FR. MICHAEL SCHMITZ of Ascension Presents has put out a number of videos aimed at young audiences. But one that caught my attention has a vitally universal message: The Real Purpose of Funerals.
Regardless of your level of liturgical or theological training, this video may be useful to watch and pass along to those without such training.
To begin with, he lists three things that are not the reason we celebrate funerals. Yet these three reasons are embedded in American culture, and sadly creeping into Roman Catholic culture. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with the following, they do not possess the depth of God’s calling for us:
- To say goodbye
- To have closure
- To celebrate their life
I certainly hope that when I die the above may be considered, but please, not at my funeral. As a distinguished sinner worthy of note, I’m going to need your prayers—urgently!
In his video, Fr. Schmitz goes on to reference the funeral of Justice Antonin Scalia. Regardless of one’s political affiliations, the homily given by his son, Rev. Paul Scalia, is worth noting. The following statement has become legendary:
“We are gathered here because of one man, a man known personally to many of us, known only by reputation to many more; a man loved by many, scorned by others; a man known for great controversy and for great compassion.
“That man, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth.”
Even in death, Christ—the Eucharist—is the very center of our prayer and of our entire being.
BY REMINDING US that Christ is always the center, Fr. Paul Scalia speaks to us of hope. This hope is key to understanding the real reasons for the Roman Catholic funeral, outlined succinctly by Fr. Schmitz:
- To worship God
- Thank God for His unending mercy that fills us with hope
- Renew our faith—our faith in the Resurrection
Number four is the most important of all:
4. Pray for the soul of the deceased—to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in petition for the deceased
Fr. Schimtz emphasizes multiple times, that “we don’t know” if they are in heaven now. We hope in everlasting life! We are confident of everlasting life! But we, on earth, don’t truly know if our loved one is yet in heaven.
And we look to hope.
CONSIDER THE astoundingly hopeful texts of chants of the Roman Catholic Mass that also emphasize our prayer for the deceased: Subvenite: “Come to her assistance, O you saints of God, go forth to meet her, O you Angels of the Lord; receive her soul and present it in the sight of the Most High.”
Additionally, consider the sequence, Dies Irae (still sing during the Liturgy of the Hours as well as the Extraordinary Form). A hymn of great poetic symmetry, the character of the chant changes dramatically at the Lacrimosa which implore God’s gentle mercy: “Tearful will be that day, on which from the ash arises the guilty man who is to be judged. Spare him therefore, God. Merciful Lord Jesus, grant them rest. Amen.”
Not to be overlooked is a line buried in the middle of the prayer—this gem of remarkable hope:Thou who absolved Mary, and heardest the robber, gavest hope to me, too.
Ultimately, I am greatly moved by the following text from the Credo quod Redemptor: “I believe that my Redeemer lives, and that on the last day, I shall rise from earth and in my flesh I shall behold God my Savior.” This is an astonishing text of joy and hope.
LET US NEVER forget to pray unceasingly. To pray for each other, and for the dead is an act of mercy and kindness. In doing so, we proclaim as a community a central mystery: our hope of resurrection in light of the Paschal Mystery of Christ. As the Order of Christian Funerals states:
- In the face of death, the Church confidently proclaims that God has created each person for eternal life and that Jesus, the Son of God, by his death and resurrection, has broken the chains of sin and death that bound humanity.