Catholic Funerals - 23rd August 2015

At Liturgy Brisbane we receive many enquiries about funerals, mainly from those in parishes who work with families to prepare them, but also from people planning a relative’s funeral - or even their own. There are a few issues that arise frequently.

Funeral Notices

Funeral directors encourage the use of wording such as “The family and friends of N. are invited to a celebration of her life”.

Certainly, we give thanks to God for the one who has died, but a Catholic funeral is about giving thanks above all for Christ who died and rose “so that we might have eternal life”. We offer praise and thanks that this person has been caught up in God’s saving love and celebrate the new life that God has called the deceased to share.

It always puzzles me that funeral notices still frequently use the out-dated term “Requiem Mass” instead of the correct titles “Funeral Mass” or “Funeral Liturgy”.

Eulogies

Multiple eulogies have become a feature of funerals, including those conducted in Catholic Churches. Some people no longer attend funerals because they know that it is likely to last for up to two hours and include several long, repetitive, overly-emotional eulogies that unrealistically depict the deceased as an absolute saint.

The ritual book for Catholic funerals, called the Order of Christian Funerals, says this about eulogies:

A brief homily based on the readings should always be given at the funeral liturgy, but never any kind of eulogy. Through the homily, the community should receive the consolation and strength to face the death of one of its members with a hope that has been nourished by the proclamation of the saving word of God.

A member or a friend of the family may speak in remembrance of the deceased before the final commendation begins.

A Catholic funeral needs to leave mourners with reason to hope, not just memories of the deceased. The funeral liturgy affirms that “in Christ, who rose from the dead, our hope of resurrection has dawned.  The sadness of death gives way to the bright promise of immortality.”

Symbols on Coffin

Several types of symbols are used at a Christian funeral.  Some are baptismal: the coffin is sprinkled with water and clothed in the white pall of new life in Christ.  Some of the symbols are paschal: the Easter candle, symbol of the risen Christ, is placed beside the coffin.  Other symbols such as a bible or cross speak of our life in Christ. Symbols of the deceased’s favourite sports and pastimes are best placed elsewhere, perhaps near the condolence book at the church entrance.

A Catholic funeral

Lex orandi, lex credendi – the way we pray expresses what we believe.  If a Catholic funeral is no different from a “secular” funeral, we can hardly blame outsiders from wondering what difference being a Christian makes.

A Catholic funeral offers worship, praise and thanksgiving to God, the creator of all life; it commends the deceased person to God’s merciful love; it affirms the bonds between the living and the dead in the communion of saints; it brings hope and consolation to the bereaved; it celebrates Christ’s Passover and our participation in it through Christian initiation.

Music

I will deal with this contentious issue next week!

Elizabeth Harrington