The following comes from a June 3 Catholic San Francisco article by Christina Gray:
On the occasions when Catholic remains would arrive to Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma for burial without an accompanying member of clergy – or sometimes without anyone at all – the cemetery’s longtime director would grab her own prayer book and offer the prayers of committal at the burial site.
“I brought the urn to the grave and said the committal prayers myself, along with one of our gravediggers,” said Monica Williams, who oversees all six archdiocesan Catholic cemeteries. She was describing the recent burial of an indigent man with no family except a brother too ill to travel to the cemetery.
Sadly, Williams told Catholic San Francisco, remains arriving to the cemetery without family members, friends or clergy to attend the committal – the third and final part of the Rite of Christian Burial – have increased over the years. The rite includes the vigil, the funeral and at burial, the committal.
“I was heartbroken to think that were people being buried in our own cemeteries without the prayers of the Church being said and without another Christian there as they were laid to rest,” said Laura Bertone, director of the archdiocese’s office of worship. Williams had turned to Bertone earlier in the year to address the trend and together they came up with a plan to ensure that no one would ever be buried without the witness of other Christians or completion of the full rite: a lay committal ministry.
“The Rite of Christian Burial is so beautifully written by the Church,” Bertone said. “The deceased passes with the farewell prayers of the community of believers into the welcoming company of those who need faith no longer but see God face to face,” she said.
Bertone and Williams agreed that the problem presented a wonderful opportunity to lay people to serve their fellow Christians. The Church itself allows for lay people to preside at the committal.
“The Rites specifically say that in the absence of a parish minister, a friend or member of the family should lead those present in the rite of committal,” Bertone said.
In April, 28 deacons and lay people from local parishes took part in a daylong training at Holy Cross Cemetery led by Mercy Sister Toni Lynn Gallagher, the ministry of consolation coordinator for the archdiocese, along with Bertone and Williams. The training prepares lay people to officiate at burials when a group arrives without a member of clergy or when unaccompanied remains are delivered to the cemetery.
Williams said that church needs to do a better job of educating people about the richness of Catholic traditions and the values of its rites, and she hopes the new ministry can help in this way.
“A Christian burial can be a tremendous moment of evangelization, in some cases an introduction our faith for visitors,” Williams said. “In other cases, it’s a reminder to those who have drifted away from the Church of the ministry we offer and the great hope of our faith.”
The Legion of Mary used to attend all the funeral Masses which took place in their parish. But now the Legion of Mary has practically disappeared. I recall, several years ago, a few funeral Masses which I offered, where there was no congregation present. There were two altar boys, and the organist. The funeral attendants stayed in the hearse. I surmise that there was no family remaining, and that the deceased had only a couple of elderly friends who were too frail to attend. The most important thing, though, was a funeral Mass was offered for their souls.
At our parish, all the staff always attends and usually the volunteers with the ministry to the sick, plus those people who attend funerals as a devotion to pray for the deceased.
This sounds like a wonderful ministry for the laity! I wish I had known about the training.
My parish has a Legion of Mary. I’m going to ask if they send someone to unaccompanied interments.
Our parish used to have a whole group that would assist with funerals: serving as lectors, helping people who were visitors, even sometimes doing a reception in the church hall afterwards.
They would also assist the priest with the rosary at the funeral home, each person doing a decade, with the priest leading special prayers in between each decade and also doing a homily.
It was real nice for the family to feel surrounded by our whole parish when they went through a loss. We would often even go to the Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma with Father to do some of the Bible readings and prayers as well.
We went to the mass for catholic souls, the Archbhop said the mass. He told us all those souls we mourned for were going to pergatory and that we had no hope they would see the Resurrection. HELLO. Is there any wonder why our pews are empty and our coffers as well?
Souls in purgatory will be going to heaven. Just not yet.
Did the archbishop really say they had no hope of heaven or did you misunderstand? I know a lot of funeral eulogies seem to imply that the dead are already in heaven–something we cannot know. Just as we cannot know that someone is in hell.