Monday, August 20, 2007

Refreshing bluntness

In one of the editions of the Collectio Rituum there is an "Exhortation to Follow Absolution of the Dead," written for funeral Masses by the Most Reverend William O'Brady, who served as Archbishop of St. Paul, Minnesota, from 1956 to 1961. Unfortunately, I have only the text of the Exhortation and not the entire Collectio in which it appears, so I do not know the particular version (publication year) of the Collectio. (The Collectio I have was published in 1964 and, regrettably, omits the Exhortation.) Anyway, here it is:

Beloved brethren:

Our burial prayers are as much for the comfort of the living as they are in supplication for God’s mercy upon our dead.

We do mourn for those who die. It is right that we should. We have known and loved them in life, and now death divides them from us and us from them. We mourn our dead since we know that they will need our remembrance and our prayers until they will have paid whatever debts they owe for the sins and imperfections of their lives. We beg eternal rest for all our dead, but we know that eternal happiness will not be theirs until, prepared by purification, they will be worthy to meet, face to face in glory, the God in Whom they have always believed, and find with Him the Heaven for which they have always hoped.

Death is the door to eternity. God has made it so. Beyond that door lies judgment, and, unless the dead be wholly lost in Hell or saints at once worthy of the sight of God, there is a waiting, a state distressing enough so that those who wait are called “Poor Souls.” They are poor because they cannot help themselves. They rejoice in our tears, not because tears are signs of grief but because they are promises of prayer.

What the dead have faced in accounting and in judgment still remains for us to meet. Our burial prayers, therefore, are reminders for the living that we are also mortal, that we are also weak, that one day the flesh will die and that upon that day we shall not escape the judgment.

While there is yet time, then, let every man review himself as God now sees him. Let every man understand that at some moment, still unknown and often unannounced, he must encounter either a day of wrath or a day of glad approval, or a day of needed purification. While there is yet time, let every man repent for whatever holds him back from God and let him earnestly pursue whatever will open the door of eternity to insure the peace and refreshment of heavenly reward.

May the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace! May the souls of those who remain be lifted up towards God in all goodness and in holy expectation!

Compare that to the typical modern funeral homily (or what passes for a homily), which, as we know, is practically a decree of canonization. I post this Exhortation for the benefit of those priests who might appreciate having a brief, no-nonsense, unmistakably and unabashedly Catholic funeral sermon. It is especially useful when the priest did not know, or barely knew, the deceased; of course, it can be customized or personalized as the priest sees fit.

The Exhortation's only drawback, in my opinion, is the lack of reference to the Paschal mystery (not the term itself, but what the term signifies: the mystery of the redemption, the mystery of Christ and of Christians). It could be improved by adding mention of the Lord's triumph over death as the basis of our Christian faith and our hope in the resurrection to eternal life.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: