What Makes a Funeral Catholic?
Whenever I present workshops on funerals, these issues come up:
Funeral directors encourage people to use wording such as ‘The family and friends of N. are invited to a celebration of her life.’
The sense of the funeral service being totally about the deceased is sometimes reinforced by the showing of slides of the person’s life during the liturgy.
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.
Funeral notices still frequently use the term ‘Requiem Mass’. Why this out-dated terminology instead of the correct titles ‘Funeral Mass’ or ‘Funeral Liturgy’? The Latin name should only be used when the funeral is celebrated in Latin according to the old rite.
Multiple eulogies have become a feature of funerals, including those conducted in Catholic Churches. I know of people who will no longer attend a funeral because they know that it is likely to last for up to two hours and include several long, repetitive, overly emotional eulogies that depict the deceased as an absolute saint when their experience of the person is somewhat different.
The Order of Christian Funerals (OCF) says that:
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. (# 141)
A member or a friend of the family may speak in remembrance of the deceased before the final commendation begins. (# 197)
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 in the church entrance.
Why and how is a Catholic funeral different?
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.