Sunday, September 06, 2009
Addressing problematic funerals
Jeffrey Tucker hits a home run with this entry at the New Liturgical Movement. He argues that the return of the Dies Irae would address many of the problems with contemporary funerals. He writes (emphasis mine):
From all the accounts I read of the Ted Kennedy funeral (I didn't watch it), or, rather, the political beatification, what happened was as tragically contrary to Catholic/Christian teaching and liturgy as we might expect. The purpose of the gathering was to celebrate the life of the deceased, and of course declare the deceased to be in Heaven. Bad theology aside, these are abuses which would not happen under stricter rubrics.
Even today, diocesan regulations are as clear as they are widely ignored, e.g. this from Chicago: "A eulogy is never appropriate where a homily is prescribed (Order of Christian Funerals), but examples from the person's life may be used in the homily."
There are many reasons for this ban, but one reason is to put a stop to the tendency of all eulogies to state with certainty that the person who died is in Heaven right now. Of course we cannot know this. It is outrageously presumptuous of us to pretend to know the mind of God and the eternal destination of the recently deceased.
Why do we so badly want to do this? Is it because we want the best for the person who died? Certainly but the Church encourages us to pray for the dead to fulfill this pious impulse.
Another reason, perhaps the real reason, is actually more selfish. We are trying to comfort ourselves, give ourselves assurances that we are in God's good graces and so should have some sense of certainty about our own eternal destinations. We are declaring ourselves to be Heaven-bound and thereby shielding our own eyes from our sins that have stained our souls and might have separated us from God. We are seeking comfort not in truth but in the tapestry of myths that we are weaving about ourselves: all sins aside, we all deserve salvation and we are going to get it.
Read the whole thing here.
Here is an English translation (from the Anglican Missal) of the sequence Dies Irae, sung between the epistle and gospel of a Requiem Mass. It is a song about judgment day, but also about the particular judgment that awaits each soul at death. As Tucker points out, it is a song about the dead with a message for the living.
Day of wrath, and doom impending,
David's word with Sibyl's blending:
Heaven and earth in ashes ending.
O what fear man's bosom rendeth,
When from heaven the Judge descendeth,
On whose sentence all dependeth!
Wondrous sound the trumpet flingeth,
Through earth's sepulchres it ringeth,
All before the throne it bringeth.
Death is struck, and nature quaking,
All creation is awaking,
To it's Judge an answer making.
Lo! the book exactly worded,
Wherein all hath been recorded,
Thence shall judgment be rewarded.
When the Judge his seat attaineth,
And each hidden deed arraigneth,
Nothing unavenged remaineth.
What shall I, frail man, be pleading?
Who for me be interceding,
When the just are mercy needing?
King of Majesty tremendous,
Who dost free salvation send us,
Fount of pity, then befriend us.
Think, kind Jesu, my salvation,
Caused thy wondrous Incarnation,
Leave me not to reprobation.
Faint and weary thou hast sought me,
On the Cross of suffering bought me,
Shall such grace be vainly brought me?
Righteous Judge! for sin's pollution
Grant thy gift of absolution
Ere that day of retribution.
Guilty, now I pour my moaning,
All my shame and anguish owning:
Spare, O God, thy suppliant groaning.
Through the sinful woman shriven,
Through the dying thief forgiven,
Thou to me a hope hast given.
Worthless are my tears and sighing:
Yet, good Lord, in grace complying
Rescue me from fires undying.
With thy sheep a place provide me,
From the goats afar divide me,
To thy right hand do thou guide me.
When the wicked are confounded,
Doomed to flames of woe unbounded,
Call me, with thy Saints surrounded.
Low I kneel, with heart-submission:
See like ashes my contrition!
Help me in my last condition!
Ah that day of tears and mourning!
From the dust of earth returning,
Man for judgment must prepare him.
Spare, O God, in mercy spare him:
Lord all-pitying, Jesu blest,
Grant them thine eternal rest. Amen.