Over the past few months, these ti morceaux have focused on our Church’s funeral rituals. In particular, I’ve highlighted the baptismal imagery of our funeral ceremonies, since one’s entrance into eternal life is prepared-for by one’s entering into a life of faith through baptism.
But there is another fundamental image that needs to be emphasized. In fact, I dare say that it’s even MORE fundamental to the experience of death and of Christian funerals! It may go unnoticed sometimes, but that is very, very unfortunate.
I’m speaking of the normative celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as part of a Catholic funeral. True, this can be omitted if not appropriate (for example, if the deceased and their surviving family members are really, disdainfully lapsed from the practice of the faith) and cannot be done on during the Easter Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday), since that pre-eminent feast has its own special character and meaning. But without serious reason, Mass should always be celebrated on the occasion of a Catholic’s funeral.
Remember, the principal “meaning” of the Mass is that it is the memorial of Christ’s own Passover, the making present and the sacramental offering of His unique sacrifice (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 1362ff.). It is not merely the recollection of past events but they become in a certain way present and real again. When the Church celebrates Mass, she commemorates Christ’s own sacrifice of His life which Jesus offered once for all on the cross.
Now I hope we can see clearly why celebrating the Mass “fits in” so well at a funeral. It’s a linking of two deaths! It is a remembering of Jesus’ supremely-important death, and a purposeful connecting of it with the death of the individual for whom the funeral is being celebrated. At last the believer has united himself or herself in the most ultimate way with the Savior, by sharing the experience of death! St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans phrased our faith-filled reasoning well when he wrote: “If united with Him through a death like His, so that we shall also be united with Him in the resurrection…If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him” (6:5 and 8). It’s also a way for the congregation, too, to “connect” with both deaths, by their sharing if possible in Holy Communion, since “In the Eucharist the sacrifice of Christ becomes also the sacrifice of the members of His Body. The lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer, and work, are united with those of Christ and with His total offering, and so acquire a new value” (CCC, art. 1368).