Preface: In the funeral mass, besides bereaved family members and friends, lay people can attend the mass according to their 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 mass, if the priest repeats certain ideas in his sermon, people 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.
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 attendants. Thus, in the funeral mass for an 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 and mentally, 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 Jesus invites those who are “weary and find life burdensome”, to come to him.
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 the attendants. 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 Number # 1 homily with adaptations to suit each case and with prayers for the deceased, for the souls in purgatory and for the attendants.
Eulogy or memorial service to honor the achievements of the deceased is not appropriate and not allowed at funeral masses. The eulogy or any commemorative ceremony can be done elsewhere like at a funeral home or a cemetery.
This article is the English version of the Vietnamese article on the same subject “Năm đề tài diễn giảng lời Chúa trong lễ an táng / cầu hồn – Phần 1”, written by the same author, published earlier in www.mucvuvanbut.net on the same section.
To keep the author’s writing style, these homilies have not been edited and may not be by a hired hand. However, if readers would like to point out mistake(s) in spelling and grammar and/or to suggest English phrases and expressions, it would be greatly appreciated by the author, whose English is not his mother tongue and who did not live in the US until his adulthood. Passive sentences are used intentionally in this context as to avoid using the first personal pronoun ‘I’ when applicable. That might be associated with any idea of egotism, in accord with the French saying, known as: ‘Le moi est haissable’ (The ego is detestable).
Part one consisting of five homilies for funeral masses.
- "I am the life and the resurrection. Whoever believes in me will live forever ”
For those who believe in eternal life, the deceased person is not separate permanently. The deceased is still present in the minds and hearts of the family members, relatives and friends with his/her pictures, works and with prayers of the faithful for him/her.
The Catholic teaching on the resurrection is not just a teaching that there is life beyond death. It is not some form of reincarnation either. The resurrection is not what we look back in the past, because we have not had experience of it, but what we look to the future with hope.
According to St. Paul, "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is void of content and your faith is empty too" (1Cor 15:14). Thus, without death, there can be no resurrection. Without resurrection, there will be no eternal life. If there is no resurrection, then Catholics need not pray for the deceased, need not pray for the soul of this or that person to be free from sin. If there is no resurrection, or no belief in the resurrection, it is futile to ask for prayer for the soul of the deceased.
According to the Dogma of the Communion of Saints, which the Second Vatican Council called the vital fellowship, Mary and the saints can intercede for the faithful on earth and the faithful on earth can pray to Mary and the saints in heaven, asking them for help. The faithful can also help the deceased with prayers, mass attendance, sacrifices and charitable works offered for the faithful departed.
Today due to filial piety and Christian charity, we come here to the church to offer the sacrifice of the mass in prayer for the soul of (name) as father (mother, grandfather, grandmother, uncle, aunt, brother, sister, relative, friend, parishioner).
We also come here to say farewell to our beloved dead to the final resting place. According to the Scripture, the faithful showed filial piety to their grandparents and parents when they were alive, also do to them when they passed away. May God in his kindness and forgiveness, mercifully judge the soul of our loved one and grant him / her eternal happiness in God’s kingdom.
We also pray for ourselves, asking God to strengthen our faith so that in our daily struggles with sickness, sadness, suffering and problems of life, we are still be able to maintain our faith in God in every circumstance of life in “happiness and in sadness, in success and in failure, in sickness and in health”.
We pray together:
- Oh Lord, do not let us lose hope in you.
- Do not let us complain against you.
- Do not let us ever be separated from you.
- We ask you to be our reason to live.
- Be our joy, our hope and our dependence..
- Be our inheritance in this life and in the life to come. Amen.
- On the journey of faith, the faithful do not travel go alone
In everyday life, many people have gone through different separations: short separations and long separations. People go through short separations when they go to school, work far away, get married far from home. People also go through longer separations such as when leaving their homeland to go abroad to settle down. The final separation is when one lays down permanently that no one can wake him/her up. For those who believe in eternal life in the next life, even when lying down, it is not a permanent separation. With faith in eternal life, one hopes to meet the deceased in the next life.
On the journey to the house of God, the faithful do not travel alone, but with all the people of God: with Mary and the saints in heaven, with the faithful on earth, and with the souls in purgatory. According to the Dogma of the Communion of Saints, which the Second Vatican Council called the vital fellowship, Mary and the saints in heaven can intercede for the faithful on earth. The faithful on earth can pray to Mary and the saints in heaven. The faithful on earth can also be in communion with one another by prayers, by examples of faith and works of sacrifice, charity and goodness. The faithful on earth can also offer prayers and works of sacrifice, charity and goodness offered for the souls in purgatory.
Thus, for those who believe in eternal life, the deceased are not separated permanently. The teaching on prayers by the faithful for the souls in purgatory is called the “Dogma of Communion of Saints” by the Councils of Nicea II, Florence and Trent and the “Living Communion” by the Second Vatican Council (Church # 51). Thus, the faith life of the faithful is supported by the intercessions of Mary and the saints, by prayers and moral support of one another. Even when lying down for good, the deceased is still remembered with their pictures and legacy and by our memories and prayers for them.
Knowing that after death, we are still remembered and supported by prayers of other faithful would warm our hearts so much! For those who believe in the resurrection of the risen Christ, the Savior of the world, death is not the end, nor is it forever away. Death is not a failure, because Christ has conquered sin and death with his glorious resurrection and opened life for the faithful.
Death is just a transformation from one life to another. The faithful need to renew the presence of the deceased with their pictures and legacy and with our memory and prayers for them. Before returning to heaven, Jesus himself promised the apostles: "I was going to prepare a place for you. I am indeed going to prepare a place for you and then I shall come back to take you with me that where I am you shall may be” (Jn 14: 2-3).
In today's Gospel, Jesus prays for the apostles and through them, prays for us like this: "Father, all those you gave me, I would have in my company” (Jn 17:24). Similar conclusions as the conclusions at the end of homily 1 can be adapted.
May God be the way, the truth and the life
Note: If the Gospel: Jn 14: 1-7 is chosen, it is very relevant to the idea of this topic 3.
Before returning to Heaven, Jesus reassured the apostles: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Have faith in God and faith in me. In my Father’s house, there are many dwelling places; otherwise how could I have told you that I was going to prepare a place for you?” (Jn 14: 1-2). When facing with difficulties and problems of life, we feel like God is away and we ask why God has let evil happen to us and our families. If we look at things that happen with the eyes of faith, then dangers and trials will increase our life of faith and difficulties and problems of life will help us come closer to God in prayer. Through the apostles, the Lord also wants us to put faith, trust and hope in the word of God and his providential care.
Leaving the apostles for heaven, Jesus did not abandon them, but remained with them by grace and divine power. At first, it seems that we have put trust in God. In reality, however, we follow our own path. In today's Gospel, Jesus promised to stay with the apostles and through them, stay with us until the last day: “I am indeed going to prepare a place for you and then I shall come back to take you with me, that where I am, you also may be ”(Jn 14: 3). At this time, Thomas said to his Master that he did not know the way. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life" (Jn 14: 6). Philipp also had the same problem as Thomas when he asked Jesus to show him the Father. The problem of Thomas and Phillip reflects the other disciples' ignorance about the absolute unity between Jesus and the Father. They have been with Jesus for three years, listening to His teachings and witnessing His miracles. However, they did not know God, the Father. Jesus’ promises to go and prepare a place for us and his assurances to be the way, the truth and the life must be the source of comfort and hope for us facing the death of our loved ones.
The funeral is the occasion to express our filial piety and charity as well as friendship when we raise our minds and hearts to God in prayer for the deceased, for the soul (of our father, mother, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, a relative, a friend...). May God in his mercy, forgive all the sins of our beloved dead and lead him/her to enjoy the Lord's presence and the grace of the resurrection. Similar conclusions as the conclusions at the end of topic 1 can be adapted.
Living the 8 Beatitudes
The teaching of Jesus’ words in the Beatitudes is how to be truly happy. If those living the Beatitudes are considered foolish and lost in the eyes of the people, then in the eyes of God, they are blessed before God.
In the eyes of people, money is synonymous with power and fame, as it says: "Money can buy everything." Wisdom in the divine sense is to live the spirit of poverty. Here we need to pay attention to poverty in spirit rather than poverty in fact. Thus, to be rich or poor in spirit, does not depend on having more or less money, but on the attitude of each person towards material goods. Accordingly, a person who is very poor, yet always dreams to be rich by making money dishonestly, might be considered rich in thought and desire.
On the contrary, if the materially rich have not acquired their wealth dishonestly, do not put their hearts into material possessions, and are willing to help those in need, then in the eyes of God, they are also blessed. In the judgment of man, if a person desires to be meek, he/she will be bullied. Here Jesus told them to be meek in the biblical sense as humble and lowly, in order to inherit the land. In the eyes of man, those who mourn are considered unhappy. To compensate for it, Jesus promises those who mourn, will be consoled (v. 4).
In the judgment of man, if a person desires to be righteous, he/she might be considered unrealistic. Jesus promises they will be satisfied (v 6). In the eyes of man, people might take advantage of those who perform works of mercy. Jesus promises they will be treated with mercy (v. 7). In the judgment of man, a person should seek pleasure to full satisfaction in this life. Jesus promises those who are clean of heart will see God (v. 8). In our human experience, those who make peace, might be considered weak. Jesus promises the peacemakers will be called children of God (v. 9).
In today's world, there are still people who are persecuted, hated, slandered for righteousness in different parts of the world for their faith in God, and Jesus promises them the Kingdom of God. We can imagine those who are persecuted for righteousness, those who are banned from practicing their faith, how comforted they will be when they hear the eighth Beatitude.
The Beatitudes are not an invitation to live a miserable life, reducing human dignity. Those who have seen “Les miserables” movie should recall how miserable their lives have been. The Beatitudes are not an invitation to live in poverty, just for the sake of poverty. People may have a surplus of money, but can still choose to live the spirit of poverty.
The Beatitudes are not an invitation to mourn and to suffer from illness in body and soul as a way of no escape. Rather the Beatitudes are an invitation to bear the burdens of life such as suffering, physical and mental illness with faith and hope in God as to participate in the passion of Christ for the love of God and to share in his resurrection.
Thus, suffering from poverty, mourning and sickness for the love God has a liberating character, bringing salvation. Some people who might question whether it is enough for them to keep God's Commandments? Why should we be concerned with the Beatitudes? The answer is the Ten Commandments are the minimum requirements, which a good Christian must do this and not do that in order to fulfill his/her duty towards God and neighbor. However, to be a true disciple of Christ, the faithful must go beyond the minimum requirements of the law in order to live the Beatitudes so that they may become perfect, as Jesus wants them to be.
People living the Beatitudes also enjoy happiness in this life. That happiness is a peaceful and relaxed spirit. Why are people living with the Beatitudes blessed? The reason is that people who live the Beatitudes are living according the way of God. Those who do not rely on material possessions, those who have no one and nothing to rely on, tend to rely on God, to put their trust and faith in him as their shelter and their inheritance.
Throughout the history of the Church, there have been those including non-Christians who have tried to live the way of the Beatitudes with expectation that their spiritual life would be uplifted. To live the Beatitudes, we will be sinking down for a certain period in order to be raised up. That is a law which has been called ‘the law of reversed effort’, which God has planted in our human system.
Today we come here together to the church to pay farewell to the deceased (to mention the relationships of the deceased such as husband, wife, mother, grandmother, grandmother, grandmother, grandmother, relative, relative lay people, friends) to offer prayers for the soul of the deceased. May God be merciful and compassionate, forgive the sins that the deceased might have committed, and lead him / her to eternal happiness. We also come here to support one another at the loss of our beloved dead, to pray for one another, asking God to strengthen our faith and hope, so that in our daily struggles with sickness and suffering and problems of life, we may look forward with hope to our resurrection. Similar conclusions as the conclusions at the end of topic 1 can be adapted.
- "Come to me, I will refresh you" (Mt 11:28).
The Word of God in today's Gospel is one of the most beautiful and consoling words in the entire Bible. Jesus thanked God the Father for revealing to the lowly and humble, the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. This is not to say that wise and learned persons do not receive the mysteries of the heavenly kingdom. The wise and learned persons who are humble in spirit before the Supreme Being, are still receptive to the the mysteries of the kingdom of God.
In the same Gospel, Jesus also invites his people: "Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you” (Mt 11:28). Based on the meaning of the word of God, we can also deduce as God invites us: Those who are sad for the death of a loved one, come to the Lord. Those who are afraid for widowhood, come to God. Those who are afraid for the dark future, come to God for refreshment.
Why did God send suffering, illness, and cross to my family? This question cannot be answered, but one can only say that it is the mysterious way of God. One can only accept them by faith. The faith of the faithful does not guarantee a life free of illness, suffering, cross and life's obstacles. What faith can bring is to help people cope with illness, suffering, and cross in a different direction. That is the divine and supernatural dimension.
Human life is a series of days with mixture of joy and sadness, happiness and suffering, success and failure. Have we ever carried our burdens of life such as an incurable illness in the body or emotional wounds that cause our heart to be worn out? Have we ever encountered suffering, sorrow, anxiety, fear, depression, disappointment? Sometimes other people see us as happy, but actually we have to suffer from shame on our families, we have to cry silently in our hearts? Have we ever had no one or could not find anyone so that we can confide our life, for fear that we would not be listened to and our story would not be kept secret?
If so, then today Jesus invites us to come to him to express our feelings toward him, to pour our burden of life into his mercy, to mix the sufferings of our life with the suffering of Jesus on the cross, as an offering to him in expiation for our sins and the sins of humankind. Jesus does not promise to take away the burdens of our lives, but invites us to carry the burdens of life. We feel tired of life because we rely on our strength, and not on God’s grace. When we rely on God's grace, God will give us the strength to carry our burdens of life.
Jesus assures us: "My yoke is easy and my burden " (Mt 11:30). Saint Paul in his letter to the Romans gives the reason for the heavy yoke and burden because the spirit of Christ is lacking in our lives (Rom 8:10). We get tired of our struggles when we begin to rely on our own strength. Did we ever complain that God and religion did not do any good to us? If religion does not do any good to our lives, then religion is going to an end. However, Christianity still stands today and has brought spiritual benefit to millions and millions of Christians. If Christians have not attained spiritual benefit, then who is to be blamed?
Thus, we have to find out where is a motive that makes a yoke easy and a burden light. The answer is the love of Christ. Saint Augustine recognized the motive of love when he wrote: Where there is love, there will be no more hardship. If there is still some kind of hardship, that hardship will be accepted with love. To come to God, our soul will find rest as Jesus promises (Mt 11:29) and as Saint Augustine confirms it when he wrote: Our hearts are restless, until they rest in the Lord.
Today we thank God for giving the deceased the gift of being born into this world as a human being and the gift of faith. We thank God for the gifts God has given to him/her in this life, the gift of having children and grandchildren. We thank God for the other gifts (name them) that the Lord has given him / her.
This is the time when piety, charity and friendship are tested as we raise our minds and hearts to God in prayers for the deceased (To mention the deceased ‘s relationship with the relatives: such as father, mother ...). We are grateful to the deceased when he/she was alive, we are also grateful to him/her when he/she passes away with our prayers. We also come here to bid farewell to the deceased to the final resting place, and to offer the sacrifice of the mass in prayers for his / her soul, asking the Lord to to forgive his/her sins, to grant him/her eternal happiness in God’s kingdom. We also come here to support one another at the loss of our beloved dead, to pray for one another, asking God to strengthen our faith, hope and love so that in our daily struggles with sickness and sufferings and problems of life, we may look forward with hope to our resurrection with the Lord. Similar conclusions as the conclusions at the end of topic 1can be adapted.
Note: Part 2 including 7 reflections from 6 to 12 to be followed.
John Tran Binh Trong