What I liked about my Uncle’s funeral

Posted: June 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

My Uncle Don died this week, an uncle on my Father’s side, the husband of my father’s sister. He was in his eighties and had lived a long and good life. In fact, Uncle Don had a serious illness some fifteen years ago and received an extension of his time in this world. He made the best of it; a better grandfather was not to be found.

The funeral took place in the St. James Catholic Church of Liberty, Missouri. Uncle Don was as Catholic as he was Democrat, an common Irish combination. A picture of the sitting pope always graced the wall of his office. It’s still there now.

We began as a mixed religious family, and though perhaps the most common state of affairs now, it was more unusual when religious lines were more rigid. My Grandfather and Grandmother Carson were Protestant and Catholic. And though my Grandfather was a Protestant pretty much by name only, my Grandmother was observant. Their compromise solution was a split household; the girls would be raised Catholic and the boys Protestant. My father was raised in the Disciples of Christ tradition and our family line trickled down from that. My aunt, his sister, was raised in the Catholic Church. And she married a good Catholic boy, my Uncle Don.

The funeral was Catholic, the priest having come to their home for last rites the week before Uncle died. Having witnessed and performed, yes, hundreds of Protestant funerals, it was good to share in this. There is much to commend.

One of the popular practices in many Protestant funerals today is the sharing of eulogies by family and friends. Though some are touching, many are superfluous and exercises in sentimentality. The Catholic church has this right; they program this segment before the service begins, as the procession waits to enter. There is a personal touch by including these tributes but they do not move to center stage. The liturgy itself, the testimony of the church through the ages, is what preoccupies us, as it should.

At the beginning of the entrance procession holy water is sprinkled on the casket and baptism is called to mind. As we are baptized in Christ, so we pass into the great mystery, the waters signing us with grace. Immediately the body is covered with the white Christ shroud – symbolizing that we are clothed in Christ. And that’s how we entered – remembering our baptisms and wrapped in Christ. The flag – because he was a veteran – covered the coffin after leaving the church because inside the sanctuary we know that God, Christ, the Church are universal, not tied to nationality.

The nature of the liturgy was not performative; something shared to entertain those present. Rather, it was expected that the liturgy was participatory. This took place musically as a cantor helped us with the responses. The scripture lessons drove us toward the historic confessions of the church. We were surrounded with words and actions that tied us to the faith of millions through the centuries.

I have grown weary of the “worship lite” of much Protestant worship and funerals. “Where is the beef?” That’s a good question for Protestants. And the “beef” is not really to be found in some home run sermon, as though we’re going to preach the dearly departed into heaven. No, the people of God, or guests of the people of God who know nothing of this except through attending a random funeral or wedding, should gather for real and hear the authentic sounds of their faith. It is at such times that we, the baptized, should remember what it is wraps us like a blanket and carries us on the wings of a great song and prayer.

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