By Ramon Gonzalez
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
Caption: Father Jim Corrigan. WCR photo / CCN
Funerals are a way to honour a person who has died while bringing closure to friends and family affected by the death.
Funeral gatherings, which in the Catholic tradition include the vigil, the funeral Mass and the committal, provide a chance to celebrate our faith in Christ, express our love for the person who has died, and define new ways in which to remain faithful to the personal relationship that has touched our life.
For Catholics, a funeral is a celebration of the deceased’s life, say two Edmonton priests.
“(A funeral) is a painful time, it’s a time for mourning but it’s also a time that we believe (the deceased) becomes part of the communion of saints,” explains Father Mike McCaffery, a retired priest who still officiates at a number of funerals a year.
The Christian belief is that death is the beginning of a new life and so a funeral “is a time to celebrate our faith, our belief in the resurrection,” he said.
During a funeral “we celebrate a life lived but most importantly we focus on the (deceased’s) entry into eternal life,” explained Father Jim Corrigan, pastor at St. Theresa’s Parish. “It’s a celebration where we are able to appreciate someone we love has arrived where all the rest of us want to get to.”
The baptismal promise of eternal life is also beneficial for helping loved ones to process grieving and say their goodbyes in a proper way, Corrigan said.
Death is a sensitive time for people and priests sometimes make it difficult, noted McCaffery. “We can be more concerned about enforcing rules and regulations about how the funeral should be celebrated than we can be in helping the people grieve and encouraging them in different ways to celebrate a good funeral.”
Added McCaffery: “I think (death) is one of the most pastorally sensitive times that we have with parishioners and we can either turn them on or off by the way we greet them, by the way we welcome them, by the way we give them options instead of saying you have to do this, you have to do that.”
Significant as it is, the importance of funerals seems to be waning, with many people declining to hold them. “I think it’s (becoming) a trend not to have funerals,” he said.
McCaffery said there is no hard data as to why that is happening, but he noted “people are not going to church like they were in the past” and they are generally unattached to the faith.
It’s becoming more and more common to find death notices in the paper announcing that say, Joe Smith has decided not to have a funeral or memorial service, McCaffery said.
“Part of the problem for many Catholics is that they no longer practise their faith and some have the erroneous impression that because they no longer practise their faith they won’t be able to have a church funeral.”
That happens a lot among divorced and remarried Catholics. “They don’t think they’ll be able to have a Catholic funeral so they don’t even begin to try,” he explained.
“They also have the erroneous impression that if someone commits suicide they won’t be able to have a funeral but the Church never blocks that for anyone.”
The Church would not deny any person a funeral even if a person has been inactive for years, he said. “I would never refuse a funeral to anybody.”
Corrigan agreed that the decision not to hold a funeral is becoming a trend.
This, he says, reflects the reality that a generation of people hasn’t practised their faith regularly.
“I don’t want to be an alarmist but 50 years ago we would have said 50 to 60 per cent of the people practise their faith regularly; today we know that for Catholics (that figure) is about 25 per cent.”
Corrigan still can’t understand why everyone doesn’t have some kind of a celebration when it’s so important to the people who grieve. “It helps them say goodbye.”
Corrigan celebrates about 60 funerals a year and says he is always grateful for the opportunity to hold the celebration. “The people that attend, generally speaking, are open and they are searching and they are looking for answers.”
“I think funerals are a great opportunity for evangelization for the Church, to help people reconnect and to understand what’s important.”