LAST THINGS: Funeral liturgy reflects soul’s journey to God

Photo Caption: “When you listen to the liturgy, you realize we’re pilgrims and death is simply an end of our earthly pilgrimage,” said Father Antonio Dittmer.

By: By Jennifer Willems

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following was part of a special section in the Oct. 25, 2015 issue of The Catholic Post called “Last Things: A Catholic perspective on grief, death and new life.”


Father Antonio Dittmer says there are many similarities between a funeral liturgy and a baptismal liturgy.

“When a child comes to church for the first time he can’t walk. He’s carried into church and dressed in white. The paschal candle goes before him,” said Father Dittmer, pastor of the LaSalle Catholic parishes. “Dying to original sin, he is raised to new life in God.”

At a funeral, the loved one is also carried into church, he said. The casket is draped in a white pall and the paschal candle goes before them as Mass begins.

“We ask the angels and saints to take them by the hand and lead them to God,” Father Dittmer said.

“When you listen to the liturgy you realize we’re pilgrims and death is simply an end of our earthly pilgrimage. It isn’t the end, but the end of our earthly pilgrimage,” he explained. “We are on an eternal pilgrimage to God and union with him.”

Father Dittmer said it is important to proclaim Christ’s resurrection and the reality of life after death not only to give comfort, but to evangelize. It is at these moments that people are the most open to listening because they are struggling to find answers to the ultimate questions of existence, he explained.

Like the Easter Triduum, the wake service, Mass of Christian Burial and final commendation at the cemetery serve as a single liturgy, he added. The wake service starts with the sign of the cross and includes readings from Scripture and intercessions for the deceased, but the Mass does not begin with the sign of the cross or end with a final blessing. That takes place at the cemetery.

“As Catholics, we are so fortunate to have the beautiful ritual of the funeral liturgy,” said Loretta Oakley, liturgy coordinator and music director at St. Matthew Parish in Champaign. “A Mass of Christian Burial has, as its focus, the hope of eternal life and so is the consummate prayer for the soul of the deceased.”

As such, there is no need to elaborate on it, she said. Oakley suggested that a wake or social gathering after the burial would be a more appropriate time to give eulogies and share precious memories of a loved one — to celebrate their life.

“When planning a funeral, the priest should be the first contact before any other arrangements are made. He will confirm the date and time of the liturgy and most likely arrange to meet with the family to go over details, including readings and music,” Oakley said. “Most parishes have guidelines to help families in decision making.”

“If you allow the church’s liturgy to speak for itself, you will recognize the authentic journey of the soul to God after death,” Father Dittmer said.

“I always say that outside of the sacraments, I feel most like a priest when I’m tending to the dying . . . preparing that soul to go into eternity,” he said.

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