Father Richard Barrett answers readers' questions Is THE FUNERAL MASS meant to be a religious festival saying farewell to the deceased, a celebration of the life of the deceased or a sacrificial offering of prayer Jar the repose ofthe deceased soul so that he or she be purified of sin and found worthy to enter heaven? Is it many fitting that this Mass of the Dead he offered as a Mass of the Resurrection?
SFlAKESPEARCS 1593 play, Titus Andronicus, opens with the conquering Roman general returning to Rome to offer suffrage and prayers to the gods for the dead troops of his army. The blood and viscera of one of the captured Goths is poured onto a sacrificial rue and Paul himself describes his life in similar terms when he says that his life is being poured out as a libation (II Tim 4:6). The NT is full of allusions to mementos for the dead if we have eyes to s‘..T them. Across the Mediterranean basin, Judas Maceabeus, the Jewish hero, is reported in much the same vein (II Mace 12:43). Both Titus and Judas are presented as
understanding a universal truth of pagan and revealed religion, that the fallen require intercession for their sins. This duly noted. how to approach the very timely question of the reader?
There are some who feel that the Classical Christian tradition of prayers for the dead is simply a ruse for the building of cathedrals. A myth of the Martin Luther Canonisation Club. Shakespeare, however, sought to educate the ennobled intelligentsia of his time as
to how they had departed from a noble past in which even the pagans of Rome and the zealots of Judaism had believed. Respect for the departed does not consist in stuttering pagan silences before the Immensities but in vocal and heartfelt prayer to the God of the Living (Mk 12:27). The fans that crowded into the Globe would have spotted Shakespeare's mockery of a mockery. i.e. the disdain for the past put about by frenzied puritans, who told people that the timehonoured tradition of praying for their parents and grandparents and great grandparents was a load of foreign hogwash designed to keep overweight cardinals in large basilicas. The Globe theatre-goers would have detected the Bard's allusions to the Roman piety outlawed by a cruel and heartless Cranmen It is reported that cases of mental illness rose in England following the suppression of Masses for the dead. Not surprising, as mental illness does visit those who are disempowered even when they are not disembowelled. Something to do with depriving people of rights.
All this duly noted, what of funerary rites? A religious festival saying farewell to the deceased is of course not especially Christian. for even the wiccaburning Cells had the equivalent in Samhain which was replaced by the Catholic Church with All Saints in AD 895. Similarly a celebration of the life of the deceased as if they have in fact ceased to exist is of course impious cant which even pagan Romans would have found shocking. Classical Christians believe. that this life is a life of shadows
and that the next world is the real one (Mt 5:30).
What form the funerary rites of mother Church should actually take of course is determined by the funeral rites of the same. These are now published courtesy of ICEL as a twovolume work with lots of gaps for sober reflection rather than drunken cheering.
The Archbishop of Armagh recently felt it necessary to issue an edict on the problem of creeping infallibility in Ireland. What had happened was that the local Mgr Witchcraft, by some secret accord with the Holy Spirit, had obtained the gift of infallibility and thus the authority to conduct canonisations in his parish though usually of his good friends from the golf club! (These get white, while those on income support get purple.) So if "celebrations of the life of the deceased" turn into canonisations then we are probably guilty of the fiction identified by one astute pastor as "one lying in the pulpit about the other lying in the coffin".
Those who think the function of religion is to confirm a tribe rather than help people transcend it, will be
tempted to offer either a witless doctrine of unconditional love or a crass lack of honesty about the reality of Judgment. When Christians co-operate in a denial culture they do a disservice to the Gospel. Thus liturgists who proclaim that the resurrection of a deceased has already occurred while celebrating Christian Funerary Rites notwithstanding the incontrovertible evidence of a rather heavy box in front of them are doing Christianity no favours at all.
As far as one is aware, the Resurrection has only been granted to one human by Christ and that was because he was sinless and a perfect disciple. The rest of us, unless Pius IX was very much mistaken, have not benefited from an immaculate conception. So a Mass of the Resurrection seems a trifle premature in fact everyone will receive the appropriate "re-clothing" for their virtues or vices but this occurs at the end of time (Dan 12:12).
THE PRAC I ICE OF bringing up saddles for jockeys, basketballs for sportsmen, flowers for songwriters, petrol cans for politicians, tankards for publicans, calculators for accountants, computers for IT technicians, screwdrivers for parish priests, AK-47s for terrorists, Uzis for Russian mafiosi, Stingers for Mujahideen, and so on, might be defensible for virtuous pagans, but Classical Christianity reserves the right to assert its symbols (0CF 1) and its faith that the deceased person requires prayers and sacrifices in order to enter into Life (Mk 9:45). The Code grants to clergy the right to refuse rites which conflict with Christian eschatology (can. 1184) but maybe it is instruction not refusal that is often required.
In the Falklands all that was offered the poor marines entombed there were memories. Memories? Henry V had the decency to have Masses said for his troops and was immortalised and ennobled thereby. St Thomas explains in his Lenten Meditations that performing such a good work is a basic duty of friendship. True friendship is not
harmed by honesty, particularly when
addressing the God who alone is good (Mk 10:18). So sweet peas who preside in glorious white over premature canonisations should know that the New Promise added to the 1990 Ordination Rites involves intercession not celebration.
Still, maybe they du merit a oneway ticket to the Sistine Chapel where they can wear white as often as they want -subject of course to the consent of the College of Cardinals and the present Pope.