The following comes from a November 14 Community in Mission blog post by Msgr. Charles Pope
In this month of All Souls, it is good to reflect on funerals. It concerns me that very few people today seem to understand the real purpose of a funeral. The way in which we conduct ourselves at funerals, the manner of preaching at funerals, and other visible attitudes expressed at funerals not only teach poorly, but are often a countersign of biblical and Church teaching on death, judgment, Heaven, and Hell.
1. There is basic confusion about the purpose of a funeral. Many people arrive at the parish to plan a funeral, presuming that the funeral should be all about “Uncle Joe,” who he was, what he liked, etc. This leads to a series of requests, some of them inappropriate. For example:
1 Uncle Joe’s favorite song was My Way, so we want a soloist to sing it at the funeral.
2 Uncle Joe had three favorite nieces who would each like to speak after Communion to say “a few words” about what a great uncle he was.
3 Uncle Joe was a big football fan; he never missed a game. So we’d like to have flowers in the team colors and a football displayed on a table near the altar. We received a letter from the team’s front office and we’d like to have it read in tribute after Communion (after the nieces).
4 Father, in your sermon please remember to mention Joe’s great concern for such-and-such cause. Oh, and don’t forget to mention that he was a founding member here at St. Esmerelda’s and was the president of the parish men’s club.
Well, you get the point. Of course none of this is the real purpose of a funeral at all. Like any celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, the Funeral Mass is primarily for the worship of God, the proclamation of the Gospel, and the celebration of the paschal mystery. Secondarily, the Mass is offered for the repose of the soul the deceased, inviting prayer for the judgment he faces and for his ultimate and happy repose after any necessary purification.
As a practical matter, in my parish we do not allow relatives or friends to speak during the Funeral Mass. If someone wants to say a few words, it is done before Mass starts. Once the Funeral Mass begins, though, it is the Mass and only the Mass.
A step is skipped at most funerals. Upon the death of a loved one there is often the instant declaration that “He’s in Heaven now.” Sometimes it’s worded a little differently: “She’s in a better place” or “He’s gone home.” Of course such statements are grossly presumptive and in making such declarations, people attempt to sit in the judgment seat that belongs only to Jesus. If I were to say, “Uncle Joe is in Hell now,” people would be justifiably angry and accuse me of being “judgmental.” But of course those who say “Uncle Joe is in Heaven now” are doing the very same thing. Purgatory and the concept of purification after death are rarely mentioned at funerals, but should be. Purgatory is the likely destination of most of the dead, for at least some purification after death.
The whole point of praying for the dead is Purgatory! If the dead are in Heaven, then they don’t need our prayers. Sadly, if they are in Hell, they can’t use them either. It is those in Purgatory who both need and can use our prayers.
What do you expect from a current institutional Faith where a majority of people no longer understand or agree with The Real Presence? Sure Uncle Bill is now playing on the “Heavenly Back Nine” and having a great time, drinking beer and smoking his favorite cheroot (no cancer up here). Not much difference between this crazy view of the afterlife and the wingnut Muslims, with their 72 (?) willing virgins waiting for them. But, do our esteemed leaders care? No. They mince around in their white garments, assuring everyone that all is fine. Perhaps. Or, perhaps the departed needs prayers to avoid much time in Purgatory’s fire. Christ wept when Lazarus died.
St. Christopher– yes, Christ wept when Lazarus died! I think that is very important– COMPASSION, especially for the grieving family and loved ones, trying to get through Catholic funeral arrangements! It takes a compassionate priest, to help a grieving family, get through all of this, plus more! The real problem, is the hedonistic, confusing, modern post-Conciliar Church, which no longer has a centuries-old, already-set, solemn Requiem Mass, and other formal funeral rites, for people to just follow, and that’s all. Nothing else allowed, and everyone knows the rules and procedures. Before Vatican II, we were taught to spend this life preparing for Heaven— correct teaching!
Be sure and clink (click link) for the full text. Quite good.
In a similar vein, might Msgr share his thoughts (not second thoughts) on Catholic Nuptials?
I will take a sermon on salvation by what the Lord did for us, the Dies Irae and lots of prayers for my soul after I die, thank you.
Regarding my last post: at a Holy Mass of course.
Once young, I experienced the nuns in school and the priests in sermons telling us we were all going to hell unless …. Since we were not allowed to read the Bible until the late 50’s, we didn’t really know what it taught. We memorized the Baltimore Catechism, but rote doesn’t increase faith and finding your Savior. Then, everything changed. Now we all going to heaven, unless … The readings for the final commendation at funerals tells us of the sure and certain fact that that we will be in heaven with Christ. We were justified by Christ dying for our sins. The Catholic Church and the Lutheran churches agree on Justification and have signed documents to that effect.
Bob One, there have always been Catholic Bibles for sale in this country, but some people just never opened them. Instead they sat on a coffee table gathering dust. The Baltimore catechism had Biblical references for the answers it gave to the questions. I was awarded a King James Bible after finishing second grade Sunday School. I did something even many Protestants did not do, I opened it and read it. When I took catechism, I looked up the answers from the Baltimore in my King James Bible until I bought a Douay Rheims. The fact is some people just were not interested in learning more.
Also, there were many fine pamphlets in the vestibules of Catholic Churches and bookstores back them with Biblical references. The Radio Replies Press put out many of them. There were pamphlets on the Trinity and all other things pertaining to Church teaching. Anyone who was searching for the truth at that time could find it if they were looking.
By the way, there is no place in the Bible or the catechism that says our salvation is assured if we do not follow Christ’s commands and the teachings of the Church to the best of our abilities. Even many Protestant denominations will tell you that. I think, too, that you are misreading the funereal Mass. Please give exact quotes.
I cannot find the funeral Mass right now, but I think it says, “the sure and certain HOPE (not fact) that we will be with Christ in heaven.”
Many have misquoted St. John Paul II, also, by saying that he wrote that Muslims worship the same God, when what he wrote was that the Muslims PROFESS to worship the God of Abraham. There is a difference between actually doing something and professing to do something. Words have meaning.