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Our Church Home, Even in Death

November 5, 2009

Our Church Home, Even in Death

The following quote is attributed to Jackie Kennedy, who observed, "The Church is at her best when she welcomes a baby at baptism, or bids someone farewell at a funeral."

Quite a tribute, and well-worth thinking about this November, the month of the Faithful Departed.

November: darkness comes earlier, sunrise later; the wind turns colder, and the trees go bare; night seems to trump day.

Yes, no denying it: nature is dying.

So, Mother Church invites us to consider death! Let's admit that we will all one day die, that this life is but a preparation for eternity, that, "by dying, Jesus destroyed our death, and by rising, restored our life."

Perhaps with both a lump in our throat, and a smile of love and gratitude, let's reverently recall those who have gone before us, thanking God for them, and asking Him to bring them mercifully to their true and eternal home of heaven, where we hope one day to see them again. And let's renew as well our appreciation for our consoling Catholic customs surrounding death.

Can I consider a few of them?

Now, for a rather delicate issue: eulogies! Seems like our Catholic people either love 'em or dread 'em: I have found myself very moved by some eulogies, and rolling my eyes and longing for conclusion in others. Here are some guidelines I have found helpful from our priests, people, and funeral home directors:

A eulogy—when allowed in a parish—is not obligatory, but optional. Families should not feel they must have one.

Eulogies can be given somewhere else besides the Funeral Mass: e.g., the Vigil Service at the wake, graveside at the cemetery or at the luncheon after the burial.

If the eulogy is given at Mass, it could be given at the opening of the Mass, after the greeting of the body, before the opening prayer, to welcome the congregation and share with them some personal words about the faith of the departed. Or, it could be given after Holy Communion. In either case, the one presenting the comments should keep the following in mind: 

I trust the wisdom and pastoral compassion of our pastors in setting a sound policy for their parish. 

So much for my November meditation. The Church is our home, our family. We especially appreciate her at the hour of death. We're part of a communion that not even death can shatter!