Celebrating a Funeral in the Diocese of Elphin: Consultation with PPCs

On September 16th 2019 the Elphin Diocese’s Council of Priests initiated a consultation with Parish Pastoral Councils throughout the diocese concerning the future celebration of funerals in the diocese.

The text below was offered by the Council  with the aim of stimulating reflection and discussion  on the celebration of funerals in our diocese within PPCs.

The outcome of this consultation  is not predetermined.   Bishop Kevin and the Council want to hear what POCs have to say, even when members don’t fully agree on something.   

In the end they may produce a short leaflet/booklet that parishes might provide to bereaved families to facilitate them in planning a Catholic funeral.

At the end of the text there are some questions to support  discussion and details on how PPCs and Pastoral Networks can offer feedback.

 

 

 

 

 

Diocese of Elphin
Council of Priests

Celebrating a Funeral in the Diocese of Elphin
– Consultation with Parish Pastoral Councils

(September 2019)

Note: This draft document has been composed by Michael Drumm, Colette Furlong, Justin Harkin and John McManus working as a subcommittee of the Priests Council.

 

Introduction

The death of a loved one is among the most important experiences in the life of any family. Where to turn? What to do? There are many sources of support – the extended family, neighbours, friends, work colleagues and, of course, the local parish. Understandably, among the first steps for many families will be to contact a Funeral Director. They provide an important and professional service.

The parish community reaches out to those who are bereaved. Think of what a parish is for a few moments. It is the People of God in a particular place. God’s people have always come together to pray, to celebrate the Mass and the other sacraments, to mark the great festivals of the year like Easter and Christmas and, not least, to pray for those who have died and to comfort the bereaved.

This document is offered by the Council of Priests to the various Parish Pastoral Councils (PPCs) with the aim of stimulating reflection and discussion in the PPCs on the celebration of funerals in our diocese. We all know that we are living in a radically changing culture where many beliefs and traditions are often questioned and sometimes rejected. So it is a good time for us to reflect on one of the most important traditions in our culture – the celebration of a funeral. The outcome of this consultation with PPCs is not predetermined. We want to hear what you have to say, even when your members don’t fully agree on something. In the end we may produce a short leaflet/booklet that parishes might provide to bereaved families to facilitate them in planning a Catholic funeral. But we are not at that point yet. First, there is this process of consultation with PPCs.

Part I:  A Catholic Funeral

So what is a Catholic funeral? The official rite of the church (Order of Christian Funerals – a blue hard backed book used during funerals) states that such a funeral can have several different stages depending on the circumstances and wishes of the immediate family. Each of these stages is a gathering for prayer. Sometimes there will be just a few people present, on other occasions there will be a large crowd but one way or another these gatherings matter for the Lord said that where two or three gather in his name he is there in the midst of them (see Matthew 18:20). Indeed, the original meaning of the word ‘church’ is a gathering or assembly of God’s people. When we gather to offer prayer and support to a bereaved family we are the Church.

The stages that we describe here reflect Irish traditions. Funeral rituals vary significantly throughout the world. You may have attended or seen Catholic funerals in other countries and may have been surprised at some of the differences. The dominant Irish traditions relate to the presence of the body, the role of the family home and the short few days between death and interment.

Gathering in the presence of the body at home during the couple of days between death and burial became known as the funeral wake. These traditions have all

been integrated into the Irish Catholic Church’s funeral rites over many centuries and they form a wholesome response by God’s people to the death of a member of the community. Some of these events now take place in funeral homes.

The stages or moments of prayer are:

  1. Gathering for prayer in the presence of the body
  2. Removal to the church
  3. Reception at the church
  4. Funeral Mass
  5. Rite of committal in a cemetery or crematorium

Decisions on whether and how to mark these moments of prayer are informed by the following:

  1. The Church calls all of its members to offer consolation by caring for those who are dying, praying for the dead and comforting those who mourn. Whenever we reach out to comfort the bereaved we are truly continuing the ministry of Christ. All of us are called to do this. We can do so by helping with practical tasks related to the wake or funeral, visiting the bereaved, praying for the person who has died and attending one or more of the five gatherings outlined
  2. These stages or moments of prayer should be adapted to the needs and wishes of the particular Gathering for prayer in the presence of the body is an important tradition. Oftentimes a priest will attend but the community gathered can always pray familiar prayers. It is common practice today to bring the body to the church immediately before the funeral Mass. In this case the reception at the church is a very simple rite. The funeral Mass is the most important part of these five gatherings and most attention should be given to preparing it.
  3. Christians believe and hope that death gives way to new life because “unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest” (John 12:24). At the heart of Christianity is belief in the death and resurrection of Christ. The story of Good Friday to Easter Sunday gave birth to Christian belief. In our tradition death and new life are inseparable. This is difficult to comprehend and so we are invited to place our faith in Christ who has gone before us on the journey through death to new life. Many will find this hard to believe, not least in the context of personal bereavement. And so we turn to the community of faith gathered for the funeral Mass to pray for the deceased and for those bereaved. The readings, symbols, music and words of the funeral Mass should reflect this Christian belief that death opens the way to new life. Only in God is this possible. Only in faith is it believable. Only in love can it be embraced. So it is that the readings, symbols, music and words of the funeral Mass should be chosen carefully because the Mass is not just a celebration of the life of the deceased but a prayer that the person who has died will, through Christ’s self-sacrifice and resurrection, pass over from death to new life. This is God’s work, not our’s.

 

Part II   The five moments of prayer

The stages or moments of prayer are:

1.     Gatherings for prayer in the presence of the body

These gatherings will likely take place in the home of the deceased or a relative, a funeral home or a hospital mortuary. The Order of Christian Funerals provides many texts that can be used and adapted. Words from scripture are always included. A priest or another trained minister leads the prayer. Family members and friends might also lead those gathered in familiar prayers. Please see one format for this prayer at the end of this document.

2.     Removal to the church

This prayer will likely take place in the home of the deceased or a relative, a funeral home or a hospital mortuary. The Order of Christian Funerals provides many texts that can be used and adapted. Words from scripture are always included. A priest or another trained minister leads the prayer.

3.     Reception at the church

This will usually occur on the evening before the Funeral Mass or just before the Mass begins.

4.     Funeral Mass

This is the climax of all prayers for the deceased and needs to be planned carefully in terms of readings, symbols, music and other spoken words. A priest celebrates the Mass.

5.     Rite of committal in a cemetery or crematorium

There are different ways of speaking of this moment of prayer – burial, cremation, interment, committal. Again the Order of Christian Funerals provides many texts that can be used and adapted. Words from scripture and familiar prayers (like the Rosary) form part of this gathering for prayer. A priest or another trained minister leads the prayer.

Part III    Readings, symbols, music and words

Funerals are characterised by loss, heartbreak, tears and a sense of not knowing what to say. Those who console the bereaved are often searching for words. So it is not surprising that we reach for readings, symbols, music and words to

express the inexpressible. Let’s think about each of these.

Readings

The readings from scripture offer many avenues of reflection and consolation in the context of bereavement. The psalms are particularly suitable as they often echo the human search for meaning and hope when life is overshadowed by darkness and despair. These readings form part of each of the five moments of prayer outlined above.

Symbols

There are many symbols associated with funerals: the bible, the cross, the Easter candle, holy water, a pall, incense and clay. Families sometimes wish to have symbols suggestive of the life of their loved one as well as a photograph. These can form part of an initial procession at the beginning of the Mass. Similarly they can form part of gatherings for prayer in the presence of the body (stage 1 above).

Music

Music and singing play an important role in our thanksgiving for the gift of life that has been returned to God, in consoling all who mourn and in commemorating the life of the deceased. They can also facilitate us expressing convictions and feelings that words alone may fail to convey and simultaneously uplift and strengthen us in the faith and love that unites us. Since death evokes strong feelings, hymns etc. should always be chosen with care and ideally under the guidance of a trained and experienced choir director, church musician, deacon or priest. Such persons will gladly present options that, in addition to offering consolation, will seek to create in all who gather a spirit of hope in Christ’s victory over death and in our sharing in that victory. During the Funeral Mass, singing and music is reserved to hymns and psalms that sing of faith in God, give praise and thanks to God for Christ’s victory over sin and death and commend the deceased to God’s tender mercy and compassion. Other moments are more suited to the commemoration of the life of the deceased, including music and songs that the person liked.

Words

Apart from the words from scripture and in hymns there are many other opportunities for the spoken words of prayer, consolation and reflection. The homily is particularly significant. Where the homilist does not know the deceased person it is very helpful if family and friends give him a sense of the person’s life so that he can weave this into the homily. The prayers of the faithful offer opportunities for families to draw in themes that matter to them while commentaries, reflections and poems can console and comfort. Some of these words form part of the Funeral Mass; others are more suited to different moments. Indeed, in the days between death and committal the members of the community should share stories and memories of the deceased as this forms an important part of the overall ministry of consolation.

 

Part IV An example of a gathering for prayer in the presence of the body

These texts are taken from the Order of Christian Funerals. The prayer may be led by a Lay Minister.

INTRODUCTION

If we have died with Christ, we believe we shall also live with him

This rite provides a model of prayer that may be used when the family first gathers in the presence of the body, when the body is to be prepared for burial, or after it has been prepared. The family members, in assembling in the presence of the body, confront in the most immediate way the fact of their loss and the mystery of death. Because cultural attitudes and practices on such occasions may vary, the minister should adapt the rite.

Through the presence of the minister and others and through the celebration of this brief rite, the community seeks to be with the mourners in their need and to provide an atmosphere of sensitive concern and confident faith. In prayer and gesture those present show reverence for the body of the deceased as a temple of the life-giving Spirit and ask, in that same Spirit, for the eternal life promised to the faithful.

The minister should try to be as attentive as possible to the particular needs of the mourners. The minister begins the rite at an opportune moment and, as much as possible, in an atmosphere of calm and recollection. The pause for silent prayer after the Scripture verse can be especially helpful in this regard.

SIGN OF THE CROSS

The minister and those present sign themselves with the sign of the cross and the minister says:

 

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

  1. Amen.

SCRIPTURE VERSE

One of the following or another brief Scripture verse is read.

A – Matthew 11:28-30

My brothers and sisters, Jesus says:

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

B – John 14:1-3

My brothers and sisters, Jesus says:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.”

Pause for silent prayer.

SPRINKLING WITH HOLY WATER

Using one of the following formularies, the minister may sprinkle the body with holy water.

A

The Lord is our shepherd and leads us to streams of living water.

B

Let this water call to mind our baptism into Christ who by his death and resurrection has redeemed us.

C

The Lord God lives in his holy temple yet abides in our midst.

Since in baptism N. became God’s temple and the Spirit of God lived in him/her, with reverence we bless his/her mortal body.

PSALM

One of the following psalms is sung or said, or another psalm.

A (Psalm 130)

R. I hope in the Lord, I trust in his word.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord Lord, hear my voice!

O let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleading.

R. I hope in the Lord, I trust in his word.

If you, O Lord, should mark our guilt, Lord, who would survive? But with you is found forgiveness: for this we revere you.

R. I hope in the Lord, I trust in his word.

My soul is waiting for the Lord, I count on his word.

My soul is longing for the Lord more than watchman for daybreak.

R. I hope in the Lord, I trust in his word.

Because with the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption, Israel indeed he will redeem from all its iniquity.

R. I hope in the Lord, I trust in his word.

 

or

 

B (Psalm 115 and 116)

 

R. I will walk in the presence of the Lord, in the land of the living.

How gracious is the Lord, and just; our God has compassion. The Lord protects the simple hearts; I was helpless so he saved me.

R. I will walk in the presence of the Lord, in the land of the living.

I trusted, even when I said:

“I am sorely afflicted,” and when I said in my alarm:

“No man can be trusted.”

R. I will walk in the presence of the Lord, in the land of the living.

O precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his faithful.

Your servant, Lord, your servant am I; you have loosened my bonds.

R. I will walk in the presence of the Lord, in the land of the living.

THE LORD’S PRAYER

Using one of the following invitations, or in similar words, the minister invites those present to pray the Lord’s Prayer.

 A

With God there is mercy and fullness of redemption; let us pray as Jesus taught us:

B

Let us pray for the coming of the kingdom as Jesus taught us:

 

All:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

 

CONCLUDING PRAYER

The minister says one of the following prayers.

 

A

God of faithfulness, in your wisdom you have called your servant N. out of this world; release him/her from the bonds of sin, and welcome him/her into your presence, so that he/she may enjoy eternal light and peace and be raised up in glory with all your saints.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.

 

  1. Amen.

Or

B

Into your hands, O Lord, we humbly entrust our brother/sister N.
In this life you embraced him/her with your tender love;  deliver him/her now from every evil and bid him/her enter eternal rest. The old order has passed away:  welcome him/her then into paradise, where there will be no sorrow, no weeping nor pain, but the fullness of peace and joy with your Son and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever.

R. Amen.

BLESSING

The minister says:

Blessed are those who have died in the Lord; let them rest from their labors for their good deeds go with them.

A gesture, for example, signing the forehead of the deceased with the sign of the cross, may accompany the following words.

Eternal rest grant unto him/her, O Lord.

R. And let perpetual light shine upon him/her.

May he/she rest in peace. R.

Amen.

May his/her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. R. Amen.

A lay minister invokes God’s blessing and signs himself or herself with the sign of the cross, saying:

May the love of God and the peace of the Lord Jesus Christ bless and console us and gently wipe every tear from our eyes: in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

  1. Amen.

 

Part V:   Some Questions for the Parish Pastoral Council

1. In thinking about funerals in your parish what are the main points that come to mind? What is done well? What could be better?

2. What is your response to the five moments/stages described in this document? We deliberately included a full text of prayer in the presence of the What do you think about this? Should lay people be trained to lead prayer moments such as this? Could families be encouraged to use a text like this themselves?

3. There are controversial issues relating to the choice of music and family members speaking about the deceased at the Funeral Mass. How do you think these might best be handled?

4. If we were to include a series of FAQs (frequently asked questions) in a leaflet/booklet for families what matters should be addressed?

5. Are there any other issues that should be addressed that were not raised in this document?

Part VI Feedback

The Council of Priests would appreciate feedback before Sunday December 8th.  Please email to Fr. Michael Drumm, Chairperson of the Council of Priests: mdrumm@outlook.com. Please place the phrase “Funeral Consultation” in the subject bar.