Funerals provide mercy, consolation - Catholic Courier
The sun sets on the headstones and monuments that fill Rochester’s Holy Sepulchre Cemetery. Bishop Salvatore R. Matano
spoke at Holy Sepulchre Sept. 16, emphasizing the importance of the Christian funeral and burial liturgies. The sun sets on the headstones and monuments that fill Rochester’s Holy Sepulchre Cemetery. Bishop Salvatore R. Matano spoke at Holy Sepulchre Sept. 16, emphasizing the importance of the Christian funeral and burial liturgies.

Funerals provide mercy, consolation

ROCHESTER — It has become popular in recent years for people to consider a funeral Mass as a celebration of a deceased individual’s life. However, that is not how the Roman Catholic church views a funeral liturgy, noted Bishop Salvatore R. Matano.

"First and foremost, the funeral, or Mass of Christian burial, is praying for God’s mercy, praying that God will receive this person," Bishop Matano explained during a Sept. 16 presentation at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery. "But we also pray for the forgiveness of the sins committed by our deceased loved one, recognizing that none of us is a perfect individual."

Bishop Matano said he believes misconceptions about funeral liturgies stem from a widespread lack of effective catechesis. Sixty-eight percent of American Catholic parents between the ages of 25 and 45 do not have their children enrolled in any sort of religious education, either at their parishes or Catholic schools, Bishop Matano said, citing a report on the Catholic family published in June 2015 by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. Not only is this finding an "extraordinary concern" for church officials, he said, but it also explains why many Catholics don’t understand the purpose of a funeral liturgy.

"We have many people who simply do not understand what the church teaches," Bishop Matano said. "It filters through every level of pastoral life, so naturally, it would show itself evident in the manner in which we approach Christian burial and the rites of the church."

Bishop Salvatore R. Matano (top) discusses Christian wakes, funeral Masses and burial during a Sept. 16 talk at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery’s Christ Our Light Mausoleum.

Mercy and consolation

A Catholic funeral Mass is not a celebration of the deceased’s life, but rather a celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus, who won for us the prospect of eternal life, Bishop Matano said. The congregation gathered for a funeral Mass prays for their deceased loved one, asking mercy and forgiveness for his or her sins so that God will find the individual worthy of eternal life.

"There is no better way to cherish the memory of our beloved dead than to have holy Mass offered for them, not only at the time of their funeral, but also in the days that follow," the bishop said.

Many Catholics indicate in their advance directives that they desire a Mass of Christian burial upon their deaths. Hospitalized patients who realize they don’t have much longer to live often share their wishes regarding their impending funeral arrangements, according to Father Thomas Mull, pastor of Our Lady of Peace Parish in Geneva.

"If the person who dies is someone that I’ve been bringing Communion to or seeing in the hospital, oftentimes … they would have spoken to me about their funeral," Father Mull said.

If the people haven’t made their desires known in advance, however, their funeral arrangements may be made after their deaths by relatives who either are not Catholic or have not been properly catechized and don’t understand the significance and purpose of a Catholic funeral liturgy, Bishop Matano noted. Such well-meaning relatives may not realize that by choosing to forego a Mass of Christian burial, they are depriving their deceased loved ones of the prayers that would be offered on their behalf during Mass, and they also are depriving themselves of the consolation a funeral liturgy would bring them, Bishop Matano said. During a funeral Mass Christ speaks to the bereaved through the Scripture readings and prayers, and comforts them through holy Communion, which for Catholics is the source and summit of all Christian life.

"The focus (of the Mass) is Jesus Christ, into whose arms we thrust our beloved deceased. It is natural to every person to reach out and want to be in the company of Jesus. It’s inherent in us to be comforted by God," Bishop Matano said.

Over the years, however, the focus of some funeral liturgies has gradually shifted away from God and the Mass, as undue emphasis has been placed on words of remembrance about the deceased, leaving the Mass nothing more than an incidental platform for a eulogy, he added.

Words of remembrance

Sharing memories and talking about their deceased loved one is a natural part of the mourning process for those left behind, but the most appropriate time for such words of remembrance is the vigil or wake at the funeral home, Bishop Matano said. Words of remembrance are not a required part of Catholic funeral liturgies, but individuals may choose to include them in the liturgies they’re planning. Yet these words follow diocesan guidelines, which were set forth by Bishop Emeritus Matthew H. Clark in the 2012 document "Norms for Words of Remembrance at Funerals in the Diocese of Rochester."

Bishop Matano explained that this document calls for words of remembrance to briefly provide some insight into the deceased’s faith and values. When typed, they should fill no more than one page, taking no more than three or four minutes to read, and the speaker should remember that these words will be shared within the flow and dignity of a funeral liturgy. Such remembrances also should be prepared beforehand and reviewed with the presiding priest to prevent undue length or embarrassing situations, he added.

Bishop Matano said he knows many Catholics are not familiar with these requirements related to funeral liturgies, and that’s why proper catechesis is so important.

"It is my responsibility as the bishop, in cooperation with the priests, to gently convey these policies to our beloved people when they come at a most sensitive moment in their lives," he said. "They shouldn’t be seeing these policies for the first time when a loved one has passed away. This is not the moment for the lesson."

It’s important to remember that the bereaved are dealing with a lot of strong emotions while they’re planning a loved one’s funeral, Father Mull said. If a family member asks to include a component that is not in keeping with the guidelines for Catholic funeral liturgies, he said he will gently suggest incorporating that element into the activities at the funeral home or the cemetery instead.

"Usually if you can bring up some options, at least you’re not shutting the door on that," Father Mull said. "Sometimes I think it helps for people just to hear other options."


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