Thursday, November 7, 2013


What is the most basic difference between a Catholic funeral and most of the Protestant world’s funerals?  You might point to having the body taken to church (which to some people just seems odd at best) or any other number of things.  But these are mostly symptoms of what is different, not what, at heart, is dissimilar.
It is most evident during this month when Catholics celebrate All Souls Day and place a special emphasis on praying for the poor souls; those in Purgatory awaiting their entrance into heaven, all month long.


For most of the Protestant world (and it is the same for atheists,) we have no real connection (prayer wise) with those who have died.  For Protestants this is true because at death you have gone to your reward (one way or the other) and are no longer in need of prayer even if it were possible.  For the Atheist this is true because after death there is simply nothing.
For Catholics, there is a more unified understanding of what it is to be the Body of Christ.  There is only one Body of Christ.  Christ is its head.  That singular body cannot be divided up even by death.  Somehow we are still mysteriously united and our prayers may still benefit each other.  There is also the idea of being purified prior to entering before the face of God, which requires being purged of one’s sins.  Whatever this is, we call Purgatory.  The Protestant world does not have a teaching about this.  So for them, even if prayer could flow back and forth, it is unnecessary because once you are in heaven for what do you need prayer?  You’ve made it to the top.
So basically, (painting with a very broad paintbrush) at a non-Catholic funeral the idea is to encourage each other (either with the Word of God and/or the support of the community etc.,) and to remember the one who passed away.  There is an additional element understood among Catholics for over two thousand years: that we can also pray from the deceased.  We ask God that they be sped to heaven (which is the tragedy when someone says, “I’m sure they are already in heaven.  You may be denying them some prayers they could use!)  And if we can pray for them, we may also ask them to pray for us, that we remain close to Christ, follow in His ways, and be better prepared for entrance into heaven when we leave this life. 
So get on it Catholic!  Remember to pray for you deceased loved ones and for the poor souls this month inparticular.  And hopefully in doing so, we will lead by example and others will pray for us when we need it!


Pat said...

I understand that some Jewish people also pray for their deceased, but I don't know their theology in that regard.

MaryofSharon said...

You are right, Pat. I noticed that Fr. V. said that we've been praying for the dead for more than two thousand years, and that jogged my memory of having heard that this practice is supported in the book of Maccabees, one of the Old Testament books removed from the bible by Protestants. I found more info about it on the Catholic Answers website article on Purgatory. In the article, it goes on to say, as you said, that Orthodox Jews still pray for the dead.

Nan said...

When my uncle died, I went to a different world; no wake because he had been cremated, funeral service with no casket, no urn, no nothing. He had been in the Air Force and the honor guard unfurled a flag over nothing to fold and give to his wife. The minister guy said he was looking down at us from heaven. The next morning at Mass I lit a candle and prayed for him.

I say "minister guy" to indicate that the protestant officiant was a guy.

Robin said...

Just so you know: in many Protestant funerals the casket or urn is present; it is possible to attend a cremation (I have written a liturgy for one), and while some Catholic priests and some Protestant pastors are inadequate to a funeral service, the vast majority pour their hearts into getting the liturgy, eulogy, and theology just right, doing everything we can to balance memory, grief, and hope in the Resurrection.

From a "minister gal."

Anonymous said...

next time there is a death in the family call Robin