Monday, January 15, 2007

On funerals

Seems like I created a mini-firestorm with my post on the Dies Irae. So, let me throw some Napalm on the fire and talk about funerals in general.

In regards to funerals we ought to do two things. First and foremost, we pray for the deceased. This logically implies that they may need our prayers and that our prayers can do good for the departed. Can you say Purgatory boys and girls? I knew you could. As a religious service, a funeral is meaningless without this prayer. If the deceased is certainly in heaven, lets skip the Mass and have a big party. None of us can know where they are. We hope they are in Heaven or at least Purgatory. In any case, we need to pray for them. It is part of our duty as Christians to pray for the dead.

Second, we need to reflect upon a Christian understanding of death. Death is not the end. The deceased does not 'just live on in our memories.' When they die, they go to the Lord Jesus to be judged. The outcome of this judgement cannot be taken for granted. If the person died outside of a state of grace, they will go to Hell. If they died with attachment to sin, they will go to Purgatory and then to Heaven. We can help these souls to heaven through our prayers and penances. We also reflect upon the glory which is heaven and the Resurrection and our hope for these things for the deceased and ourselves. To leave out any of these elements is to distort Christian belief. Christians neither despair (there is the possibility that even the most harden sinner repented) nor have unrestrained certainty (Universalism and 'Once Saved, Always Saved' are heresies.)

Funerals are NOT celebrations of the life of the deceased. (They can rightly be seen partly as celebrations of what Jesus had done in the life of the deceased. Liturgies are primarily about God, not about us.)

In my never to be humble opinion, the following ought to be done to restore the true nature of the Catholic funeral. Restore prayers, readings, and songs that reflect the entirety of the Christian mystery of death--the four last things. Bring back the Dies Irae and the Libera Me, Domine to provide balance. (The fundamental flaw with the current right is that it makes it possible to gloss over 'the unpleasant things.') Enforce the prohibition on eulogies. (This does not mean that you cannot mention the deceased or their life. But the focus needs to be on what God does, not what they did.) Ban speaking in memory of the deceased at vigils, rosaries, and Mass. Sharing memories is a good thing to do, but not as part of the church services. (This is especially important here in Utah. Mormon funerals consist a variety of talks about the deceased: usually canonizations and 'bearing of testimonies'. The later consists in a talk about why the speaker knows the Mormon Church to be the 'one, true church.' Too many times, Catholics will imitate their neighbors regarding the canonizations and Mormons will abuse our hospitality with the testimonies. After the second and last time the later happen to me, I informed the Mormon elder that I would be at his ward the next Sunday to lead the Rosary.) Lastly, ditch the white vestments at funerals. The do not symbolize hope, but rather presumption. Black may be too solemn and down for some, so I am willing to compromise with Violet, which symbolizes prayer for the dead nicely.
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