Monday, July 27, 2015
FUNERAL HOMILIES AND HOW TO COMFORT FAMILY AND FRIENDS WITHOUT CANONIZING THE FAITHFUL OR UNFAITHFUL DEPARTED
There are three areas where sentimentality and wishful thinking (a form of therapy for those who do it or plan it) take place:
1. First the Propers are tossed (which actually pray for the deceased) and sentimental hymns of schmaltzy quality, what is called "kitsch" are chosen.
2. Eulogies given by family members or friends after Holy Communion that speak of everything that has no Catholic ethos whatsoever and might include non-Christian poems and secular songs.
3. Homilies that canonize the deceased although the goal is to comfort the grieving.
Bishops and priests must take back the Requiem Mass as designed by the Church, even in the Ordinary Form and reform some of the bad things allowed in the Ordinary Form Requiem such as the allowance of eulogies and the Propers being replaced by hymns of good or bad quality.
But what about priests and their homilies? How can the clergy stop from canonizing the faithful or unfaithful departed even with the benign goal of comforting the bereaved?
I have to admit sometimes I canonize people who I feel are in heaven, those who have gone to confession while they were dying, received the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick and the Apostolic Absolution and Holy Communion and were able to receive Viaticum moments before their last breath.
I say things like "grandma is reunited with her loved ones around the throne of God" and other such pious platitudes.
Of course even in the 1970's homiletic courses I had, we were warned not to give eulogies revolving around the life of the dead person or to canonize them but rather to preach the Paschal Mystery. We were to focus on Jesus Christ, especially His Passion, death and resurrection. How novel for funeral Liturgies, no?
But how can we clergy say something that will comfort the bereaved?
In the first place, we cannot omit Purgatory as though preaching about it and thinking that our loved one might be experiencing it would be insulting to the the deceased!
I will close with Father Longenecker's practical advice on the use of purgatory in funeral homilies and how to speak of the deceased in a loving way but without canonizing that person:
Belief in purgatory is both compassionate and common sense.
It is compassionate because it allows for a place for us to go to finish the work of becoming “perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect” It is compassionate because it takes human responsibility seriously and allows us to continue to co-operate with God’s grace for our soul’s purification.
Purgatory is common sense because all of us realize that very few of us are saints ready to enter directly into God’s presence, but also we know that (hopefully) not many of us are so desperately evil as to reject God forever and go to hell.
Therefore what do we say at funerals? We can be consistent with Catholic beliefs and also be compassionate.
We can say, “Thank God for George’s life. What a terrific man he was. We’ll all miss him, and you can bet I will continue to pray that God will complete his work of grace in George’s life”
We can say, “Thank God for Jimmy. May God continue to lead him into his life, light and happiness.”
Purgatory is therefore a doctrine not only full of compassion and common sense, but also full of confidence, joy and eternal hope.
My final comment: Irish wakes are legendary. People have a good time prior to or after the Church's official Vigil for the Deceased (which might include the recitation of the Holy Rosary). It is at the wake after or before the priest or deacon (or in case of dire necessity, the pastoral minister) has executed the official Vigil for the Deceased that all kinds of things can be said about the deceased, seriously or in good humor, where songs of all kinds can be played or sung and people can raise a glass of cheer. Don't do any of this during the Vigil for the Deceased, at the Funeral Mass or Liturgy or at the Rite of Committal. At these liturgies simply read the black and do the red and do so scrupulously!