Funerals and divine worship
It is common nowadays to identify a leader as good and kind and humble simply because he is merely following the crowds. It is the same with priests and bishops. Clergy can be very adroit at keeping the customers satisfied, absorbing a good deal of praise and affection without being truly faithful to the words of Christ. It takes some effort—often in the face of resistance—to be faithful to Jesus.
Funeral Masses can be difficult because of the many demands placed by the bereaved on a priest. It’s far easier for a priest to succumb to their demands than faithfully to abide by the mind of the Church regarding liturgy and theology. But when the priest compromises on these points, the purpose of a funeral Mass is easily obscured, giving in to a kind of liturgical consumer mentality. Thus for example it is common for priests to permit beloved Irish ballads for funerals (O Danny Boy). And all too frequently the eulogy—which is prohibited by the most recent edition of the Church’s liturgical instructions—eclipses the funeral Mass itself. We would do well to consider and rediscover the purpose of a funeral Mass.
God’s most beloved personage in the Old Testament is King David. It is from the line of King David that the Lord was born. The Psalms were in large part the handiwork of David. Jesus was born in the city of David, Bethlehem. When King David sinned and his little baby boy lay dying, David placed himself in sackcloth and ashes, fasted and prayed unceasingly for the child to recover. His grief was so pronounced that when the baby died, his servants feared to bring him the bad news. When they did, King David did something unexpected. He didn’t throw a temper tantrum. He didn’t order the killings of the bearer of bad news. He washed up, combed his hair, ate a full meal, and attended Mass—or at least the Old Testament equivalent of Mass: he offered a sacrifice to the Lord. God’s will was revealed and David accepted his will in worship.
David’s example helps us begin to understand a funeral Mass. God’s will has been made manifest in the death of a loved one. Of course we have been warned. In Psalm 90 we lament, “The years of our life are 70, or even by reason of strength 80, yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.” So during a funeral Mass, we do not “celebrate the life” of the deceased. We pray. We offer a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving for the life of our friend or relative. We do not gather to acclaim the virtues of the deceased. Our virtues, and the virtues of loved ones we mourn, it should be made clear, are given to us by God.
Above all we celebrate the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus, worship the Triune God; we receive our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ in Holy Communion. Like King David of old, during a funeral Mass, we manifest our intention to accept the will of God. As we listen carefully to the prayers of the Mass we rediscover the right relationship of man before Almighty God. He is God, and we are his servants and He will provide for all our needs unto everlasting life.
There is another reason to celebrate a funeral Mass. If we want to see our deceased loved ones again we need to renew our resolve to know the will of God, worship God in thanksgiving for the revelation of his saving will, and live it. Increasingly in our day, it is dangerous to our status in polite company—at least very politically incorrect—to invoke the Ten Commandments as the rule of an honorable life. There is nothing radical about honoring God every Sunday with Mass attendance. There is nothing radical or “ultra conservative” (as the saying goes) about resolving to honor our parents, control our tempers, refuse to commit murder in all its forms, remain faithful to our spouses, and refuse to steal or lie. This is not only the stuff of character; it is the stuff of eternal life.
G.K. Chesterton was fond of saying men of old were confident of the truth, but not so confident in themselves. Modern man is ever so confident in himself, but not confident in the truth. Be confident in the truth of Christ, even if you’re not so confident in yourself. And delight in joining our deceased loved ones as we enter the Holy of Holies.
A funeral Mass, after all, brings the entire Church—Militant, Suffering, and Triumphant—together if only for a short period of time. With prayers that continue with every Sunday Mass, we pray that our deceased loved ones will soon enter into the eternal glory of heaven. This is a healthy aspiration that goes beyond human sentiment.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual life shine upon them. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace.
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