This article is part of a series from the Archdiocesan Worship Commission of which Father Quint is a member.
By Father Dennis Quint
Special to The Witness
Increasingly obituaries include information about a “celebration of life” for a deceased loved one instead of a funeral liturgy. Often the deceased person is cremated and then the family schedules a gathering at a convenient time when relatives and friends are available. These gatherings may take place at a funeral home or event center.
Only by the gift of faith can any of us call a gathering after the death of a loved one a celebration. Belief in life after death brings comfort and consolation realizing the earthly journey leads to eternal life. With a sure and certain hope we commend our loved ones to God’s mercy and trust that they are with the Lord and not separated from him briefly or for eternity.
As Catholics come to celebrate rituals at the time of death, we do so not only to celebrate the life of a departed loved one but also to celebrate the life of Jesus Christ, his death and his resurrection. Mourners are reminded that the cause of our hope in life with God forever is through the perfect sacrifice and rising of our Savior. Jesus Christ is the way to the Father, and nobody passes into eternal life except through him (John 14:6).
Hopefully, then as Catholics come together to celebrate the life of their departed loved one, they do so in a church according to the rituals of our faith, so that the emphasis is not entirely upon the deceased person, but the life of Christ is lifted up as well. Given the potential need of a dead person to be purified upon death and the impact of our prayers, such worship should be offered in a timely manner.
The sharing of memories of the deceased, ideally at the funeral vigil, should also bear in mind participation in the paschal mystery and the celebration of the resurrection of Christ and our promised rising.
While eulogies at Mass are permitted by the funeral ritual (although at times local leaders prohibit them for very good reasons), those who offer them must be especially careful not to undo the work begun in the funeral liturgy. The assembly has gathered together to break open the word of God and usually to offer the eucharistic sacrifice to renew hope in the resurrection. When speakers focus entirely upon the deceased person and what will be missed, suddenly a gathering to spark hope now turns back to heartache.
Hopefully families could trust homilists to include elements of the deceased person’s life within the funeral homily, and memories that may not be appropriate to Mass could be shared at the vigil or privately at home.
At times eulogies can be as awkward as toasts at a wedding reception with only a few people understanding the humor or meaning. Speakers may become overwhelmed with grief and not be able to deliver the eulogy. The eulogy might be quite long and detract from the worship just offered. Multiple people may want to speak and seek to outdo one another.
May our funeral liturgies continue to offer God fitting worship and to families consolation as we celebrate the life of Jesus Christ.
Father Quint is pastor of the Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, Dyersville; St. Joseph, Earlville; St. Boniface, New Vienna; SS. Peter & Paul, Petersburg; St. Paul, Worthington.