What do we do when a family member dies? Provided it was not an unexpected death, are we ready to grieve and mourn? Are we ready to put into motion their wishes for their Mass of Resurrection, Memorial Mass, Memorial Service, committal or graveside service? For all the preparations we do in life, prepare for a career, stay updated in our field, plan and prepare financially for retirement, raise a family, and take care of parents and other family members, probably one of the last things we ever do is prepare for our own or someone else’s funeral. Emotionally, we do not readily sit down and outline what we would like for the days following our death while we go onto to be with God. The General Introduction to the Funeral Rites of the church says:
“In the face of death, the Church confidently proclaims that God has created each person for eternal life and that Jesus, the Son of God, by his death and resurrection, has broken the chains of sin and death that bound humanity. Christ achieved his task of redeeming humanity and giving perfect glory to God, principally by the paschal mystery of his blessed passion, resurrection from the dead, and glorious ascension. (Vatican Council II, Constitution on the Liturgy, art. 5.)
The church provides wonderful rituals to help us grieve and mourn, helps us to cope with the human loss, and slowly move forward with our own lives. It is very strange for me to read obituaries that state, “No services as requested.” Or “private family services held.” Or the ubiquitous “celebration of life” to be held at a local meeting place.” Every moment in life deserves an appropriate ritual and the Catholic church excels in providing the ritual opportunities for faith and prayer.
As I remember hearing one man who said, “I believe I know where I am going after dealing with cancer for many years – heaven. But, in order to get there, I have to die.” Even though we know that it is the next phase or stage of our life, we are forever reluctant at any age to think about planning and selecting the prayer and scripture texts for our Funeral. We willingly prepare a will or living trust to ensure that our estate is properly distributed in a manner that is acceptable to us. We take many legal steps to preserve and secure those same assets to try and keep peace within the family after we are gone. How is it we are so willing to do those things, but cringe at the thought of planning our own funerals?
Brothers and sisters, there is no greater gift you can give to your family than to outline, prepare and file a copy of your funeral plans with your parish church and sometimes with your attorney. It takes so much weight off of your shoulders; relieves the family of a significant burden and it is never too early to start. As we move into the fall season and start preparations for the many holidays, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas, why not think about how you want people to pray, sing and celebrate our belief in eternal life, in the resurrection, in the hope and promise we will be raised up? I know that someone’s death and funeral have many emotional, spiritual and psychological dimensions, so make the time to consult with a funeral home and cemetery on what services they offer. In the near future we will offer the workshop on “Preparing for the Christian Funeral” offered through Gate of Heaven cemetery.
Father Larry Hendel, Pastor