VIPs at our Catholic funerals

The guest list at the funeral Mass in Boston for U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy was long and impressive: the President and Vice President of the United States, three former presidents and three former vice presidents, and a host of senators, representatives, governors, and foreign dignitaries.

Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley presided at the packed Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica, and an internationally renowned group including cellist Yo-Yo Ma and tenor Placido Domingo provided music for the liturgy. Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, D.C., spoke at the burial service. Both the funeral Mass and burial rites were televised non-stop on several networks.

We who make up the parishes of central Illinois might feel that our Catholic funeral Masses, whenever and wherever they take place, will be minor affairs by comparison.

We’d be wrong.

The above list doesn’t include any of the Very Important Persons our faith tells us assemble to pray for us at every funeral Mass, no matter how destitute or little known the deceased, no matter how sparsely populated the pews.

In the Mass, Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, wrote in his 2008 festival letter titled “Prayers for the Dead,” “it is Christ himself who intercedes for all those who have died.” Further, “the unfathomable supplication of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, and all the angels and saints are united in Christ with the prayers of the entire believing community on behalf of the dead.”

That most impressive of all funeral guest lists is the right of every baptized Catholic.

The Kennedy funeral stirred a heated debate among some in the Catholic community. Anguished comments posted on blogs and sent to editors questioned whether a senator with such a pro-abortion record should even have a Catholic funeral. Others felt this liturgy, with its multiple eulogies, seemed more like a canonization ceremony. On the other side, arguing just as passionately, were those vigorously defending Sen. Kennedy’s accomplishments and the positive aspects of a nationally televised Catholic funeral Mass.

We’ll leave the judgment of Sen. Kennedy’s life to God and the liturgical calls to the experts in the Archdiocese of Boston.

But we’ll use the interest as an occasion to once again call to mind a funeral scandal that happens with too much regularity in our own communities. We speak of survivors who deny departed loved ones a Mass of Christian Burial because they themselves no longer practice the faith, or they simply find arranging one too much of a bother.

You think the debate after the Kennedy funeral has been impassioned? Listen to what Bishop Jenky wrote about the scandal of denying Catholic funeral Masses in his 2008 teaching document:

“The Mass is always an effective means of grace for both the living and the dead,” wrote the bishop, “and must never be neglected. It is a scandal and even a grave sin when ungrateful children do not arrange Catholic funerals for parents who in life were always faithful to Sunday or even daily Mass. Almighty God will certainly judge them severely for their impious neglect.”

Your Catholic funeral Mass and mine will not be nationally televised. The President of the United States will not deliver our eulogies. No, something infinitely more profound will happen. The Catholic funeral and burial rites are among the greatest gifts of Christ and the church to us, and the fact that some neglect to avail this means of grace to a departed loved one is a scandal that should get us all overheated. — Thomas J. Dermody

SPALDING PASTORAL CENTER | 419 NE MADISON AVENUE | PEORIA, IL 61603 | PHONE (309) 671-1550 | FAX (309) 671-1595
© Copyright 2024 - The Catholic Post || All Rights Reserved || Design by