Saturday, September 5, 2009

Catholic Funerals

There has been a lot of talk back and forth between those who criticized Ted Kennedy's funeral and those defending it. Up to and including Cardinal O'Malley who had it mostly right. Mostly. He also had it wrong. In which case, he practically handed detractors an argument with both hands. As we shall see.

I will just also mention here that I am not siding with those uncharitable people complaining that Kennedy didn't deserve a Catholic funeral and certainly I was appalled that the Vatican released Kennedy's letter to the pope. I stand corrected (this is how very little attention I pay to most political things actually), turns out it was Kennedy's family that released the letter ... so that is par for the course on the publicity trail, I think. In that case, I am appalled that his family shared something that I believe should have remained secret. (So I think that is a round robin of disapproval ... yes, I think I probably have annoyed everybody possible now ...)

In all that, I have not seen anyone take it back to basics. Catholic basics, that is. There are a couple of issues when heated debates arise and I always wonder why no one knows what the Catechism says. They simply argue.

Celebrity Catholic funerals like this are such an issue, especially in these polarized days. So let me mention here that the Catechism has it all spelled out.
1688 The liturgy of the Word during funerals demands very careful preparation because the assembly present for the funeral may include some faithful who rarely attend the liturgy, and friends of the deceased who are not Christians. The homily in particular must "avoid the literary genre of funeral eulogy" and illumine the mystery of Christian death in the light of the risen Christ.
Notice the specific mention of avoiding a eulogy? That's where Cardinal O'Malley got it wrong. He allowed the funeral to be derailed from the lines that the Catechism outlines by allowing eulogies. And we see where that got him and everyone.

Again, turning to the Catechism:
1689 The Eucharistic Sacrifice. When the celebration takes place in church the Eucharist is the heart of the Paschal reality of Christian death. In the Eucharist, the Church expresses her efficacious communion with the departed: offering to the Father in the Holy Spirit the sacrifice of the death and resurrection of Christ, she asks to purify his child of his sins and their consequences, and to admit him to the Paschal fullness of the table of the Kingdom. It is by the Eucharist thus celebrated that the community of the faithful, especially the family of the deceased, learn to live in communion with the one who "has fallen asleep in the Lord," by communicating in the Body of Christ of which he is a living member and, then, by praying for him and with him.
The time for eulogies and stories about the deceased is the wake and afterward with the "funeral baked meats." These were the lines along which my father-in-law's funeral proceeded. It allowed for plenty of time to appreciate him as family and friends, but also to have at the center that forced concentration on much larger issues of life and death. I had never been to a Catholic funeral before and was truly amazed at the wisdom of the entire traditional process ... the viewing of the body (he's really not here, that truly is just his body), the rosary, the life-affirming and joyful wake with stories and jokes, the solid center of the mass, the meal afterward with a turning toward everyday life mingled with sadness and stories. So perfect. It was, in a very real sense, my first look as an insider at the truth contained in tradition and Tradition.

I did not know at the time that in following the "old fashioned" funeral traditions, my mother-in-law was simply living out what is prescribed: "the Roman liturgy gives three types of funeral celebrations, corresponding to the three places in which they are conducted (the home, the church, and the cemetery), and according to the importance attached to them by the family, local customs, the culture, and popular piety." However, once I did read that section, I began realizing the practicality of the Catechism in regular life.

I would encourage anyone to go read the funeral section, via the links above.

Also ...
The Curt Jester has some interesting thoughts prompted by Ted Kennedy's funeral and the response from both sides.

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