Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Funerals, Suicide, Hope and general thoughts


Suicide is becoming a rather too common occurrence. I have learned that if you read in the local paper that "NN died unexpectedly at his/her residence on dd/mmm" it is quite likely that the person committed suicide.

There is also a lot of gloominess with the number of deaths in the town at present.

A couple of thoughts have occurred to me which may or may not be fair. I'd be interested in readers' thoughts:

To abandon faith is to abandon hope and ultimately to lose any sense of the purpose of life. To journey in faith is to live by hope, and to live a life of the deepest charity – love – united with the Risen Christ in this life, so that we shall live forever with him in the next.

  • Where a local population is ageing and the birthrate is in decline, deaths/funerals are bound to outnumber births/baptisms. This will lead to a general gloom in the community, possibly perpetuating a cycle of despair.
Funeral liturgies at funeral homes do not quite do it in the way a funeral liturgy in the parish church does. In our parish, the parishioners love to provide hospitality (i.e. a good luncheon) for the family and mourners. We want to provide a dignfied liturgy with a choir and organist. We want to bring the body of the deceased person - who entered upon the "door of faith" when they were baptised - into the church where they began their lifetime journey of faith which leads inevitably to the "door of death" to eternal life.

The parish church is a sacred place where the Lord is present both sacramentally and spiritually. It is a place hallowed by the prayers of so many generations of faithful catholics. There is a natural experience of the Communion of Saints, so important at the moment of death and grief.

Having said that, the local funeral home is a very dignified one, run by a faithful catholic who does everything possible to ensure that the funeral is carried out with reverence. So I have conducted funeral liturgies there. I do, however, observe the liturgical norms fully. The funeral service is carried out in the same way as it would be in church: a crucifix in a prominent position, the symbols of the Gospel Book and crucifix placed upon the coffin, the people invited to stand and sit as they would in church. Of course, no one wants to sings hymns in the funeral home and so there is no music during the funeral liturgy itself (I will not have recorded music played while we just sit and listen), apart from the In paradisum which I sing whilst sprinkling the casket/urn during the final commendation.

While extending the warmest possible invitation to the family to have the funeral of their dearly beloved departed in the church, one cannot refuse to hold it in the funeral home, and there is always the possibility of reaching out to those who perhaps have fallen away from attendance at church or who are simply non-churchgoers. I have recently had a very good experience of encountering some good young people who are rediscovering the Christian faith in one or another denomination even if their parents/grandparents are not particularly diligent in attendance at any particular church.

I now experience the several generations of people who have been lost to the Church. Why did they leave? Did the upheavals in liturgy and catechetical formation of the last forty years have anything to do with it? I cannot help thinking it did. Good liturgy and clear teaching will strengthen the faith of those who come to church. As for those who do not experience the now happily re-reformed liturgy of their parish church, we need to find every opportunity of reaching out to them and giving them reasons for hope in eternal life.

1 comment:

  1. Father John this is absolutely a superlative writing and sharing! So much so, that I wish that you would see if the UP Catholic would use it as a "guest writer", which they do from time to time. I remember in your homily, how much I loved all the symbolism and how I shall always remember "the door of faith" phrasing, especially to share.
    I was so sad that I could not get to the Funeral last night. But, I shall write to the two survivors that I know.
    God bless you for the deep spiritual thoughtfulness and time to express it!

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