Monday, 17 September 2012

Funeral Masses: What Does The Church Actually Say?

It seems I am not alone in my reservations about lay-led Funeral Services replacing Funeral Masses in Liverpool.  Several others have blogged and tweeted, both before and after me, raising a variety of salient points.

I will blog later on these, and further reflections of my own; but first I thought it instructive to look at what the official line is.  The paragraphs below are all taken from the UK Liturgy Office’s publication: Order of Christian Funerals, the Introduction to which is available online here (h/t to commenter Mike on Dylan’s blogpost).

I have put a few sections in bold, to emphasise what seems unarguable to me: that the norm is for a Funeral Mass, and other arrangements are for occasions when that is impossible (not inconvenient) due to the complete unavailability of priests.


4. At the death of a Christian, whose life of faith was begun in the waters of baptism and strengthened at the eucharistic table, the Church intercedes on behalf of the deceased because of its confident belief that death is not the end nor does it break the bonds forged in life. The Church also ministers to the sorrowing and consoles them in the funeral rites with the comforting word of God and the sacrament of the eucharist.

5. Christians celebrate the funeral rites to offer worship, praise, and thanksgiving to God for the gift of a life which has now been returned to God, the author of life and the hope of the just. The Mass, the memorial of Christ’s death and resurrection, is the principal celebration of the Christian funeral.

6. The Church through its funeral rites commends the dead to God’s merciful love and pleads for the forgiveness of their sins. At the funeral rites, especially at the celebration of the eucharistic sacrifice, the Christian community affirms and expresses the union of the Church on earth with the Church in heaven in the one great communion of saints. Though separated from the living, the dead are still at one with the community of believers on earth and benefit from their prayers and intercession. At the rite of final commendation and farewell, the community acknowledges the reality of separation and commends the deceased to God. In this way it recognises the spiritual bond that still exists between the living and the dead and proclaims its belief that all the faithful will be raised up and reunited in the new heavens and a new earth, where death will be no more.

12. At the vigil for the deceased or on another occasion before the eucharistic celebration, the presiding minister should invite all to be present at the funeral liturgy and to take an active part in it. The minister may also describe the funeral liturgy and explain why the community gathers to hear the word of God proclaimed and to celebrate the eucharist when one of the faithful dies.
The priest and other ministers should also be mindful of those persons who are not members of the Catholic Church, or Catholics who are not involved in the life of the Church.

Liturgical Ministers 
Presiding Minister

14. Priests, as teachers of faith and ministers of comfort, preside at the funeral rites, especially the Mass; the celebration of the funeral liturgy is especially entrusted to priests. When no priest is available, deacons, as ministers of the word, of the altar, and of charity, preside at funeral rites. 

When no priest or deacon is available for the vigil and related rites or the rite of committal, a layperson presides.

46. The section entitled ‘Funeral Liturgy’ provides two forms of the funeral liturgy, the central celebration of the Christian community for the deceased: ‘Funeral Mass’ and ‘Funeral Liturgy outside Mass’. When one of its members dies, the Church especially encourages the celebration of the Mass, When Mass cannot be celebrated (see no, 189), the second form of the funeral liturgy may be used and a Mass for the deceased should be celebrated, if possible, at a later time.


That seems to be pretty clear to me.

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