As November is the month when we are encouraged to remember to pray for those who have died, it is a good opportunity for us to reflect on how we prepare for death and for the funeral rites of our loved ones.
For the Christian, death is the passage to the fullness of true life. We call the Christian’s day of death their dies natalis — the day of their heavenly birth, where ‘there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness [for] the world of the past has gone.’ Death is the prolongation, in a new way, of life. As the Liturgy says: ‘For your faithful, O Lord, life has changed not ended; while our earthly dwelling is destroyed, a new and eternal dwelling is prepared for us in Heaven.’ The first words of the introduction to the Order of Christian Funerals are: ‘In the face of death, the Church confidently proclaims that God has created each person for eternal life.’
I am often aware, when families come to prepare the funeral service for their loved ones, that they are unsure what to suggest for readings and music. That they are much more comfortable in giving thanks for the person’s life reflects this. They choose favourite songs and music that meant something to the deceased. Occasionally I have celebrated the funeral of a practising catholic, only at the crematorium — when the family have not realised the importance of celebrating a Requiem Mass. It will help our family and friends if we let them know what our wishes are, regarding our own funeral.
I recommend an excellent website www.artofdyingwell.org. It has been created by The Centre for the Art of Dying Well, at St Mary’s University, London. The aim is helping people to live and die well and be supported in their grief.
Available in the parish office is a leaflet Instructions for my Funeral Mass. This is something that you can fill in so that it will be so much easier for your family and friends to make the necessary arrangements.
Our funeral liturgy is rich in symbolism, and here at St Thomas’ we always encourage the funeral Mass to be celebrated at midday, when the people of the parish can support the bereaved with their presence and warmth of fellowship. We use a white pall, placed over the coffin, to remind us of the gift of everlasting life given to us at baptism. We place a bible, which could be the bible belonging to the deceased, and a crucifix (again this might be one from the family home) on the pall. The words spoken remind those present that the deceased will be greeted with the words, ‘Come, blessed of my Father!’ When the cross is placed on the coffin, we pray that our loved one shares in Christ’s victory over sin and death. The Pascal candle stands by the coffin as a sign of Christ’s undying presence. The priest might wear a white vestment that expresses the hope of Easter; it is the fulfilment of baptism and the wedding garment necessary for the kingdom. The wearing of purple or violet vestments recalls ‘the eschatological expectation of Advent, and the Lenten preparation for the paschal mystery.’