Preface: In the funeral mass, besides bereaved family members and friends, lay people can attend the mass by pious habits to pray for the deceased and to give comfort to the bereaved. Then, the same choir can sing at the funeral mass.
Thus, just like the wedding ceremony, if the priest repeats certain ideas in his sermon, the listener may get bored. Therefore, the priest needs to make an effort to say something different for each occasion and circumstance of the deceased and the pastoral needs of the attendants.
This article is the English version of the Vietnamese article on the same subject “Tám đề tài diễn giảng lời Chúa trong lễ an táng / cầu hồn – Phần 2”, written by the same author, published earlier in www.mucvuvanbut.net on the same section:
In the funeral liturgy, there are 7 Old Testament readings; 10 Responsorial Psalms; 19 New Testament readings; 11 Verses before the gospel; 19 Gospels, to choose one of each. The priest should choose or instruct family members of the deceased to choose scriptural texts that are appropriate to the circumstances of the deceased and the pastoral need of the bereaved as to be able to touch the hearts of the listeners. Thus, in the funeral service for the elderly woman, selection of the gospel reading about the death of the young man at Nain, would not be appropriate in terms of pastoral use of the Word of God. On the contrary, in the funeral of a person who, has suffered a great deal physically, mentally and spiritually, yet has still maintained faith in God and practiced the faith, it would be appropriate to choose the Gospel of the Eight Beatitudes, or the Gospel when God invites those who, struggle and carry the burden of life.
Based on the Biblical texts, especially on the Gospel, the priest can help apply meaning of the scriptural texts. He then can mention certain examples of virtues, stories of faith of the deceased as examples for your children and believers. It is a good opportunity to evangelize, that is, to preach the gospel message to those who attend the funeral, including non-Catholics. It is also a way to help the laity live and practice the gospel message.
At the end, to conclude the homily the same as to conclude Topic 1 homily with editions to suit each case and with prayers for the deceased, for the souls in purgatory, for the faithful on earth and for the faithful present.
Eulogy or memorial service to honor the achievements of the deceased is not appropriate and is not allowed at funeral masses. The eulogy or any commemorative ceremony can be done elsewhere like at a funeral home or a cemetery.
Part 1 consists of five homilies for funeral masses.
- Stay awake and ready to wait for the coming of the master
In everyday life, people sometimes complain or hear about complaining: If one knew in advance that things would happen so and so, one would be on guard as not to let things happen that way. If one anticipated an accident, one would fasten seatbelt or one would be so and so when driving. If one knew the plane would be crashed, one would not take that flight. If one knew the time of his/her death, one should prepare for it. In fact, people do not know the future and destiny. One cannot know in advance what will happen.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus calls upon men to be alert and ready (Lk 12: 35-48). Then, the Lord told the parable when the master was away, the wise servant waited for him to come back (vv.36-38). The servant, who is not awake in waiting, is caught in the act of dishonesty, when the master comes home; it is very unfortunate for him (c. 45-46). The Lord tells the disciples to be ready, because it is the moment when they are not expected, the Son of Man will come (v. 40). Any scout understands the meaning of the slogan: "Be Prepared or Be Ready”.
When instructing disciples to be awake and ready, Jesus wants us to be awake in prayer as to resist temptation and sin. Practicing to awakening will increase spiritual power so that one can be prepared to resist temptation. Awakening also includes faithful obedience to God's commandments and living in God's ways. In order to increase the importance of awakening, Jesus also gives an example that people do not know when a thief will dig up his house, or cut a wall (c. 39). The parable in the Gospel refers to each individual's death and judgment, which can also be understood in the sense of the end of the world. People do not know when they will die and how to die. No one knows when the angel of God comes knocking on the door of the soul.
If believing that death is the end, then there is no need to be alert and prepare for the coming of the Son of Man. The implication of the Gospel is that one must give account of his service. If people are wise, they must make peace with God while there is time to do so. Thus, people cannot be indifferent. Whoever thought he had enough time to give account of his service to God was deceiving himself. The reason for the preparation for God is He teaches us that death is not the end, but there is a day of judgment and we also believe it.
It is often conceived that Jesus is the "good shepherd". When looking at God under the prism of the shepherd, people think of God’s caring, mercy, love and forgiveness. However, if you only look at God's care, love, mercy and forgiveness, it is one-sided look. Jesus also came to judge. God judges according to whether people hear and practice the word of God. Each of us will sooner or later be faced with death, the time we have to face God’s judgment.
There are cultures that make people less likely to think about death. Cultural society wants to protect people from troubles and sorrow caused by death. When people die, the funeral home almost undertakes almost all services: shroud, immigration, relocation and burial. In addition to the grave, people often have nothing - even pictures of the deceased - to remind themselves and their children about the death of their loved ones. Perhaps not many people want to think about death. People often think of death that happens only for others, not for themselves. However, death is a secret. Death can happen to anyone, all of a sudden, anywhere, even in a location that people consider to be the safest. Every minute around the world, about two hundred people die. Just multiply it for every hour, every day.
In life, we often hear people say that day, I will go to confession to make peace with God, and start a new life and faithfully practice my faith. That day I will be so and so. However, that day may never come for that person since he/she has gone into the next life. Thus, God wants us to live in the present moment, in faith and in the grace of God.
Some words about the pious life and the virtuous examples of the deceased can be said to be an example and ask the congregation to pray for the deceased. It is possible to add a similar ending as the idea of the end of topic 1 in part 1.
- About the meaning of the death of a young person
Note: It is possible to choose the gospel of the death of the young man, son of the widow at Nain (Lk 7: 11-17).
The Book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament teaches, "There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens. A time to be born, a time to leave this world" (Gen 3: 1-2). With faith in God, the faithful believe that time is the Lord's. God is the beginning and the end of every species and everything. Usually when people look forward, they feel time goes slow, but when they look back, they feel time goes fast. People say that, it was just that day when we were like this or that, that today is already twenty years, thirty years. When people are busy with certain activities or programs, they feel time goes quickly. At times of leisure or not being pressed by the situation, people feel time goes slow. Even if people feel the time that goes fast or slow, the time still moves steadily. People cannot go ahead of time, nor can they prolong time.
Time belongs to God and one cannot know when God will send his angel to call people out of this world. Normally, in old age, people think of death. However, people also die at a young age. By the time God sends his angel to call anyone out of this world whether the person is still young, middle-aged, mature or elderly, it is a secret.
Most people can cope with life, despite hardship. However, few people want to face death. In other words, people do not want to die, do not yet want to die. People also find it difficult to accept the death of a young and healthy person. If anyone asks, why God calls a young man with a baby out of this life? No one can find the answer to that question. One can only answer that is the way of the miraculous mystery of God, which is not understood by the human mind. That says about the truth that each person is not sure of his or her destiny.
If anyone asks why did God send the cross, sickness, suffering and death to his family. No one answer this question satisfactorily. Thus, people can only accept it by faith.
Every day reading and listening to news in newspapers, watching radio, television, websites, social networks, one sees people die due to old age, disease, violence, car accident, shipwreck, crashing aircraft crash, earthquake, flood and fire. People think death is something that happens to others, not to themselves. Thinking that death does not happen to them or does not happen to them yet means that no one wants to die or does not want to die yet because people think that they are still young and healthy.
In reality, death can reach anyone, young and old, at anytime, anywhere, even in places where people think are the safest in the world, can die. Thus, death is a secret. Death is like a closed door. People cannot open the door to enter. One can only wait until the angel of God opens the door to call people to enter. Death is a reality whether or not one has to accept it. However, acceptance of death varies from person to person. Atheists see death as a failure, as a dead end, no way out, but nothing else. For Christians, death is a transformation from one life to another. Christ himself has also gone through stages of life: birth, growth and death. After being dead for three days, he rose again and invited the disciple to share his resurrection.
Because death can happen suddenly, so in the Gospel, the Lord said, "You must be prepared in the same way. The Son of Man is coming at the time you least expect” (Mt 24: 44) or " The moral is: keep your eyes open, for you know not the day or the hour” (Mt 25: 13). Thus, only God who holds human life, who is the author of life and death knows. Fortunately, death is not the end for Christians. Death is just a transformation like the Preface for Christian death # 1 records: "For your faithful people, life is changed, not ended. When the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death, we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven”.
For those who do not believe in the next life, death is the end, death is a failure. For believers, death is not the end because Christ has conquered death by his resurrection. By the resurrection, Christ abolished sin and called upon the faithful to come to share the resurrection with him.
A similar conclusion as one of the end of topic 1 in part 1 can be added.
- "The grain of wheat dies to produce fruit".
In today's Gospel, the Lord teaches, "Unless the grain falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a a grain. But if it dies, it produces much fruit” (Jn 12:24). With observation, people will see it that way. However, Jesus does not only refer to the transformation process of plants, like grass and flowers. That law also applies to all human beings about physical, spiritual and spiritual life. The message that Jesus came to announce in the new covenant brought death. Because of obedience, God made him rise from the dead and invited us who believe in God to share his resurrection.
In order to share new life with Christ, one must follow the process of human life: birth, old age, death". People can also understand death here in the figurative sense. Thus, in the figurative sense of death, the faithful must be willing to die to sins, die to vices, die to hatred, die to arrogance, die to avarice and selfishness and die to laissez-faire attitude as to be able to participate in the life of gratitude to Christ.
In short, only when one participates in God's passion and death, can one share in the glorious resurrection with Him (2 Tim 2:11). Thus, life and death are tied together. One can say, one is born to die. All life is a progression toward death. By these words, Christ showed us the paradox of the law of life, which means that the creature must die, in order to have a new life. That law applies to all creatures, in the grain of wheat, in the seed of fruit, in animals and humans. Thus, death is part of the law of life. If one born to die, one is also born with a desire, called hope, hoping for the eternal life promised by Christ to those who believe in God and practice the word of God and His commandments.
It is possible to add a similar ending as the idea of the end of topic 1 in part 1.
- Human life is a series of days mixed with sadness, happiness, suffering.
Human life is a series of days mixed with sadness, happiness and suffering. Sometimes people wonder why God sends suffering and cross to them and their families? No one can answer that question. Thus, the key to understanding and confronting suffering and death is meaning and purpose. Christ came to earth to bring meaning to suffering and death. The faithful do not take suffering just for the sake of suffering. If we stop at suffering and death, then it is that we choose to take the dead end without escape. Thus, Christians accept suffering and cross for the love of God to participate in the passion of the Lord in order share his resurrection.
Do we ever feel hard because of the family duty and social responsibility, making us want to get rid of the burdens of life? Do we have to carry the burdens of life such as an incurable illness in the body or the spiritual and emotional wounds that cause our heart to be worn out? Have we ever encountered suffering, sorrow, anxiety, fear, depression and despair? Sometimes other people see us as happy, but actually we have to bring shame on us and our families, we have to suck bitterness, swallow anger and cry silently inside? Have we ever had no one or could not find anyone to express sentiments for relief, for fear of not being heard and not being kept secret?
The faith of the faithful does not guarantee us a life free of illness, suffering and death. What faith can bring is to help us cope and deal with sickness, suffering and death in another dimension. That is the divine and supernatural dimension.
Faith does not eliminate the realities of life including suffering and death. Faith does not quell mourning and tears. Thus, when facing suffering and death, people with faith are still sad and crying. Although faith brings comfort and support, faith does not take away the suffering caused by separation from loved ones.
If so, then today Jesus invites us to come to him to express our feelings, to pour out our burdens of life into his heart, to mingle the sufferings of our lives with his suffering on the cross, as our offerings to God the Father in expiation for our sins and the sins of humankind. Jesus does not promise to take away our burdens of life, but invites us to take His yoke: "Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me for I am humble and gentle of heart" (Mt 11:29 ).
When having to bear our mental or physical illness and having sought treatment, and still not having been relieved, we need to learn to endure it for the love of God, to participate in the Lord's passion, as to bring divine benefit. Suffering as such for the love of God and for compensation for sin, including our sins and the sins of humankind, our suffering is united with the passion of the Lord. Bringing the idea of loving God for our suffering and bringing the idea of penance for our suffering will make our suffering easier, meaningful and beneficial to our spiritual life. Bearing suffering like this is called salvific suffering or suffering that brings salvation.
Bringing the burden of life requires the faithful to have a persistent faith and trustful heart in God. Only by contemplating the passion of the Lord, by experiencing personal suffering and by offering prayer, can we experience the meaning of Jesus’ word when he sends out his invitation: "Come to me, all of you, who are weary and find life burdensome and I will refresh you ”(Mt 11:28). Thus, the time of separation and mourning can become a time of blessing as to help the faithful come close to God and to one another.
May the Lord increase the faith of each one of us for our daily lives. Despite facing difficulties of trials, illnesses and problems of life, we can still look to the future with hope for eternal life.
Following this, it can be said about moral life or the virtuous examples of the deceased to set an example for the living. It is possible to add a similar ending as the idea of the end of topic 1 in part 1.
- May the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace forever
Feast of the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, Year A
Wis 3:1-9; Rom 6:3-9; Jn 11:17-27
To be found in www.mucvuvanbut.net
under Section “Introduction of a new book “Every Week God Speaks – We Respond. Cycle A”.
Suggestion: It is possible to modify the idea of this reflection further to match the funeral mass or memorial mass for the deceased.
11. Death is not a permanent separation
Feast of the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, Year B
Is 25: 6a, 7-9; Rom 8: 14-23; Lk 23:33, 39-42
To be found in www.mucvuvanbut.net
under Section “Introduction of a new book “Every Week God Speaks – We Respond. Cycle B”.
Suggestion: It is possible to modify the idea of this reflection further to match the funeral mass or memorial mass for the deceased.
- Remembering the poor souls
Feast of the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, Year C
2 Mcb 12: 43-45; Kh 21: 11-5a, 6b-7; Jn 11: 17-27
To be found in www.mucvuvanbut.net
under Section “Introduction of a new book “Every Week God Speaks – We Respond. Cycle C”.
Suggestion: It is possible to modify the idea of this reflection further to match the funeral mass or memorial mass for the decease
- Comment on one aspect when listening to sermons at the funeral mass.
This comment is not to help the homilist reflect the meaning of the scriptural readings of the funeral mass, but to remind him of paying attention not to pass his judgment on the deceased’s next life. Listening to reflections of the scriptural readings of the funeral mass, certain priests said that the deceased due to his/her faithful service of God and practice of faith has been in heaven. Even some homilists wearing a high miter, looking like a frog mouth and carrying a crosier, curvature bent on the top, when delivering a homily also said so, that is to say that the deceased has already gone to heaven.
Today, hearing and reading theological thoughts of different Christian denominations, which advocate that faith in Christ, can bring salvation. People can be influenced by their arguments and they are assured that the deceased was taken to heaven right after death. However, such affirmation is contrary to the sacred tradition and sacred scripture, since the right to judge belongs to God only. There is no guarantee that the deceased has gone to heaven immediately after his/her death. As holy as Mother Teresa is, with her service to poor and hungry children in India that after her death, the Church still asks for a waiting period of five to six years to canonize her. After her death, one discovered in Mother Teresa's notebook, there were times when she was deeply tempted to be in doubt about God's presence and had to struggle to fight back. People do not know all the thoughts and deeds of the deceased when they were alive. Thus, the faithful's wish is to entrust the deceased into God’s mercy, kindness and forgiveness.
Saying that the deceased has been to heaven is comforting to the bereaved family. However, there are many ways to comfort the bereaved family, instead of asserting so. A preacher of the word of God needs to avoid temptation to please the audience, to preach words that are inconsistent with the Gospel message and contrary to the official teaching of the Church. If saying that the deceased has gone to heaven, then there is no need to pray for the deceased. Praying for the deceased is what the faithful still pray according to the teaching of the Church. When the deceased is taken up to heaven, it is the decision of the Supreme Judge, not of the human being. If the deceased has been liberated from purgatory, then the spiritual effect of the prayer and the benefit of the mass offering, according to the "Dogma of the Communion of the Saints”, called "Vital Communion" by the Second Vatican Council, will be passed on to other souls. Thus, the prayer and the mass offering have not been in vain at all.
John Tran Binh Trong