I apologize for my lapse in posting here. We've had computer trouble, now apparently mended, and I am also working on a posting that is actually requiring some research, and it's far from finished yet. In the meantime...
A very dear priest-friend of mine once said that Catholics do funerals very well. Sadly, we tested this comment once again this week.
Canada is at war. The troops in Kandahar province of Afghanistan are suffering what seems to me to be a high number of injuries and deaths over there. An inside source tells me that there is a news blackout regarding the injuries. For morale, I suppose.
The deaths cannot be hidden.
On Friday at our chapel, I sang in the choir for the funeral Mass for a soldier, and member of our chapel parish. Although I did not know the family personally, I had certainly seen them frequently. This was about the hardest funeral I've ever been involved with. I was not the only participant who felt very drained when it was over.
Catholic funerals are not what people generally think of when they think of funerals. There are similarities of course, but also many profound differences.
The Catholic funeral is less a memorial to a life ended than it is a celebration of new life with God. In fact, the only two times a person will have the large Paschal (Easter) Candle lit for him or her during the lifetime, is at the person's baptism and at his or her funeral.
What is the connection between Easter, Baptism and the Funeral? The Paschal Candle, which should be brand new each year (and incidently is the only candle in the church required to be wax, specifically at least 51% beeswax) is lit during the Easter Vigil Mass each year. It is lit from a special fire made for just this purpose. The light from this candle symbolizes Christ's light of salvation given through His resurrection from the dead. The candle is plunged into the water to be blessed at this Mass as well.
So, the candle is a sign of Christ's resurrection. It stays lit during every Mass of the 50 day Easter Season.
When a person is baptized, they are baptized into Christ's death and resurrection. The pouring of water on the one being baptized symbolizes, among other things, death! This is seen somewhat more clearly if the baptism is done by immersion. Coming out of the water symbolizes rising from death as a new creation in Christ. Infants being baptized have the stain of Original Sin removed. Adults, or anyone over the age of reason, have Original Sin and any sin they've committed (Actual Sin) up to that time, removed. This symbol is further exhibited when the newly baptized are clothed in a white garment.
When a baptized person has died, Catholics believe that he is passing into everlasting life. "You raise the dead to new life in the Spirit" go the words to the Kyrie we chanted at this funeral when we asked for Christ's mercy for the dead and for ourselves. The funeral pall draped over the casket is a reminder of the white garment given at Bapism!
I'm not sure, but I surmise that this is why the Catholic military funerals I've seen do not drape the casket with a Canadian flag. My understanding is that the flag may be placed on the casket before burial, but not within the Mass.
Catholics do not properly have a Eulogy at a funeral Mass. The priest or perhaps a Deacon as I saw at another funeral, will deliver the Homily, as at a Sunday Mass. This homily will almost always give those at the Mass examples of what kind of a person the deceased was. Sometimes funny stories, collected from friends and family in the days before the funeral, are related. But always, in my experience, the emphasis is on eternal life. Family and friends are usually given other opportunities to share stories of the life of the deceased. This can happen before or after the Mass, at a wake or at a reception.
We are a Church that prays for the dead. We believe the dead are "alive in Christ". In John 11:25, Jesus says "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"
So death of a believer is a type of resurrection. This is the Easter connection.
I am not sure I've ever been to a Mass that did not involve incense. Before the casket is taken from the church, the deceased is commended to God. The casket is blessed with Holy Water and is incensed. Holy Water is another reminder of Baptism and incense is symbolic of our prayers rising to God. At Friday's funeral, we sang a short song during the incensing which wished the deceased a greeting of angels when he entered heaven.
As hard as this funeral was for the choir, who must sing on, often through choked back tears (on a personal note, I saw that the deceased had surviving him a son who was only about as old as our youngest, which us under three), we can only imagine what this was like for the family, who we saw throughout. The choir left with headaches, the family, who appeared very strong in Faith, left with heartache, which cannot be cured with an aspirin.