Mortality and Hope
Throughout the month of November, we are invited to reflect on our mortality, but not without hope! Our faith in Christ makes it possible to love our brothers and sisters even after death. Our community, established by Christ, prays often for the dead and will pray for us when it is our turn to leave this earthly life. One very important way we show our love for our deceased Catholic brothers and sisters is through praying the funeral liturgy.
Here are some things that we should know about Catholic funerals. First, before finalizing (and paying for) any funeral arrangements, please speak with one of the priests of the parish. Funeral homes, sometimes because of ignorance, sometimes because of greed and expediency, may provide guidance not in accord with the Catholic funeral rites that our loved ones deserve. While cremation of the remains of the deceased is permitted, it is best that this takes place immediately after the funeral, so that the body may be present at the Mass. After all, we believe in the resurrection of the body, and the presence of the body at the funeral Mass is a visible reminder of that belief. While not always possible, it is the ideal.
Also, it is necessary that the body or the cremated remains of Catholics be laid to rest in a cemetery burial plot, mausoleum, or columbarium. They need not be buried in Catholic cemeteries, although the grave should be blessed by a priest or deacon at the time of the burial. Why do our loved have the right to be buried in a cemetery, and the members of the Church obliged to ensure this happens? It is because cemeteries are permanent places of peace and prayer where bodies can be lovingly and respectfully laid to rest in anticipation of the resurrection on the last day. My uncle is buried at Trinity Cemetery in Washington Heights. Whenever I drive up the Henry Hudson Parkway, I say a pray for him and thank God for the gift of his life. Long after everyone who knew my uncle has died, someone will be passing by Trinity Cemetery and praying for all the deceased buried there, including my uncle.
As religious practice has waned, so has the practice of properly burying the dead. Making pre-arrangements with a funeral home and letting those plans be known in a will ensures that you and I will have a Catholic funeral and burial, regardless of the religious practice of our family and friends responsible for our funeral arrangements. Recently, my parents wanted to have a conversation about what to do in the event of their death. I initially found this conversation troubling, but I soon experienced peace and even joy because of my parents’ serenity in the face of mortality. Death comes for us all, but what a difference it makes when it is faced with the true hope that comes from Jesus Christ.
May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.