Parishes provide a range of support to families planning funerals, from assistance in selecting appropriate readings and hymns, to bereavement and grief services. Some parishes also have begun to offer additional ministries to help these families, such as resurrection choirs and funeral luncheons.
While most music at funerals is instrumental or could be sung by a cantor or music minister, volunteers from some parishes assemble to sing during the liturgies. These groups are often called resurrection choirs.
A resurrection choir’s main function is to lead the hymns and responses as well as sing the responsorial psalms, according to Marcia Sheremeta, music minister at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Greece, which has had a resurrection choir for more than 10 years.
"The congregation at a funeral consists of people from different church experiences," she explained. "They may not be familiar with the order of the Mass, let alone the musical settings. The choir provides leadership as well as support."
Sheremeta said the choir was started at the request of a prior pastor, and that she currently has 20 people who have volunteered for this ministry. Whenever a funeral is scheduled, the volunteers are polled to see who is available to sing at the liturgy, she said, noting that some choir members can only volunteer on Saturdays, and others sometimes have commitments on particular days. Typically, 12 to 14 singers are present at each funeral, she said.
"With an average of 90 funerals a year, I would say that is a dedicated group," she remarked.
Unlike regular church choirs, the resurrection choir has no regularly scheduled rehearsals, Sheremeta said. If the family of the deceased requests an unfamiliar piece of music, the choir will rehearse it a half an hour before the funeral begins. Occasionally a family member or friend of the deceased is chosen to sing at the funeral, but even in such cases Sheremeta said the choir is still present to sing the responses.
She added that the choir has received many notes from families, thanking them for their support and ministry.
"The resurrection choir is one of the most rewarding music ministries," Sheremeta said. "Just knowing that we provide some consolation and support at a difficult time is reward enough."
Following the conclusion of the funeral rite, the family of the deceased often invites the congregation to join them at a reception or luncheon, which sometimes takes place at the parish where the funeral was held. In addition to making their facilities available for such gatherings, some diocesan churches are now offering funeral luncheon ministries.
The Gates Catholic Community, which comprises St. Helen, St. Jude and Holy Ghost churches, offers this ministry to the families of deceased parishioners at each of its worship sites. Parishioners from each church volunteer to make dishes for the luncheons and to assist with setting up, serving and cleaning up.
Ginny Heydens organizes the funeral luncheon ministry — called Emmaus Ministry — at St. Helen Church. When a family requests a luncheon after a funeral, Pastoral Associate Ron McMillan notifies Heydens, who then begins calling some of the Emmaus Ministry’s 20 volunteers.
"I have two teams of volunteers," she noted. "I usually try to mix the teams up so I’m not always calling the same volunteers."
The churches cover the costs of deli trays and rolls, and also provide coffee, plates, cups, utensils and napkins, Heydens said. Volunteers from the churches prepare and bring whatever other food is needed.
"If it is an early morning-funeral, we try to do a breakfast/brunch type of thing. We will do more of the pastries, fruit, juices and coffee. If it is later, we’ll do more of a luncheon. Volunteers will make salads, Jell-O and anything else I need," she added. "Some of the volunteers will stay and clean up, some are willing to come and set up and get the coffee ready. Everyone is so willing (to help)."
She said she not only receives a great response from the ministry’s volunteers, but also from the families to whom the luncheons have been provided.
"The families really appreciate it," Heydens said. "It is a nice warm surrounding to have the family here following the funeral."