MOURNERS RECEIVE COMMUNION during a funeral Mass. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)
MOURNERS RECEIVE COMMUNION during a funeral Mass. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

When a practicing Catholic dies, his or her survivors should schedule a funeral Mass in the parish church before the time of burial or cremation.

The funeral rites of the Church have great spiritual value for a deceased loved one. Scheduling a “Mass of Christian Burial” is a final act of love and respect on the part of those mourning the loss.

In recent years, among survivors, there’s been a shift in attitude about planning a funeral Mass for a deceased Catholic loved one. Many bypass it and choose another venue for a memorial service — a prayer service in the funeral home or at the graveside — or nothing at all.

Though any prayer service is a sign of respect and love, the Church has more in mind for the final rites of a Catholic. These should be given consideration.

Why do survivors bypass a funeral Mass? They may say it is easier on the family; that the deceased was not a practicing Catholic, so it would seem “hypocritical;” or that the survivors are not religious. They may say the ceremony is too long, that rifts in the family make it uncomfortable or that it’s less expensive to go without services.

None of these reasons should be a deciding factor. Respecting the customs of the faith of the deceased, adherence to the Church’s desire to care for the flock even after death and honoring the often unvoiced spiritual wishes of the deceased are more important.

Unless prevented by Church law, every baptized Catholic is entitled to a funeral Mass and the rites of Christian burial. At a funeral Mass, the prayers refer to the deceased person: We pray that the merits won for us by Christ on the cross be applied to the deceased. We pray that their sins be forgiven and that, through God’s mercy, they enter the kingdom of heaven. The Eucharist is offered for them — the Church’s greatest act of faith and worship.

Thus, eternal benefits flow when a funeral Mass is offered for a deceased loved one.

Moreover, the funeral Mass inevitably brings comfort and strength to mourners, no matter what their religious views are, even if they have none at all. Mourners are touched by Christ in a mystical way at a vulnerable time. Christ wants to strengthen them in these darkest of hours. His message of hope and of life-to-come can bring peace and acceptance in the midst of loss.

Catholics, make it known to family and friends that you want a funeral Mass celebrated in your parish church (or another church) after you pass from this life to the next. Have a conversation about last wishes. Write it down and keep a copy among the important papers survivors will view at the time of your death. Give a copy to your funeral director when pre-planning.

Some Catholics include other directives for their funeral Mass: choice of church, Scripture readings, favorite hymns and the choice of a celebrant, homilist and concelebrants.

More and more, people are renaming final services “memorials” or “celebrations of life.” Catho­lic rites include the celebration of a life, but have a wider focus.

The proper title for our funeral services is, “the Rites and Mass of Christian Burial.” Remembering and celebrating the lives of our dead take an honored place, but we also celebrate the gift of our baptism, our salvation in Christ and His promise of eternal life, and the anticipation of future reunion with loved ones. This, for us, puts life and death in perspective.

It’s good to express sadness, confusion, pride, love and gratitude for family, friends or coworkers when loved ones leave us. This is usually done in a eulogy. The best time for this is not at the funeral Mass, however, but in the funeral home before Mass or at a more informal gathering after the burial.

We can learn many lessons from the lives of our deceased loved ones. We should celebrate that and share the experiences we’ve had with them — but keep in mind that fewer time restrictions are involved when this is done outside the church setting.

If a deceased loved one is cremated, the ashes should be brought to church for the funeral. If a person donates his or her body to science, a funeral Mass should be celebrated without the body present. This can also be done in a case where burial has already taken place.

Inactive Catholics, former Catho­lics, non-Catholic Christians, those of other religions or those who profess no faith at all are welcome to join us at funeral Masses. They can participate in the hymns and prayers if they choose. We hope they will also be recipients of our love and concern during this time of grief. They ought not receive communion, however, since that signifies belief in, and union with, our Catholic faith.

We clergy are ready to assist and support you during the loss of a loved one, even if you do not schedule the full funeral rites of the Church as we hope you will. We are always available to conduct circumscribed funeral rites for your deceased in funeral homes or by the graveside.

We do ask, however, that you seriously consider providing the complete rites of the Catholic Church at the time of the death of your loved one.

(Father Morrette is pastor of St. Mary’s parish in Glens Falls.)