Not too long ago the Archdiocese of Boston participated in the Catholics Come Home effort. I believe the media blitz effectively put the word out on the street that those who are absent from Catholic parish life are missed, wanted and will be warmly welcomed back. What I'm not sure of is whether this campaign was successful in some measurable way. To the best of my knowledge, no report was ever given.
My own parish experience reveals to me, however, that one "tool" that brings Catholics home is the funeral Mass, celebrated prayerfully and personally.
I'm pleased with the effort and sensitivity with which funerals are celebrated in my parish and that includes the work of the parish staff, music ministers and clergy - in collaboration with two local funeral directors.
The reality is that everyone comes to funerals: faithful Catholics, lapsed Catholics, occasional Catholics, former Catholics, angry Catholics -- all in addition to people of a variety of other faith backgrounds.
Of course the "first" folks to come home for a funeral are the family of the deceased, whether they're every-Sunday-Catholics or among those who haven't been to church in years. The grieving want to pass through the sanctuary of the parish when carrying their loved one from the death bed to the cemetery.
I'm not sure what people expect at a Catholic funeral but I meet many people who are (happily) surprised that a funeral Mass can be such a deep expression of Christian faith, celebrated in signs and symbols, supported by beautiful, moving music - and that preaching on such an occasion can combine both the message of the gospel, the life of the deceased and prayer that we will all one day know the mercy of God that has the power to gather us together again in the joy of his kingdom.
As recently as this week, a family whose affiliation with the parish has not been strong has told us that the experience of the funeral Mass for their loved one is bringing them back to the parish and its life and prayer.
Good funeral liturgies are a powerful tool for the new evangelization. Let's do prayerfully, carefully and beautifully what we do all the time - it has the power to restore the Body of Christ which is the Church.
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