Holy Mother Church will soon be asking us all to pray with the Church triumphant in heaven on All Saints Day and to pray for the Church suffering on All Souls Day. And so as we continue to fight the good fight in the name of our Lord Jesus here on earth, I need to speak to you about an important but uncomfortable topic: your funeral plans.
I’m mentioning this topic not to be morbid or gloomy, but out of pastoral concern and solicitude. For some years now, I’ve been noticing a discernable trend — namely that when a faithful parishioner dies, some families bypass having a Funeral Mass, sometimes just opting for a prayer service at the funeral home or at the gravesite, or nothing at all. Though any offering of prayer is a sign of love, affection and respect for one who has died, Holy Mother Church has more in mind for the final rites of us Catholics when we pass from this world.
Now, some of you might be wondering why some families might opt not to have a Funeral Mass. Some possible reasons are: our culture’s unease with suffering and death; the reality of families no longer living in close proximity to each other; some family members not being Catholic, or having an animosity to the Faith; the unfortunate economic pressure from within the funeral industry itself for that which is quicker and cheaper; and finally, the loss of the value of prayer and the Sacred Tradition that has been entrusted to us.
Whether it is in this life, or once we pass from this life and await the final judgment, we are all in need of each other’s prayers and the prayers of the Church! The funeral rites of the Church have great spiritual value for the loved one who has died as well as for those who are mourning. Having a Funeral Mass is a final act of love and respect offered on behalf of the one who has died.
Let me reiterate a consistent teaching of the Catholic Church: There is inestimable value in the offering of Holy Mass. Whether there are 200 or 2 people present for the offering of a Mass, the power and merits of the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ being made sacramentally present is beyond measure.
The Funeral Mass and it’s associated rituals are among the most significant in the Church, as they speak on a variety of levels: for the deceased, as well as the family and friends of those who are left in sorrow. The Funeral Mass is so much more than just a remembrance of a person or just a “celebration of life” — for we pray that the merits won for us by pur Lord Jesus on His cross be applied to the deceased. We pray that all their sins be forgiven and that, through God’s abundant mercy, they come to share in the divine life of heaven.
The Funeral Mass — through the words of Sacred Scripture, the prayers and rites of Holy Mass, complimented by the chants and music proper to the Sacred Liturgy — reminds us all that the grave is not the final and definitive word. Death has been overcome not just by wishful thinking, but only by the death and resurrection of Christ.
More often than not, the Funeral Mass brings comfort and strength, as well as a sense of closure to mourners, even if they are not people of faith. Our Lord Jesus desires to strengthen all those who mourn and give the gift of His peace in the midst of loss.
And so, make known to your family and friends your desire for a Funeral Mass celebrated in your parish church when the Lord calls you forth from this life.
Have a conversation about your last wishes with your parish priest. Write it down and keep a copy among the important papers that your family will review at the time of your death.
Our Catholic faith has a long and wonderful tradition of having Masses offered for our loved ones living and deceased. If you wish to have a Mass or Masses offered for a loved one, contact your parish office.
Fr. Secrist is pastor of St. Peter Parish in Jefferson City.