Eternal Rest Grant Unto them, O Lord
Every year on 2nd November we pray in a special way for those who have died before us. It is called The Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed (All Souls Day).
Indeed, the whole of November is a special month for us to pray for all who have died. They are our “brothers and sisters” in the death and resurrection of Jesus. In a beautiful expression from our liturgy, we pray for “the eternal repose of their souls”.
The Preface for the Dead in the Mass summarises our Christian understanding of death perfectly when it proclaims: “For even though by our own fault we perish, yet by your compassion and your grace, when seized by death according to our sins, we are redeemed through Christ’s great victory, and with him called back into life.”(Preface V)
Death, in all its expressions in family, friends and others, rejoices in the hope our faith gives in these liturgical prayers of deep tenderness.
However, priests and deacons so often inform me that in assisting families for the funerals of their loved ones, many tensions can surface in the liturgical preparations.
Amongst other factors, it seems that many have had experiences of secular funerals made up of eulogies, photo presentations, poems and popular music. Too often the richness of liturgical prayers and biblical readings developed in the Catholic Church since ancient times can be put aside or even dismissed.
Thus, the preparation of funerals in the Catholic Church is a pastoral challenge requiring great sensitivity from all of us.
In summary, our Catholic Tradition offers four compass points to move forward. Funerals are to (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 379-385):
• Pray for the repose of the deceased that they may rest in peace.
• Ask the merciful Father of us all to forgive the sins of the deceased.
• In loving remembrance we thank the Risen Lord for his/her life.
• To offer prayers and comforting hope for the bereaved.
The priest or deacon asked to celebrate the funeral determines the content and form of the funeral liturgy, keeping in mind the wishes of the family. We use an officially approved book: “Order of Christian Funerals”. This book gives a wonderful selection of prayers, readings and rituals that can be used. Often parish teams are present to assist here.
Responding to requests from priests, I have prepared a short document on”Guidelines for Catholic Funerals.” It will be available on line in these days.
In this document there are some guidelines for the place of eulogies, the place of PowerPoint photo presentations, titles of the ceremonies, liturgical music, and cremations.
In regards to the latter, it needs to be noted that cremations are now more popular than previous times. Whereas the burial or internment of earthly remains the preference of the Church, cremation is allowed. Care needs to be taken, however, to ensure that the ashes are interred in an appropriate place.
Ashes placed “in a sacred place ensures that they are not excluded from the prayers and remembrance of their family or the Christian community. It prevents the faithful departed from being forgotten, or their remains from being shown a lack of respect.”
I do hope that this November can also be a time of not only praying for the deceased but also a time to consider calmly our pastoral and liturgical responses to Catholic funerals.
Our local funeral directors too need to be become aware of these guidelines.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. AMEN