So I went to a non-denominational funeral yesterday and was actually quite excited to go to see how someone else did things. Of course, I was making comparisons between what happened there and what happens at a Catholic funeral. The thing that I was most struck by however was the lack of participation. I don’t mean that by way of people not singing or praying (because they did) but by the role of the laity (at least this one instance.)
We were there largely to listen and pray along with the minister. He asked us to make Jesus our personal Lord and Savior so that we might join the deceased in heaven. He prayed over us and asked God to bless us and keep us close to Him and to bring us comfort in this time of sadness. And there were a lot of stories about the deceased which were at times poignant and humorous. It was quite touching. Our “job” was to be moved. It was billed as “paying our last respects.” But to whom did we pay them? The deceased (in this theology) can neither know of now benefit from them. So it was an exercise in remembering the good (we were told to throw away the bad thoughts) and buoying ourselves up to face life with the lessons learned from this one. The onus on the preacher is heavy.
Then I think of a Catholic funeral. When properly understood and we are at our best, the congregation is not there to simply be ministered to. They are there to work. At baptism they were anointed kings, prophets, and priests. As priests, there are prayers to be offered. Parts of the Mass belong to the congregation and they are to pray them. Of course, our theology differs from that of the Protestant Churches in that we believe in the communion of saints; that is, that there is only one Body of Christ with Christ as the head and that Body cannot be completely severed in half even by death so that somehow, in Christ, we are all still somehow mysteriously united. And because our theology of salvation also differs, there is work to be done for the one who has passed. We pray for them that their soul may be sped on to heaven. The ordained priest along with the priesthood of the people offer the One Sacrifice to the Lord on behalf of the one they love and all of the faithfully departed. Healing comes not by being comforted but through ministry. The priest still carries much of the burden of the celebration but the totality of the responsibility is shared.
At the end of the service yesterday we were just done other than getting on with our life in Jesus and remembering the good things about the deceased and building on them. For the Catholic, we remember as is said in the rites that, “All the bonds of friendship and affection that knit us together throughout life do not unravel with death.” Our prayers for each other continue. Masses may be offered, candles lit, prayers said, an active relationship in God still to be nurtured.
Or at least it seems to me.