I made a surprising discovery about my self in the past few weeks. This week saw the celebration of two funerals here in St. Patrick’s and St. Brigid’s. I was surprised and I guess happy that the month of September had come and gone and I had not celebrated a funeral. This would be unusual in my life as a priest. It was a pleasant change to be celebrating weddings and baptisms as well,of course,as the great privilege of daily Eucharist. Yet I noticed to my amazement that I was very aware of the absence of the funeral Mass in my weekly routine. What took me by surprise was that I actually missed funerals. I know it’s a strange thing to say but the truth is I like funerals, and whilst it’s not a case of enjoying such occasions there is some sense in which I am enthused and inspired by them.
Obviously each funeral is different. All of them unique to the person, ranging from relative peaceful acceptance to absolute heartache. Though I learned a long time ago to be careful about phrases like ‘ah well sure she had a good innings!’ Even at ninety six she is someone’s mother, aunt or sister. I learned this when my beloved paternal grandmother died at one hundred and two.She was a native of Magheraclone, County Monaghan, and people, meaning well said to me ‘well she couldn’t live forever!’ I felt like shouting, I didn’t expect her to live forever I only wanted her to live until she was one hundred and three!
Of course there is the other end of the spectrum and that’s the tragic funeral, the car accidents, the young person with a deep seated addiction and perhaps saddest of all the issue of suicide. Perhaps the latter is the most difficult. The inexplicable, sudden nature of it and the endless questions that it leaves. Forever wondering did we miss something, could we have done more.
Self blame and the hard struggle to let go with any degree of peace. At times in the past we as a Church were not always as compassionate as we should have been on these occasions.Which brings me back to the notion of my missing funerals.
What I really mean is that I see the funeral Mass as a great opportunity to be with people at their most broken, at their lowest ebb. We try words,we try music, we pray. All this is good. The greatest thing we have in the face of the finality of death is the greatest prayer this side of the tomb, namely the celebration of the Eucharist. Jesus died and rose again that we might not die forever.
I was delighted to see that I am not on my own in this role of accompanying people in grief. Here in our parish we have an excellent Funeral Ministry Team. Of course we could do with a few more members. What’s it all about? It’s about ensuring thereis a warm meaningful and respectful celebration of the Funeral Mass that gives the person the honour and dignity they deserve. The Funeral Team are in prayerful solidarity with the bereaved and they represent us as the faith community of St. Patrick and St. Brigid’s. The Funeral Ministry Team are engaged in Gospelwork. Soulwork. I am pleased to be part of this team.
Fraternally, Joe McD