Action Alert!

What can we learn from the dignity of military services?

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | May 22, 2015

Heading into Memorial Day weekend, my thoughts turn to fallen soldiers, and to the way we honor them.

A friend of mine is a priest in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. Over the years he has often conducted burial services at Arlington National Cemetery. There is a prescribed ritual for burials there. My friend reports that no one ever suggested any variation from that service. It is simple, solemn, reverent. Those who attend the service understand, without needing to be told, that they are expected to follow the protocol, to conduct themselves in a way that is suitable to the occasion.

But the same priest-friend laments that he regularly fields odd requests for unconventional funeral services in his parish church. The family of the deceased wonders why, in the course of the church service, they can’t play his favorite polka music, or tell his favorite jokes. They are often annoyed when the pastor explains that there are rules for the liturgy.

Visitors at a military cemetery expect that there will be rules, and accept the need to follow them. That’s a good thing, because it ensures that military services are conducted with dignity. Visitors at a Catholic parish church* don’t expect to encounter rules, and when they do, they assume that they can break them. Why?


*- It goes without saying that the family members who object to the “standard” parish funeral service are, as a rule, not practicing Catholics.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: koinonia - May. 26, 2015 7:18 PM ET USA

    The liturgy of the Church is directed to God, and it takes into account our human nature. Thus, the liturgy traditionally understood is designed to elevate hearts and minds to something greater. Central to this understanding is Calvary. The funeral Mass particularly emphasizes the fundamental "wrongness" of sin and death, the all-loving sacrificial victory of Calvary, and God's benevolent mercy and love despite perfection in justice. There's a reason for the rubrics. Many miss out on this.