Scripture: “Blessed are those that mourn, they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:4
“In your mercy turn the darkness of death into the dawn of new life and the sorrow of parting into the joy of heaven.” - Funeral Prayer -
The books of Ecclesiastes say there is a time to be born and a time to die. When death enters our life, it may be a long time in coming or unexpected. It comes to babies, teens, young married, and the old folks. But it comes. And when it comes, no matter where, or who, it always leaves in grief. Even the best of us.
When we celebrate a person’s life in death, we remember their strengths and weaknesses, because both of those elements helped make them who they were. To understand one is to see the other. Whether a person is deemed a success or failure through our eyes is not as significant as when we see them through the eyes of faith.
In a funeral, which is really for the living, we try to remember a person’s life of faith and to celebrate as best we can the witness or the struggle of that faith. The parish begins to pray for the family and deceased as soon as we have the news.
Family may contact the pastor or the parish house at the time of the death. Sometimes news of the death comes through the funeral director. Either way, the pastor and family set up a time when they can meet in advance of the funeral to prepare readings, readers, music and ministries to participate in the funeral Liturgy. It’s a way of gathering the stories that surrounded a person in life so that we can appreciate that life in faith.
Cremation is no longer the issue it once was in Church, and cremains are treated with the same respect as a person in a casket. Actually, it’s the same thing – the form changes somewhat. Funerals can be held in the evening with or without visitation, with burial the following morning, privately or with the family, with or without the priest. A funeral can be celebrated in the morning again with or without visitation, burial to be public or private, with or without the priest. Generally, we do not overnight a casket in the church unless it would be for a religious sister, brother, deacon or priest.
Times of visitation need to be planned with the family and the pastor. Because of the clergy needs in many areas of the diocese, a lay leader or deacon can lead visitation or wake prayers. If the pastor finds a wake service not possible for him, he may inquire of the family if they are familiar with a leader, deacon or even another priest. The funeral is the responsibility of the pastor. The local funeral homes are very solicitous in helping here if a family would have a problem.
Funerals are celebrated for parishioners, families or friends of parishioners. Since so many circumstances carry their own considerations, this should be discussed with the pastor.
The Eucharist is not the only, but it is the preferred way we celebrate the passing of a person’s life. A memorial service can be created in the format of the Liturgy of the Word with people participating equally as well.