The Importance of a Funeral Mass

The life of a parish priest affords a unique vantage point on movements within the Church and in society.  Some of these movements are most hope-filled while others, sadly, are troubling. A trend that I have been noticing is a cheapening and a loss of reverence for the funeral Mass and ritual. I believe that there are some honest factors regarding this trend including: our society’s unease with death, the realities geographical and relational distance of families, effects on the increasing use of cremation and the timing of a Mass of Christian burial,  non-Catholic or non-practicing family members who are not familiar with Catholic rituals and customs, and stressful decision making in a pain filled time. 

These are honest realities and they need to be acknowledged. However, as Catholics we accept that upon death, by the merits of Christian baptism, the Mass of Christian Burial and Sacred Rite of Christian Burial should be celebrated.  This is the desire of the Church. This is what Jesus wants.  It is important to note that if cremation is chosen, it is the Church’s preference and encouragement that the whole body be brought to church for the celebration of the Mass with cremation later followed by burial in a consecrated cemetery. If the body is not able to be brought to the church, the cremains should be brought for a Memorial Mass with burial following. 

I often hear many faithful parishioners remark they are not planning to have a Funeral Mass in order to accommodate or not offend family members. I am also saddened when it is apparent that loved ones and family did not choose the Catholic funeral simply because they are not Catholic themselves, non-practicing, or they just want to make things easy for themselves. I am saddened for the departed who, in life, found great comfort in his or her Catholic faith and through their baptism and life of faith, should be afforded the proper Catholic funeral ritual. I have had several instances at the Funeral Mass where I have experienced great power and affirmation from God as the Eucharist was being celebrated confirming the necessity of the Mass for the deceased. 

The most prominent word that comes to mind in relation to the Catholic funeral is “commend”. The Catholic funeral Mass and ritual is one of the most beautiful rituals of the Church where we commend our loved ones into the mercy of God while also commending ourselves, praying for God’s comfort and peace in a time of loss. This structure of the ritual (wake, Mass, burial) is not meant to deny or diminish the loved one through a “celebration of life” but the Catholic funeral, in its depth of ritual and meaning, reminds us that the grave has been overcome not by our wishing it so but by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ! The Catholic funeral reminds us only the resurrection of Jesus Christ conquers the tomb, only the resurrection of Jesus Christ keeps death from having the final word, only the resurrection of Jesus Christ gives the true hope that comforts and heals us in our sorrows. 

I want to encourage you all to take these powerful realities to prayer, to consider planning your funeral liturgy ahead of time, and to share this information with your family members who you care about and who care deeply about you. I will soon be sharing a funeral planning guide that should be helpful for us personally, our families, and funeral homes. The Catholic funeral is at the heart of who we are as Christians – a people gathered, saved and redeemed by Jesus Christ our risen Lord! The Catholic funeral is a witness to a secular world that there is a greater context to both life and death. A Catholic funeral speaks to the hearts of the people gathered and even converts hearts that might be hurting and searching. For the Christian death is not an end, but a beginning. In death, the faithful follower truly lives with our Lord in eternal and blessed union.  This is what we all long for!