I was really exhausted on Sunday. Three Masses, a class to teach, Spanish Confirmations, a Sacrament of the Sick to confer, a fascinating dinner with an Eritrean family celebrating Easter according to the Eritrean calendar, First Holy Communions, and inviting everyone at all the Masses to our upcoming Town Hall Meetings. I was pooped.
Then at 10 PM, I got a call to give Last Rites to a man who was in the actual moment of dying. I went immediately, but he had died right after the family hung up from calling me.
After the prayers for the dead, I visited for a while with the family, asking what their husband and father was like. As the conversation moved along, the new widow said that she really perferred Presbyterian funerals. (She belongs to a parish that used to share a worship space with a Presbyterian congragation.)
So I asked, "Why?" "Well," she said,"we have so much ritual in the Catholic Church but in the Presbyterian church the funeral service is more a matter of everyone getting up to tell what the deceased meant to them." Her son piped up and said, "Mom, that's what a Vigil is for."
So I used this moment to do some teaching: "Oh, I don't think you understand the meaning of the Mass. What we are doing at a funeral Mass is gathering around the loved one as he or she is meeting God, face to face, perhaps in the judgment scene. And these gathered loved ones are joining the deceased along with themselves in the Sacrifice of the Altar as the gift Jesus gives to the Father. Even the incense bespeaks the prayers of these family members and friends going up to heaven just as Jesus gives the Father the gift of Himself, along with the deceased loved one, and us, as His idea of the best gift He could give the Father. So, the funeral Mass in the Catholic Church is not the time to talk nice about the deceased; that's done at the Vigil the night before the funeral Mass. The funeral Mass is the time to unite the deceased one by our faith, hope and love to the sacrifice of Christ."
The widow said, "I had no idea that's what's going on in a Catholic funeral." So, I told them I'd put this exchange in my blog. I hope they read it.