Wednesday, May 2, 2012

When there's a funeral: Catholics come home!

Image: NJ.com

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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6 comments:

Fran said...

Beautifully put and so very true.

Meredith Gould said...

Amen to that. Not the only reason but attending and then singing in the choir for Catholic funerals drew me to the church. So beautiful, joyful, poignant, and Christ-centered.

Faith said...

You are so right! I've seen this too. Another tool for bringing Catholics home is the marriage ceremony. Here's an opportunity to explain the beauty of vows pronounced in a church. And if there's a nuptial Mass, then there's even a better opportunity to explain step by step the sacredness and importance of why this couple would want to pronounce their vows in front of the True Presence.

ASSISI said...

I agree...funerals are occassions that bring Catholics home. I have had friends who were so moved by the gospel message and the music, in addition to the familiar signs and symbols. They stated the beautiful liturgy moved them...I guess the Holy Spirit was at work!

Fr. Gene Vavrick said...

Wise words, as always, Austin.

I totally agree that funerals can be very powerful moments of welcoming.

I'm wondering if you've heard of any successful efforts AFTER FUNERALS to reach out to the lost or marginalized. Any specific practices that you can share? Our Consolation ministry, which is involved with the planning, celebration, and follow-up after funerals is looking for some better programatic ways to help their follow-up consolation ministries.

Fran said...

I tried posting from work earlier and blogger kept eating my comments...

In any case, at my work parish we have been really blessed in this area. First of all, anyone who comes in for a funeral is welcomed with the same care whether we know them well or we are just meeting them then. That matters - a lot.

As part of our ritual, we have these wooden crosses that I put the deceased person's name on and their date of death. This goes to the viewing and is presented during the Vigil prayers. It usually stays on or near the pillow.

That cross then comes to the funeral mass and after the casket is in place, a family member places the cross on top of the pall. After communion, but before the final commendation, someone from the family signs the memorial book and there is a beautiful procession to our memorial wall, where the cross is placed. The cross will stay on the wall for a year, I'll get to that in a minute.

We do a month's mind mass and invite the family to that, 30 days after the date of death. We also have a lot of correspondence, cards as well as grief books, that get sent in increments; they are a series.

An especially lovely All Souls mass is held. I did not realize the impact of just what this meant, although I had been to so many of them... until it was for my own relative's death. And my husband went over to that wall of crosses, looking at his sister's name. I would stop there daily and say a prayer, but I took that for granted in a way. That night, so many people went to that wall, for that reason.

When it is the 1 yr anniversary, we invite the family back to a mass of their choosing, on or near the date. The cross is presented to them with a lovely prayer.

It is all very, very personal and beautiful.

We see so much that comes from this. It is so powerfully beautiful. I am happy to share photos of the crosses, prayers or anything else, with anyone that wishes to contact me.