Christian funerals, heaven and hell.

A great homily today, on heaven and hell, and on Christian funerals and praying for souls.

And so I am reminded of one of my old blog posts. Of which I will re-post  …in part… Because we all need reminders.

” Since I moved to Sydney I have been to more funerals than ever. Funerals for people I have met through church; relatives of friends; fellow parishioners.

 I Corinthians 15:51-58 “Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall all indeed rise again: but we shall not all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet: for the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall rise again incorruptible. And we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption: and this mortal must put on immortality. And when this mortal hath put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? Now the sting of death is sin: and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who hath given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast and unmoveable: always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”

Some of these have been solemn funerals, beautiful if one can call a Requiem Mass beautiful. Sad but reverent and prayerful, remembering the dead, remembering to pray for the dead. With the priest using this opportunity to catechise the faithful on the Church’s teaching on repentance, purgatory, heaven.

 After a recent funeral, a funeral that I attended with my youngest two still homeschooling sons, a funeral at which one son served, well, while eating a late lunch at a coffee shop, we talked about funerals. About praying for the dead. And we made up little verbal lists of things we don’t want at our funerals. No power points, no eulogies, no modern music, no platitudes, no slide show…just the requiem mass, please.

 My kids laughed and I laughed. But we all got the point.

 The thing to remember is that, at funerals, we are not celebrating life and loves, we are praying for a soul; our relationship with our dead Christian loved ones isn’t dissolved by death; we pray for our dead in case they are in Purgatory for a while, and we ask them to pray for us.

 If anyone wants to eulogize the dead, the Vigil or, especially, the after-burial gathering are the times to do it; eulogies really are not allowed at a traditional Requiem Mass.

 This seems to anger some people but eulogies in a church often lead to serious problems. Really. I mean… the word, “eulogy,” means “high praise” — but what if the deceased wasn’t so holy and wonderful and especially wasn’t repentant? Should we speak the truth of the dead by speaking ill ( not a good idea, I guess, at such an emotional time) , or should we lie, in a church, for the sake of politeness and decorum? I am not a puritan when it comes to lying in general and outside a church service..a little white lie is sometimes, almost, a god-send. But lying in church? Glossing over sins? And encouraging a theologically incorrect thought.. with typical words that imply that the person is most definitely, without a doubt in Heaven, right now, even though we know that may not be the case..not that we judge the state of another’s soul … Eulogizers are often theologically incorrect , saying things that are simply not consistent with Catholic doctrine or that can lead the congregation to believe that Purgatory and Hell do not exist.

 And, to be honest, eulogies are often quite personal , personal and weird, with the deceased having requested in life that pop music be played , and similar things, things that are best left for the intimacy of a wake or post-burial gathering. Not to be present in the liturgy, for the public worship and an act of the Church.

 Ultimately, of course, how can we give “high praise” to an unglorified human being when, in a church, we are in the presence of the glory of the Blessed Sacrament?

 A traditional Catholic funeral consists of three main parts: the Vigil ,the Requiem Mass, and the Burial …and then, perhaps, informal after-burial gatherings. The kids and I have decided that we would prefer sticking to this traditional formula, for our funerals. Sounds morbid but actually it was a good discussion, over steak burgers and chicken and avocado sandwiches.

 Better to talk about these things now, of heaven and earth and hell, than to tuck the topics away until later..a later that may be too late.

 Better to talk about liturgy and Church teaching than to hope that such things are picked up by osmosis.”

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