As is the case for most priests, celebrating funerals is part of my work and I'm accustomed to dealing with grieving families as they move through the first days of life without the loved one they've lost.
The funeral I celebrated this morning was different, however, because it was the funeral of my uncle, Leo. It's a different experience in so many ways to celebrate a funeral from within the circle of grief rather than coming to that circle from outside it. The one we came to pray for was a beloved uncle who lived 85 years. His wife of 63 years, my aunt, and her four adult children (my cousins) and grandchildren were seated in the front pews. My brother concelebrated, my sister and a cousin proclaimed the scriptures. It's helpful for a priest to have this "inside" experience of funerals to help him be more understanding of what families are going through when he ministers to them.
It was a celebration of faith in the Lord and of family love and support. Old friends of the family were present for the Mass and gathered with us for lunch after the committal rite at the cemetery. With all due respect for the rites of other faith communities, I believe the funeral rites of the Catholic Church offer consolation and promise in unique ways and for that I am very grateful.
(Related to these thoughts, please read a beautiful account of the death of Boston priest Fr. Jim Field by Brian Marquand in the Boston Globe. The quotes from Jim in this article are a beautiful lesson in Christian theology for all of us...)
Finally, the words of commendation at the end of the Funeral Mass sum all this up and give me comfort:
Trusting in God, we have prayed together for Leo
and now we come to the last farewell.
There is sadness in parting,
but we take comfort in the hope
that one day we shall see Leo again and enjoy his love.
Although we will leave here in sorrow,
the mercy of God will gather us together again
in the joy of his kingdom.
Therefore let us console one another
in our faith in Christ Jesus...
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