“May the angels lead you into paradise; may the martyrs come to welcome you and take you to the holy city, the new and eternal Jerusalem.”
This antiphon which concludes the Funeral Mass paints a vivid picture of the heavenly communion: angels, saints and martyrs all escorting us home. It is a fitting reminder that every Catholic funeral is a thoroughly public celebration. As we begin the month of November with the Feasts of All Saints and
All Souls, we are reminded that we do not get to heaven alone. We do it in communion.
We often think of funerals as private events for close friends and family, but this is not the case. Like so many of our Catholic rituals, the funeral is a witness to the whole faith community. Catholic funeral rites are not merely – or even mostly – about the life of the person who died. They instead point us to eternal life.
Even after these rites are over, the gravesite remains as another important public witness to Christian hope. Every person who wanders the cemetery sees the names of the faithful departed. Without knowing each one personally, the passerby may offer prayers for the deceased and is strengthened in his or her own faith.
This public aspect also informs the Church’s teachings on cremation. Cremation is allowed, but we treat the ashes the same as a body. Cremated remains stay together – not scattered or divided – and must have a final and public resting place, such as in a columbarium.
I have been involved in the preparation and celebration of many funerals, and I am reminded of how important that work is. It is crucial to make family members aware of your desire for the Church’s funeral rites. Death is often unexpected, and it is a great gift to your loved ones to leave behind some basic funeral plans.
If you don’t know where to start, visit www.archlou.org/funerals. This site includes some simple forms, outlines of the three parts of the Catholic funeral rites, and information about Catholic funerals that you can print and use for yourself or loved ones. These should be kept on file with other important documents in your home.
Your parish may also have some excellent resources. I pray that these can help you prepare beautiful, sacred celebrations that point to our hope in the resurrection.
Dr. Karen Shadle is the director of the Office of Worship for the Archdiocese of Louisville.