When someone dies arises the topic of his or her funerals. Burial vs. cremation. Should Christian funerals be planned? Do we still wake the deceased? Benchmarks.
Planning Christian funerals
Planning Christian funerals entails organizing and preparing in advance both the outline and content of the ceremony, ie. the readings and the hymns. Furthermore more, one needs to find out about the position of the Catholic Church concerning burial or cremation of the body, writing up a will and having Masses celebrated for the deceased.
About the ceremony
Unfortunately, having a Mass celebrated during the funerals is not always possible. Yet you may have one celebrated at a later date, at your parish for example. Should your relatives be occasional devotees, a Mass might prove to be a language less apt to be received than a celebration without the Eucharist, but still you can have a ceremony with all the rituals of the liturgy for the dead as set out by the Catholic Church.
Generally, they consist in evoking the deceased by means of personal pictures, pieces of music, songs etc. Yet such ceremonies are not comforting because they do not open on to hope. It is in usage to say that the departed lives in the heart of the people he or she leaves behind. One can indeed think of him or her with affection and love. Yet it may weighs them down with guilt when the memory fades away. On the contrary, Christian hope claims that the deceased is alive in Heaven, that our loving relationships are not severed and that we are united in the Communion of Saints.
About the readings and the songs
Choose readings from the Scriptures, relating to death, that say something about your own faith such as the Gospel of the Good Thief, the resurrection of Lazarus, the death of Jesus or that of His Resurrection. You can also suggest the hymns to be sung, even if they might not be taken up, but they need be in the tone of what the Church proposes.
Burial or cremation
Nowadays cremation appeals to many people. Even though the Church tolerates it, it is not the Christian way of accompanying death. Cremation makes the body disappear. It is often psychologically very brutal for the relatives and it prevents their subsequent recollections, if the ashes are scattered. The burial on the contrary testifies that Christians look forward to the resurrection of the body and that theirs will repose in this expectation.
About the will
Preparing in advance one’s testament is of chief importance. It allows for successions to be addressed in a more peaceful manner. Indeed, we are attached to material things not only for their market value but also for their emotional value and for what they remind us of. Obviously, your will might also express your last wishes. However, be wary of not overwhelming those who will remain after you are gone, with specific requests that can be burdensome, such as the place of your burial for example. A will should allow your beloved to peacefully enter into mourning.
About the spiritual will
The spiritual will represents a message of love, of hope, whereby share one’s faith and meant to help those who remain to enter bereavement. You might entrust your spiritual will to your loved ones. It may also be read at your funerals.
About having Masses celebrated
Make requests for Masses to be celebrated for the repose of your soul. Prior to dying, St Augustine’s mother, St Monica, had probed her son: “Remember me at the altar of the Lord.” You can subscribe in advance to Masses that will be celebrated after your death, and thus make a deposit at the shrine for example. Upon making the deposit, you will get a receipt which you can commit to a person of trust or to your lawyer. They will only will have to notify the shrine of your being deceased so as to get the celebrations of Masses started.
Rev. Fr. Don Paul Denizot, (C.E. Magazine n°307)
You might also like to enroll in the spiritual Fraternity of Our Lady of Montligeon so as to benefit from the perpetual Mass celebrated every day for its members, whether living or deceased, and from the prayer from the Montligeon associated prayers groups.
Should wakes still occur?
Nowadays, in some countries like France, the ritual of the wake, especially at the home of the deceased, seems a morbid practice from the dark ages. Why are wakes ancient history? What is their meaning as far as the Catholic Church is concerned? What is their purpose? Should wakes still occur?
In former times, in France, usage was to wake the dead at their homes, during the days preceding their funerals. Kinfolks, friends, and neighbours, would come to the home and present their condolences to the family, and would take a moment to pay their respect to the deceased. Nowadays, one can only but say that such tradition has almost disappeared from our cultural environment.
Why go to the cemetery to pray at a loved one’s grave?
We believe and hope that our beloved departed are with God. Why should we therefore bother about their body, dead and buried? What is a cemetery? What is the significance of the cross and of the flowers laid on the tomb? Why go to the cemetery to pray at a loved one’s grave?
Clearly, we believe and hope that our beloved departed are with God, that they see Him face to face, as He is. Our stance on the mystery of death and on the afterlife is that of faith and hope, set on Heaven. It is not riveted to the earth where the mortal remains of our departed lie. However, it is because of our faith and hope, that we have to visit and pray at the cemetery.