A friend, writing about yesterday’s item, The Newly Canonized Great Byrd , sent me a message he’d sent a “progressive” friend who saw no problem with the bishop’s making a declaration way, way above his pay grade. Now,
Virtually every funeral becomes a canonization. The vestments are white, the Alleluia’s ring out, and the deceased is routinely canonized in the homily and of course the eulogy.
For example: the priest who ends every funeral homily with “and in conclusion I would suggest that, instead of praying for Aunt Gert we should pray to her”; the eulogy which said, “I know Daddy wasn’t much for Church but I’m sure that doesn’t matter because he was a good man”; and my favorite, the babe who said, “And I know lots of you are real sad today because Momma’s gone, but you know what she used to say: if you’re having a real bad day just go out and get laid.”
He went on to describe the confusion he’d seen at Catholic funerals, where people presented themselves for Communion who obviously had forgotten what to do. The effect is “a wholesale disintegration of the awareness of the call to discipleship,” with the liturgy, including the homily, turned into “an instrument of the therapeutic religion we have developed, and we all leave at the end of Mass very pleased with ourselves and affirmed in our self-satisfaction . . . assuming that we bothered to get there at all.”
I once had a conversation with a priest (ordained in 1958) who insisted that the purpose of the Funeral Mass was the consolation of the people. I told him that the purpose of the Funeral Mass was to apply the fruits of Calvary to the departed soul. “No,” he said, “you can have other Masses said for that later.”
He has it exactly backwards. The Funeral Mass should be consoling to people precisely because in assisting at the Mass they can benefit their departed loved ones. It is a great consolation of our Faith that through our prayers, works, joys, sufferings, penances, and especially the holy Mass we can aid our loved ones in their journey to God. Genuine charity would lead us to teach and preach that.
But, no. The therapeutic religion’s goal is to make us feel good. The need for conversion, striving for holiness, the concept that our existence is a pilgrimage, a striving towards union with God - all of these things we have grown beyond. “Enter by the narrow gate??” Why??? I’m already there.
His friend had argued that “in a way, the new, more charitable assurances are attempts at teaching too. A funeral or memorial service — or official statement on a famous person’s death — is one time when clergy have the floor and can talk about heaven and ‘perfect joy’ to a world that is losing hope in such things.” My friend responded:
Yes, I grant you, they’re attempts at teaching. They teach the sin of presumption. Are people really “losing hope” in Heaven and perfect joy? It looks to me as though they’ve decided that dessert is sure to come, whether or not they bother to eat the Meal. And if we do eat the Meal, we work very hard at making sure it’s a Happy Meal.
The Bishop could have said, “I join today with Catholics from across West Virginia and the rest of our country in prayer for the soul of Senator Robert Byrd. We recognize that he often sincerely felt that he had to differ from the Church on issues of great importance to our world; our hope and prayer is for the consolation of his family and friends, and we commend him to the mercy of the Lord Jesus.” How nice had he added, “May I ask that at all Masses celebrated in our diocese this weekend, the eternal repose of his soul be prayed for during the Prayer of the Faithful.”
That would have expressed the condolences and concern of the Catholic community, and been a good teaching moment as well. “We pray during this difficult time that family and loved ones will remember that Senator Byrd is now at peace with the Risen Lord and, with his late wife Erma Ora Byrd, is experiencing Perfect Joy” isn’t.