic parish has a fair number of funerals each year. The priests and parish staff are acutely aware of our need to comfort families and to provide the necessary spiritual guidance at this most difficult time.
A few trends, however, continue in our society that I think, once again, need to be addressed.
First, the norm for a Catholic funeral is at Mass. It is important that we focus on the saving action of Christ through His Passion, Death and Resurrection. The Mass itself is the most perfect prayer and sacrifice that can be offered for our loved ones. Nothing is more efficacious. It is a re-presentation of Christ’s Salvific Act. The funeral rite contains such rich symbolism reminding us of our connection to Baptism. Moreover, we have the opportunity to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus to strengthen us.
Sometimes those who are not familiar with the proper Catholic protocol might encourage simply having a funeral service in the funeral home. While the service may bring some comfort to the family, theologically it is never the same as having a Mass offered for that person. Please think of the eternal soul of the deceased and have their funeral rites take place during a Mass. It is also important to pray and to have Masses offered for the soul of the deceased. While flowers are a nice gesture, a Mass offered for the deceased is much more beneficial spiritually.
Second, it is specifically stated in the funeral ritual that “there is never to be a eulogy” during the funeral Mass (Order of Christian Funerals, #27). Over time this practice has found its way into our liturgies and has become a somewhat “acceptable” practice. However, the funeral liturgy should be more about the saving action of Christ than a tribute to a deceased person. The proper place for such a eulogy is either at the funeral home, before the Mass begins, graveside (weather permitting) or at the meal that is usually served after the funeral. The Catholic funeral liturgy is not about “praising” and “canonizing” the deceased no matter how good the person was but about us realizing what Christ has done for us by His death on the cross.
Third, the choice of music should always be religious in nature and appropriate for a church funeral. Secular music (popular or sentimental) is never appropriate during Mass.
Finally, since there are more cremations taking place these days, I remind those who choose this option what the Catholic funeral rite tells us about the proper placement of the ashes or cremains:
The cremated remains of a body should be treated with the same respect given to the human body from which they come. This includes the use of a worthy vessel to contain the ashes, the manner in which they are carried, and the care and attention to appropriate placement and transport, and the final disposition. The cremated remains should be buried in a grave or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium. The practice of scattering cremated remains on the sea, from the air, or on the ground, or keeping cremated remains in the home of a relative or friend of the deceased are not the reverent disposition that the Church requires. (Order of Christian Funerals, #417)
I mention all of the above to guide families with their decision making at this most difficult time.
Fr. Ed Namiotka