The following comes from a Sept. 9 story on Catholic World Report.

You’re probably witnessing liturgical abuses when the woman in the pew behind you asks out loud, “What the hell is he doing?”

This happened at a funeral. A visiting celebrant (at a parish that I do not belong to) left the sanctuary before we prayed the Our Father. He repositioned people in the front few pews and lead the prayer while holding the hands of various family members and pall bearers, even though the coffin was in the way. This followed and preceded other changes to the liturgy that brought too much attention to the celebrant, confused the family, frustrated the servers, and had the rest of us wondering what would happen next.

Funeral liturgies should be what they are intended to be: powerful moments of transcendence that point us to questions that only faith in Jesus Christ can answer—questions about death and life, sin and salvation, humanity and God. The faithful, the lapsed, and the uninitiated should experience in ways proper to each the promises and mysteries of revelation.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “[t]he death of a member of the community…is an event that should lead beyond the perspectives of this world and should draw the faithful into the true perspective of faith in the risen Christ” (par 1687).

….There are understandable pastoral temptations to suggest instant sainthood—especially if the preacher knew the deceased well. But putting to one side the Church’s lengthy investigations of the miraculous, we typically aren’t privy to a person’s particular judgment. This implies a more pressing pastoral need to preach the truth….

Funeral homilies that promise sainthood over the more likely need for purgatory may discourage the living from praying for the dead. They also force the poorly catechized and the uninitiated to choose between what little they know of heaven and what they fear most about hell. And often, as Sandy demonstrated, no matter how many times a loved one hears that the deceased is in heaven, it is understandable if they spend the rest of their lives secretly wondering otherwise.

On the other extreme, should the faithful and the lapsed (who may only attend Mass at funerals) hear over and again that everyone goes to heaven, why wouldn’t they think that the same applies to them and those they love, like their spouses and children?

….Then there is the expectation that when we die we become angels. No matter what is revealed in the Gospel or spoken in the Eucharistic prayers, the poorly catechized often add pleasant but gnostic imagery of souls becoming not like angels, but actual angels—beings who are and who will remain pure spirit and intellect and have no need of physical bodies.

Thus what we know about being human—of having a body and a soul—contrasts with the expectation that our eternal rest will include only half of who we are, or were. And that comes with uncomfortable implications. If by the grace of God we do meet our loved ones after our death, such a gnostic version of heaven offers no hope of ever hugging them again or enjoying the goodness of creation’s physicality.

I know from the death of my long paralyzed, bed-ridden aunt that there is comfort in knowing that one’s broken body is no longer a cause of suffering. Thus we speak of “being released” from our fallen bodily existence. But this does not imply that this separation is a good and intended end for all eternity. No wonder so many Catholics—even among the practicing—are forgetting our promised rise in eternal, bodily glory.

….A common refrain among the lay faithful and even some celebrants is that death has some intended place in God’s plan. “God has a purpose for this,” we hear well-meaning friends tell an inconsolable widow, as if God takes pleasure in the consequences of sin.

Lost is the understanding that the only death ordained by God—the only one that can bring eternal salvation—is the death of Jesus Christ. All others deaths, our own included, are not of divine origin.

Again, there are pastoral inclinations to tell shocked survivors that good can come from the death of a loved one. But this is different than implying that death is necessary or that the cosmos will somehow be better off because your teenage daughter died of bone cancer….

I’ve noticed that many funerals at many parishes are accompanied musically by “On Eagles’ Wings” and “I Am the Bread of Life.” Families probably demand this music because that is all they have ever heard at funerals.

And while I’ve watched only one celebrant rearrange people in the front pews to hold their hands, many do preach Masses of Canonization. They might even tell us that the deceased, who is now an angel, is making spaghetti in heaven with their mother, father, spouse, and anyone they ever knew and loved—not that I would have anything against a heavenly banquet that includes pasta, but there are other things that need to be stressed, things about salvation, which we find only in the Gospels and hear the Eucharistic Prayers.

Many funerals offer a eulogy. If so, we will likely hear an understandably emotional but uncatechized friend or relative tell funny stories about the deceased. After we all laugh, they may instruct us that God has brought the deceased home through willing the terrible evil of death. Sadly, many may remember only these words….

To read the entire story, click here.