Considering Cremation? A Reflection on the Reverent Interment of Cremated Human Remains

Funeral wood urn complete view isolated on pure white background

I have written off and on about some of the problems that are setting up around cremation. Of course there has been very little explicit teaching or information available to Catholics to help them to frame their thinking. To assist modestly in that refelction I wrote the following flyer for my own parish. What follows is the text of that flyer. In case you are interested, I provide it in PDF format here: Considering Cremation?

Some years ago, the Church gave wider permission for cremation and also lifted traditional restrictions on having cremated remains present in the church for funeral Masses.

A pastoral provision – Extending this permission is pastorally understandable, though traditional burial (interment) of the body is still preferred. Very few if any people these days choose cremation for the reasons it had traditionally been forbidden, namely as a denial of the resurrection of the body. Generally, the reasons cremation is chosen today are economic ones, due to the increasingly high cost of traditional burial. However, the cost savings are not as significant as they once were.

Certain recent trends that are problematic – Although the Church recognizes cremation as a fitting and understandable option for Christian Burial, certain recent trends related to cremation are inappropriate and should not be considered fitting. Among these trends is the failure to secure proper interment for the cremated remains by placing them on mantles or in closets, scattering them, dividing them among relatives, or even making jewelry and other keepsakes using them.

Therefore, please consider some of the basic norms from the Church regarding cremation:

The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burying the bodies of the dead be observed; it does not, however, forbid cremation unless it has been chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching (Code of Canon Law No. 1176, 3).

Although cremation is now permitted by the Church, it does not enjoy the same value as burial of the body. The Church clearly prefers and urges that the body of the deceased be present for the funeral rites, since the presence of the human body better expresses the values which the Church affirms in those rites (Order of Christian Funerals no. 413).

The cremated remains of a body should be treated with the same respect given to the human body from which they come. This includes the use of a worthy vessel to contain the ashes, the manner in which they are carried, and the care and attention to appropriate placement and transport, and the final disposition. The cremated remains should be buried in a grave or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium (Ibid).

The practice of scattering cremated remains on the sea, from the air, or on the ground, or keeping cremated remains in the home of a relative or friend of the deceased are not the reverent disposition that the Church requires (cf Order of Christian Funerals # 417).

Perhaps the quickest way to summarize these norms is to say that we should treat the cremated remains of a loved one in the same way we would treat his or her body. For, in fact, this is what remains of the body. And just as we would not think to scatter body parts about, or to have one relative take an arm home and another a leg, neither should we do this with the cremated remains. And surely we would not consider melting part of the body down into jewelry or retaining part of it (other than perhaps a lock of hair) as a keepsake. Neither would we fail to bury the body at all.

Basic requirements for reverent interment – The key point is to treat the cremated remains just as we would treat the full body. Reverent handling and proper disposition are essential.

Proper interment of the remains should be sought, meaning either in cemetery grounds or a mausoleum. Most cemeteries these days have special mausoleums (sometimes called columbariums) with small covered and secured niches where the cremated remains can rest. Proper interment should not be delayed. Ideally it should take place the day of the funeral, and if not that day then very shortly thereafter.

Cremated remains should not be scattered or strewn on open ground, in gardens, in forests, or any other place. Neither should they be scattered into the air from a plane or into the sea. The cremated remains should remain intact, in a properly-sealed container, and interred as a single unit.

What about financial hardship? For some families, the choice of cremation is based on financial hardship. This choice often also means that there is no plan or ability for committal or burial of the cremated remains. As a means of providing pastoral support and an acceptable respectful solution to the problem of uninterred cremated remains, Catholic cemeteries offer to inter these remains properly at little or no cost. Some of these offer a common vault in a mausoleum for the interment of cremated remains. The names of the deceased interred there are kept on file, though not usually inscribed on the vault. Other cemeteries maintain an area for the burial of both cremated remains and the bodies of those who cannot afford a gravesite with a personal marker. So the lack of money should not hinder the proper interment of cremated remains.

Conclusion – Cremation, though less ideal than the burial of the body, is permitted by the Church as a pastoral provision and is a needed solution today for increasing numbers of people. However, we ought to be aware of the need to handle cremated remains with the same reverence we have for the full human body. The cremated remains of a human person are not “ashes.” They are human remains and should be regarded as such. One of the last gifts we can give our loved ones is the proper and reverent interment of what remains of the body. This, along with our prayers for their souls, remains a duty and a work of mercy. It should be handled with devotion and all proper reverence.

Thoughts on the Traditional Latin Requiem Mass – Not Really as Dark or Dreadful As Many Say

111213Perhaps as a concluding post on funeral masses, this is my third post on the subject this week (omni trinum perfectum – all things are perfect in three), I would like to re-post an article I wrote over a year ago.

Many of the comments these past days mentioned the Traditional Latin Requiem Mass, which I have been privileged to celebrate many times in my 25 years. It is a beautiful and gentle liturgy, so consoling and yet also sober and mindful that someone has died and that we ought to pray.

And while I do not say that everyone must like this form, I also think the Requiem Mass has been unfairly panned, especially by some (not all) older clergy. What follows is my answer to those critiques in hopes of establishing greater understanding and mutual respect:


When I was in seminary back in the mid 1980s I was informed by some of my Seminary teachers, that the old funeral masses were a very dark affair. Black vestments and somber prayers all focused on judgment were supposedly an “extreme” that had to give way. Never mind that the new Mass permitted black or purple vestments, the point was that we were not to use black vestments and were to wholly avoid any “negative” themes like judgment, purgatory or (the absolutely forbidden) hell.

Discussions about funeral masses were common in my seminary years since the revised rite of funerals was coming out at that time and, just like the new translation we have recently inaugurated, there were many vigorous discussion about the funeral rite of 1970 and how the one coming out in 1987 (in think) was either an improvement or a “step backward.”

By the time I was ordained in the late 1980s it was once again permitted to offer the traditional Latin Mass, and though some argued that this didn’t include funerals, we routinely celebrated them here in DC as early as 1987. I have been privileged to celebrate at couple of these traditional Latin funeral masses per year, by request all 24+ years of my priestly life. (The photo at upper right is me celebrating one last November in one of our Maryland Parishes).

And I must say, find these funerals (called Requiem Masses) anything but dark. Let me explain.

To begin, though, early in my priesthood I had little of no memory of the older funeral rites. I was, in those days before the current motu proprio, one of the few priests permitted by the diocese to celebrate the TLM. Thus, as I began my study of the old Requiem Mass when requested to do one in 1989 and  I expected, based on my training to find and read dreary and depressing prayers.

I noted first that the “dreaded and dark affair,” described so by some, was called a “Requiem Mass.” Hmm…. in other words, a “Mass of Rest.” That doesn’t shout of foreboding things, seems rather peaceful actually, and far more comforting that the more usual modern word, “funeral.” Indeed the opening words of the dreaded Requiem Mass read (translated) Rest Eternal grant unto them O Lord and may perpetual light shine on them. Hmm… I thought, we’re not off to such a terrible start.

Greeting the Body at the door of the Church, though less baptismal in focus, contains these beautiful wishes:

Come to his assistance, ye Saints of God, come forth to meet him, ye Angels of the Lord….receiving his soul, offer it in the sight of the Most High…..May Christ receive thee who has called thee….and may the Angels lead thee into Abraham’s bosom.

The opening prayer too, appeals to God’s mercy, though (heaven forfend), it does mention Hell:

O God, whose property is ever to have mercy and to spare, we humbly entreat Thee on behalf of the soul of Thy servant whom Thou hast bidden to pass out of this world: that Thou wouldst not deliver him into the hands of the enemy nor forget him for ever, but command him to be taken up by the holy Angels, and to be borne to our home in paradise, that as he had put his faith and hope in Thee he may not undergo the pains of hell but may possess everlasting joys.

As we have well discussed here, to many modern ears the very mention of Hell is “dark,” but the whole prayer is premised on God to whom it is proper to show mercy and to spare. Hence it is a prayer uttered in confident expectation that through grace and mercy we stand a chance. And, as for that little mention of “Hell,”….isn’t that….like….in the Bible or something? (Well again we have well discussed here that Hell is both biblical and reasonable).

So, in my study I still had not found where we had gone to dark, negative places, as I had been taught to expect.

The readings also surprised me. The Epistle is from First Thessalonians 4: Brethren, we would not have you ignorant concerning those who sleep, lest you be like the others who have no hope. Then comes the great teaching on the day of resurrection and the conclusion: Therefore console One another with these words. The Gospel too is of Jesus’ dialogue with Martha in John 11: Your brother will rise…I AM the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live. Beautiful and consoling, really.

There is of course the Dies Irae in between these two readings. I recall an older priest many years ago when the subject came up proclaiming exultantly: “Thank God we got rid of that dreadful thing.” It does truly begin on an ominous note: Day of wrath and doom impending, heaven an earth in ashes ending….Oh what fear man’s bosom rendenth, when from heaven the judge decendeth, on whose sentence all dependeth. True, these are dark lines, but they are biblical lines, almost direct quotes. Yet the same Dies Irae contains some of the most hopeful and tender lines in all Christian writing:

Faint and weary thou hast sought me:
On the cross of suffering bought me:
Shall such grace be vainly bought me?

Through the sinful Mary shriven,
Through the dying thief forgiven,
Thou to me a hope has given.

Loving Jesus Lord most blest,
Grant to them eternal rest.

The darker lines thus highlight the lightsome ones. So even the Dies Irae is not all that bad. It is a well balanced description of our sinful condition, and of God’s mercy accessed through repentance. I have written more of the Dies Irae here: Sing the Dies Irae at my Funeral

I obviously cannot reproduce the whole Requiem Mass here but consider just a few other highlights of the hopeful and gentle themes that are struck in the prayers

  1. From the Preface: …through Christ our Lord, in whom the hope of blessed resurrection has shone on us, so that those who are saddened by the certainty of dying may be consoled by the promise of a future deathless life. For to thy faithful people, Oh Lord, life is changed, not taken away, and when the home of this earthly sojourn is dissolved, an eternal dwelling place is being prepared in the heavens.
  2. From the Communion verse: May light eternal shine on them O Lord, with your saints forever. For you are kind. (Quia pius es)
  3. Finally, if there is any “darkness” at all in the old Requiem Mass, it is more likely due to the fact that we have departed a great degree in modern times from the notion that, after we die, we are certainly judged. And this judgement is a moment of honesty before God. Surely all of us will need much in the way of grace and mercy. The prayers of the older Requiem give honest acknowledgment of that, but draw heavily on Biblical themes. In the end, these prayerful reflections are always couched on the fact that God is rich in mercy. One of the final prayers, at the commendation of the soul shows this balance. Standing before the casket the priest says:
  4. Enter not into judgment with Thy servant, O Lord; for, save Thou grant him forgiveness of all his sins, no man shall be justified in Thy sight. Wherefore suffer not, we beseech Thee, the sentence Thou pronounce in judgment upon one whom the faithful prayer of Christian people commends to Thee, to be a doom which shall crush him utterly. Rather sustain him by Thy gracious favor, that he may escape Thine avenging justice who, in his lifetime, was signed with the seal of the holy Trinity. Who livest and reignest world without end. Amen.

Disclaimers – Most of you know that I love the Traditional Latin Mass, especially in its sung forms. However, I also like the Ordinary Form of the Mass and it is the way I celebrate 99% of my masses.

The New Funeral Mass is not intrinsically flawed. If there are imbalances in modern funerals it is not wholly the fault of the liturgy. Rather, the imbalance of our culture and the clergy’s emphases seem more at work. (As we discussed these past two days).

For the record, black vestments can still be worn in the newer rites, as well as purple. There is nothing to prevent the clergy from preaching clearly on judgement and purgation, as well Heaven. I surely do (as we discussed yesterday), and also issue a pretty sober “come to Jesus” talk in the sermon, since so many who are at funerals are not practicing their faith.

Thus, balance can be had in the newer rites. This post is simply meant to express that a pronouncement of the Requiem Mass as dark and somber, which I was regularly subjected to in my training, is simplistic.

The reality I have come to experience in over 24 years of celebrating Requiem Masses is that they are both gentle and hopeful, sober about judgement but well steeped in mercy and confidence in God’s loving kindness.


Here’s the “In paradisum” from the Faure Requiem:

A Funeral Sermon designed to teach on the Last Things, and inspire prayer

On yesterday’s blog post, I discussed some of the more common problems that arise with funerals these days. That blog post provides the kind of background to the homily I present here. In this homily, I try to teach on what I think are important and central themes that need emphasis in Christian funerals today.

The homily is broken into three parts:

  1. The Praise of the divine goodness of our God. For at every liturgy, funerals included, the first and primary work is the praise and worship of Almighty God, who has been good to us, and through faith has saved us. Here too, it is appropriate for us to render praise and thanks for the gifts that the deceased had from God, and to properly acknowledge with respect, some aspects of their life
  2. Prayers for the deceased. For too often, on account of Universalism, a notion that all are saved in quite instantly, such that that prayers for the deceased, and for all the dead, are often neglected, and the dead are inappropriately promoted to Heaven instantly.
  3. Preparation for death – for many today are not properly preparing for death and do not live as though they must one day render an account to God and are destined to be judged under the law of freedom.

No homily I have ever preached is perfect. And thus, neither is this one. It is merely my own poor attempt to teach more fully on many truths regarding death, judgment, heaven and hell,  that are too often neglected in funeral masses today. Having been asked to record and present a funeral sermon of mine in writing, I herewith try to fulfill the request.

The sermon presented here is a sermon I preached for James Cade and I both recorded it and have it in writing here, verbatim from the preached homily. I share it with you by permission of the family.

I am not known for short sermons, and this sermon is no exception. Nevertheless, if you have the patience to listen, or read here it is. The written version, because it is an exact verbatim of the preached sermon, is quite lengthy.

The audio recording of the sermon which runs approximately 20 minutes is available below in the video box.

Introduction – So, Joan, Robert, and Joseph, and all of us who are here, for our brother James (Cade): I first of all share with you condolences at his passing. I know he had a battle with cancer. I know how he fought to live,  he certainly wanted to see his son’s (Joseph’s)  wedding,  and thanks be to God, that took place.  And I know all that Robert was saying to me about he great love for all of you, unto the very end…. and the kiss goodbye. A beautiful sign of his love for you (Joan) and his family.

I. Praise of Divine Goodness  – We come to gather in this church today, and the first thing I hope you came to do is that you came to praise the Lord, and that you’ve come to worship God. I think sometimes when we come to a funeral, our first instinct is to think, well I’ve come to pay my respect (to James), I’ve come to honor and support the family.  And that’s all good, beautiful. But our first instinct in walking into God’s House, is always to give worship, (ascribe) glory,  praise, and thanksgiving to God, who is the giver of every good and perfect gift.

And there’s a lot to be grateful for, yes, even at a funeral. All of you have in your mind  some things that James Cade was to you, gifts that gave to you, words of encouragement, support, the gift of life…Whatever it might be, you all have memories, and you’re grateful! But remember, as Scripture says, Every good and perfect gift, comes from above, comes from the Father of Lights, in whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.  (James 1:17)

I certainly know, and here we are on Veterans Day, that this country owes a debt of gratitude to our brother, who served for over twenty years in the Armed forces, in the United States Air Force. You know…We often need to remember that those who serve in the military….are peacemakers. Scripture says, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God (Matt 5:9). Because, you see, they put their life on the line to make those who would disturb the peace or those who would rob us of justice, think twice. And as such, they preserve the peace in this way. Scripture also says, Greater love hath no one than he would lay down his life for his friends. (Jn 15:13) And all those who serve in the military, including our brother James, put their life on the line so that you and I can live in greater security, freedom and peace. And we all know that our military doesn’t just protect this country, they go all over the world (and I know, not without some controversy), but they go there, they obey their orders and take care of the people in each region.

And so all of us bring blessings and memories of James, all that he was to us, all he was to this country, to his community, to his life of service, overseas, as well as here, his love for God, his love for family, over forty years of faithful marriage. Oh, what a witness that is today…such an important witness!

So, I say all this to you, that I know we all bring with us many great memories, many thoughts of gratitude for our brother, and all that he was, and is for us,.

But I also hope you will remember that, whatever James had to offer, he got it from God.  So we are here today to say, “Thank you Lord. We worship you, we praise you, and we thank you. You are the giver of every good and perfect gift. It all comes from you! So everything our brother James was, it came from you. Thank you Father, we love you, we worship you, we praise you through your Son Jesus.

We thank you Jesus for dying for our brother. For the greatest truth I have to say to you all today about our brother James is no good work of his, but simply this, that Jesus Christ loves our brother, died for our him, went to heaven to prepare a place for him. As he said (I the gospel today) to Martha, regarding her brother, now he says to us, Your brother will rise…I am the Resurrection and the Life, and whoever believes in me (and our brother James believed in him) will rise!

And so, we’ve come today to praise the Lord.

And I want to say this, Even our brother’s sufferings at the end of his life, are something worth praising and thanking God for; and (also) whatever sufferings you’re enduring. You know, scripture says, in the Second Letter to the Corinthians in the fourth Chapter, St Paul says this: Therefore, we not discouraged. Although our outer self (our body) is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed, day-by-day. For this momentary affliction is producing fro us a weight of glory beyond all compare. (2 Cor 4:16-17) So that even at the end of his life as James suffered with cancer and the effects of surgery, I tell you brothers and sisters, even then,  it was a gift in a strange package!

Scripture says, in Romans 8:28, All things work together for good, to them that love and trust the Lord and are called according to his purposes. Notice it says, ALL things, not just the good things…but even the difficult and the painful things work for our glory, if we give them to God, as our brother did. I say this to you again, whatever sufferings he endured, they produced glory. Again, St. Paul says, This momentary afflicting is producing a weight of glory beyond compare.

And so, if you brought any suffering into this Church, be it the sorrow of this day or whatever other sufferings are going on in your life right now…you know, the devil wants you to be discouraged. You just tell the devil, “I’m encouraged! And I’m gonna praise the Lord anyhow! Because whatever I am going through, it is producing a glory for me beyond any comparison to the suffering I must endure. I am not discouraged, I’m encouraged. Because whatever I’m going through, its producing!”

So today, first I say, I hope and pray that you came to praise the Lord. Every good and perfect gift comes from Him! And we’ve come to praise him.

II. Prayers for the Deceased –  I also hope, today, You came to pray for our bother, James. I think, a lot of times in Christian funerals we miss a step, at least in these modern days. Very often when we hear that some one has passed, we hear statements that they are now in heaven, or they’re in a better place…or other euphemisms. But, we need to be careful, and not miss a step.

The Bible does not teach that you die and go straight to heaven.  Rather, it says there’s a little pit stop on the way. The book of Hebrews says, It is appointed to us to die once, and thereafter the judgment. (Hebrews 9:27) Likewise, St. Paul says, We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ and render an account for what we have done, whether good, or evil, and receive recompense or punishment for what we have done.” (2 Cor 5:10)

And so it is, then, all of us need to remember that when anyone dies, their first destination is the great judgment seat of Christ.  And brothers and sisters, that is worth praying about! I’m just going to say to you, I’m not planning to die today, but if I do, would you please pray for me! Because I go to judgment.  I go to render an account.  And I am a believer, I love Jesus Christ, and I know he loves me, I know he died for me. But I need to go and have an honest conversation with the Lord. And I would ask you to pray for me. I know then that our brother James both wants and needs our prayers. As he himself has gone to that judgment seat.

But what is then the judgment in question for a believer? Does not the Lord say, as we just heard in the gospel, “If you believe I will raise you up on the last day” ? So what is the judgment in question?

I would say this, It is based on a promise the Lord made to our brother and to all of us, at our baptism.  It is at the end of the 5th Chapter of Matthew’s gospel: And the Lord says this, You must be perfect as the Heavenly father is perfect. (Matt 5:48) Hmm…Anyone there yet?! Alright church, me neither!

Now I want to say, though it may sound like a threat, its not a threat. It’s a promise! The Lord says, “When I have fully accomplished my work in you, when my grace has had its full effect, you will be perfect. And not just humanly perfect. But with a Godly perfection!

The Lord St. Catherine of Siena, “Catherine, I you were ever to see a soul up here with me in glory and perfected, you’d fall down and worship, because you’d think you were looking at me.” Do you see? That’s our dignity. One day we shall share a perfection that is the perfection of God himself.

Now then, here is the judgment in question: If I were to die today I would go to the Lord and I would simply know that (perfection) isn’t done yet, there’s still a few things to accomplish. And so I would go, and I’m sure the Lord would show me some things that still needed to be completed. And so I think the judgment in question for our brother James is, “James, is my work in you accomplished?” St. Paul wrote to the Philippians and he said, May God who has begun a good work in you bring it to completion.  (Phil 1:6)

So, I think the judgment in question at that great Judgment seat is, Is the Lord’s work in you complete? What remains undone? Now, says the Lord, I will bring it to completion. And how exactly the Lord does that, I can’t say. Does it happen quickly…does it take time? I don’t even know if there is time like we have it now after we die.

All I know is that we are commissioned by the Church, and by Sacred Scripture to pray for those who have died, to lift them up in prayer. We ought to pray for the dead, they go to the judgment seat. And there they have that conversation with Christ, and whatever is incomplete, must be completed, for Jesus who loves us will leave nothing incomplete. He will accomplish the promises he gave to our brother, and make him perfect. And we for our part, give him to Jesus and say “Jesus, we love our brother James, we love him. We entrust him now to your care.

And I think this too, that it isn’t just about our sins. You know, honestly, is there anyone here carrying stuff with us we know we can’t take to heaven? I’m not just talking about our sins, I’m talking about our heartaches, our hurts, some of those regrets we might carry with us. We can’t take those things to heaven, it wouldn’t be heaven! And so there is a beautiful line in the Book of Revelation that says of Jesus, regarding the death, that He will wipe every tear from their eyes. (cf Rev 21:4) And this is part of what we call in the Catholic tradition the process of purgation. The Lord wipes the tears form our eyes: any sorrows, any regrets, any rough edges of our personality, those effects of sin that still cling to us. The Lord takes good care of it all…he wipes the tears and purifies us with holy fire.

Now whatever James brought to the judgment seat, if he had any tears still in his eyes, that’s between him and Jesus. But we pray, and we say thank you Jesus, Thank you Lord. We give you back our brother, whom you gave to us. We give him back with love and prayers, we call upon your mercy and judgment and ask you to bring to completion anything that was incomplete. And we do this, knowing by faith that the Lord is rich in mercy. And so we have good hope and good confidence, as we make that prayer.

III. Preparation for Death –  I want to say one final thing today. I asked you to make sure that you came to this Church to praise the Lord and pray for our brother. I am also going to ask you to pray for yourself. And to ask you, are you prepared?

Now please know that I do this at every funeral. I call it the “Come to Jesus” talk. Because I often meet people at funerals that I never meet anywhere else. Now I don’t know everyone’s walk and where they are in their walk.

But I just want to say this to you, it’s a very powerful truth, and our brother is teaching us even now, and the Lord is teaching us. And I’m not going to dress it up in any way. I ‘m just going to say it plain:

You are going to die….(yes) you are going to die. And you don’t get to say when. (Ah but you might say), I’m planning to live a good number of years preacher….I’ve got it all figured out. Listen! I can’t promise you the next beat of your heart! I did check with Father J. before Mass, he did say the roof is in good condition and it probably won’t crash in during the funeral. But, I can’t promise you anything. I can’t promise you that you’ll see this day out. Someone says, “I’ll take care of that tomorrow.” But, tomorrow is not promised.

And I’m just going to say that I hope and pray that every one of you here have given your life to Jesus. …that you’re repenting of your sins…that you’re serious about your preparation for your own death, and your appointment at the judgment seat of Christ.

And if you don’t need to hear what I am saying, I know you know fifty people who do. There are just too many people today who are not serious about their spiritual walk. They’re running around like life was some big game, they’re not thinking about their destiny to appear before the judgment seat. They are not praying, they are not reading Scripture, they are not growing in their faith, they are not getting to church on Sunday, any many of them are stubbornly locked in very serious and unrepented mortal sin. And they are not going to be ready! I pray that is not true of any one here, but if it is, I simply say, “Turn to Jesus…repent, give him your life.”

Pray every day. Some folks tell me its hard to pray….I don’t know how to pray! You know what you’re doing? You’re already praying!  Don’t tell me, tell God. If that’s where you’ve got to begin with your prayer, tell him: “I don’t like to pray, I struggle to pray, prayer is boring” What ever you need to tell him. Prayer is not reading words somebody else wrote that you don’t mean. Prayer is talking to the Lord and telling him what’s going on in your life. Prayer is paying attention to God.

 I hope you read Scripture every day and study the teachings of the Church. Brothers and sisters, there is too much stinking thinking out there for us to think that our minds will be anything but polluted if we don’t cleanse them every day with God’s word and the teachings of the Faith. Some folks say its hard to understand Scripture, “I can’t figure all that our preacher.” But there are so many helps available, “My Daily Bread,”  “Magnificat” magazine. Some folks even get the Word sent to their cell phone each day with a commentary. You say, “I can’t figure all that out.” Well, then get a fifth grader to help you (set it up), but get with God’s word every day! We find time for everything else.

And I say to you, get to Church every Sunday. I hope you all have a church home, I hope every one of you is in God’s house on Sunday. God is worthy of our praise. For us not to praise him is an egregious lack of gratitude on our part. But also, we all need to come to God’s house so that we can be instructed, and then fed with the Body and the Blood of the Lord. Jesus says, If you don’t eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you (Jn 6:53).  Some folks say, “Oh, I see the Mass on TV.” But you can’t get Holy Communion on TV. And you can’t get real fellowship. Find a parish, if you don’t have a church home, and get there, get to Mass. Receive Communion every Sunday. Be firm and clear about it. God puts it in the Ten Commandments saying, “Keep holy the Sabbath.” He knows we need it!

And I say to you, If you are aware of any serious or unrepented mortal sin in your life, I beg you,  repent and call on the Lord’s mercy. Some folks tell me, “I’m in such a mess I don’t know how to get out of it.” OK, but go to the Lord and talk to him about it and say, “Help me Lord!” But please, do not go on calling “good,” or “no big deal” what God calls sin! The Lord says, No one who calls on me will I ever reject. (Jn 6:37)

But too many people today say, “I will not be told what to do. I will not be told what is right and wrong.” The one thing God can’t really save us from is that kind of pride…because we don’t want to be forgiven. And so again I say to you, (and I hope no one here needs to hear what I said, but then tell some who does), but I say to you, be urgent about it.

You know, no one loves you more than Jesus Christ, and yet no one warned about judgment and Hell more than Jesus Christ. People are dismissive about judgment and hell today, “Oh Jesus would never do that.” But Jesus told us over and over again, that there is a judgment in question and its not so much about what he decides, it is about what we decide. He says this, Here is the judgment in question, that the Light has come into the world, but many prefer the darkness, because their deeds are sinful. (Jn 3:18). So there is a judgment coming, and the Lord warns in parable after parable, And I simply ask you to be ready.

I know many of you to be solid and strong in your faith. Thanks be to God for that, that’s his Grace. But if anyone here needs to hear it, please listen! As an ambassador for Christ I cry out, “Be reconciled with God!”

Summation – So today, we’ve come (and I’m not known for short sermons, sorry), but we’ve come today, first of all to praise the Lord. Thank you Lord, for our brother, James Cade, thank you for all he did, thank you for all he was and still is. Thank you Lord. We praise you. You’re the giver of every good and perfect gift.

And we also prayer for our brother and say, “receive him now, Lord, receive him into your mercy. And if there are any struggles or sins he brought with him to the judgment seat, Lord purify him, cleanse him of that, wipe every tear from his eyes. We give him to you Jesus and we know you’ll be good to him since he had faith in you.

And for ourselves, we say, time to get ready, I’m going to die and I don’t get to say when. Do I need to repent, do I need to pray, do I need to prepare more, do I need to be more serious? Please Lord, help me to get ready.

The greatest way to honor our brother is to imitate his example and get ready to meet Jesus. The very last food that our brother received  was the Eucharist. We call this in the Catholic tradition, viaticum, meaning, I (the Lord) am with you on your way (via tecum). Our brother did not leave this world on his own. He went with his guardian angel, but Jesus led him with that viaticum, led with across the valley of the shadow of death with His rod and staff to give him courage. He (James) went with the prayers of Mary and all the saints, and the angels to lead him toward paradise. The Lord has had that honest conversation with him we call judgment.

And we simply say, Lord thank you, thank you for your love for our brother. Take good care of him now Lord. We pray for him, and we ourselves keep watch over our own souls. Amen.

Funeral Foibles. How many Catholic funerals lack balance and do not teach clearly on the Last Things

By Wolfgang Kopp  Licensed under  CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
By Wolfgang Kopp Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

I was recently asked by the Archdiocese of Washington to lead a workshop for catechists that focused on the catechetical teachings implicit in the funeral rites of the Church. At first, I was somewhat surprised at the request. It didn’t strike me as the first sort of topic that one might speak about when speaking to catechists.

But quickly, I warmed to the topic. I have long held that the way in which we conduct ourselves at funerals, in the manner of preaching and other visible attitudes, not only teaches poorly, but is often a countersign of biblical and Church teaching on death, judgment, heaven, and hell.

The rites themselves are not flawed (though the huge number of readings can bewilder and are not of equal value or helpfulness). Rather, a whole host of problems both sociological, and related to liturgical execution, create an environment that not only obscure Catholic teaching on death, but often outright contradicts it.

In this particular blog post, I would like to lay out what I think are some of the problematic issues that surround typical funerals today. And in tomorrow’s post I would like to lay out an outline of a typical funeral sermon I preach in which I seek to remedy some of the misunderstandings that are common today.

So for today here are some problematic issues and attitudes that tend to surround funerals. I do not say that every family or parish exhibits all these problems, only that these are common in various combinations and degrees.

1. There is a basic confusion about the purpose of a funeral. Many people arrive at the parish to plan a funeral and their basic presumption is that the funeral is all about “Uncle Joe,” who he was, what he liked, etc. This then generates a whole series of, often inappropriate, requests. For example,

  1. Uncle Joe’s favorite song was “I did it my way.” Therefore we want a soloist to sing this song.
  2. Uncle Joe’s three favorite nieces want to say “a few words” about what a great uncle he was. Therefore we want them to be able to speak after communion.”
  3. Of course we all know what a great football fan Joe was, that he never missed a game, so we are going to have flowers in the team colors, want a football on a table near the altar,  and ask that a letter from the team’s front office be read in tribute after communion, and after the nieces.
  4. Also, Father, in your sermon please remember to mention Joe’s great concern for this cause, and that cause.
  5. And don’t forget to mention that he was a founding member here at St Esmerelda and the president of the Men’s club.

Well, you get the point. But of course none of this is the real purpose of a funeral at all. Like any celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, the essential purpose of the funeral is the worship of God, the proclamation of the Gospel, and the celebration of the paschal mystery. Secondarily, the Mass is offered for the repose of the soul the deceased and should invite prayer for the judgment they face, and for their ultimate and happy repose after any necessary purification.

The sacred liturgy exists to glorify God, not man, to praise the Lord, not Uncle Joe. No matter how great a guy Uncle Joe was, he doesn’t stand a chance if not for Jesus, and lots of grace and mercy. Joe needs prayer more than praise, and whatever gifts he did have, were from God. God should be thanked and praised for them.

Thus, too many funerals focus on man, not God. Too many funerals focus on human achievements rather than the need for grace and mercy, and gratitude for for all that has been received.

As a practical matter, in my parish we do not allow family members to speak during the funeral Mass at all. If there is someone who wants to say a few words, this is done prior to the beginning of the Funeral Mass. But once Mass begins, it is the Mass, and only the Mass.

2. Most families and funerals miss a step. Upon the death of a loved one there are often instant declarations that “they are in heaven.” Perhaps there are other euphemisms such as “He is in a better place…” or “She’s gone home.”

Of course such judgments are grossly presumptive and in making such declarations, people sit in the judgment seat that belongs only to Jesus. If I were to say, “Uncle Joe is in Hell” people would be rightly angry and say I was being “judgmental.” But of course those who say “Joe is in heaven” sit in the very same judgement seat and are also being “judgmental.”

Further the scriptures don’t teach that people, even believers, die and go straight to heaven. No, there is little pit stop first, an appointment to keep. The scriptures say,

  1. It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27)
  2. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Cor 5:10)
  3. Always speak and act as those who are going to be judged under the law of liberty. (James 2:13)

Thus instant promotions of the deceased to the upper realms of heaven are inappropriate. Rather, we give them to the Lord with our prayers, asking for a merciful and kindly judgment, and that any necessary purification be accomplished soon.  The prayers for, and comments about the deceased can include gratitude for their life and the gifts they brought, but ought never to fail to mention that they go to judgment and should not gloss over the need to pray for them, more than praise them.

3. Purgatory and the concept of purification after death are almost never mentioned, but they should be. But of course purgatory is the likely destination of most of the dead for at least some purification after death.

The whole point of praying for the dead at all is purgatory! If the dead are in heaven they don’t need our prayers. Sadly, if they are in Hell, they can’t use them. It is those in purgatory that both need and can use our prayers.

Jesus says, You must be perfect as the Heavenly Father is perfect. (Mat 5:41). This is a promise, not a threat. And St. Paul says, May God who has begun a good work in you bring it to completion. (Phil 1:16)

Most of us know, if we were to die today, that we are not perfect, and that God’s work in us is not complete. Purgatory just makes sense, and clergy ought not be so reticent to preach it clearly at a funeral. We are not just here to pray for the family, we are here to pray for the deceased because they have gone to judgment. And even if the judgment isn’t for Hell (thanks be to God), there is likely some finishing work needed, some purgation, and our prayers make a difference. More on this tomorrow.

4. The Immediate family is not the only object of concern and ministry at a funeral. While every priest and deacon who preaches is aware that a funeral is a sensitive moment for the family, he cannot simply and only minister to them. Present at most funerals, (in great abundance, frankly), are many who are unchurched, and who need to be called to Jesus. Sometimes these are also in the immediately family.

The clergy should not simply let this moment pass. Honestly the only time many clergy see a lot of these people is at funerals. Waiting for “another time” to call them to repentance and to follow Jesus is not an option. They are here now, and they must be called now.

Therefore a good funeral seeks to minister not only to the immediate family, but to all in attendance who are in varying states of spiritual health or disease.

Pastoral experience tells me that upwards of 80% of funeral attendees and in a very grave spiritual condition. Most of them are not serious about their spiritual life, they are not praying, they are not reading Scripture, they are not attending Mass or going to any service on Sundays, and many are in very serious and unrepented mortal sin. This is just a fact.

And to have that many at a funeral and say nothing to them at all about their need to repent and call on Jesus, is malpractice. Priests, whether they like it or not, are watchmen for the house of Israel. They must go on ahead of the Judge to follow and summon people to repentance and saving faith.

This can be and should be done at funerals. It is possible to do so with loving conviction and a passionate cry.

I have done this for many years at funerals and have almost never received complaints. To the contrary, I have received many expressions of gratitude from people who are desperate for their wayward relatives to hear such a message. I have also joyfully received back a number of people to the practice of the faith on account of it.

Thus funerals must minster to everyone. They are moments that are pregnant with meaning and possibilities. They are evangelical moments.

It is generally agreed that things are out of balance most Catholic funerals. Our silence about important matters, such as judgment, purgatory and a proper preparation for death makes a good deal of what we do unintelligible. Why are we offering Mass? Why do many of our prayers ask mercy and beseech the Lord to received our deceased into heaven? If its all certain and even a done deal (since Joe is already “in a better place”) why do any of this at all?

The priest should surely speak with confidence to the love and mercy of God and assure the family in this regard, especially if the deceased had faith. The Lord Jesus loves sinners and died for us. Surely he will have mercy, if it is sought.

But God’s mercy cannot be preached without any reference to human freedom and choice. Neither can judgment be understood  without any reference to the promise of perfection and the need for it before we can enter heaven. Scripture says regarding heaven, Nothing impure will ever enter it (Rev 21:27) and describes the denizens of heaven as the spirits of the righteous made perfect (Heb 12:23). And we are admonished, Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Heb 12:14).

All of these notions must balance and frame our discussion of mercy and the confident hope that we can give our loved ones back to God.

But too many Catholic funerals lack this this balance. And this lack is on the part of both the families who often speak of salvation without reference to judgement, grace or mercy, and the clergy who often fail to preach in a way that sets forth a clear teaching on death, judgment, Heaven, (purgatory) and Hell.

Tomorrow I would like to publish a sermon typical of what I preach at sermons, that does, if I do say so myself, try to articulate theme themes. More then.

Ashes to Armaments Dust to Detonation – A Brief Essay on What NOT to do with Cremated Remains

Cremation, though permitted by the Church, often presents pastoral problems for the Church. For, as experience shows, many people treat cremated remains (aka, cremains) in ways that would be unthinkable in terms of the more complete body. Some of the most common practices involve scattering the ashes on the ground, pouring them in rivers or seas, or scattering them from planes. All of these sorts of practices are forbidden by the Church to Catholics. There are other problems we will talk about below.

But recently, one of the most absurd things I have ever heard in terms of cremated remains appeared in USA Today. Here are some excerpts of the article:

By Mari Darr Welch, for USA TODAY

Officers Thad Holmes and Clem Parnell have launched Holy Smoke LLC, a company that will, for a price, load cremated human ash into shotgun shells, and rifle and pistol cartridges.

It’s the perfect life celebration for someone who loves the outdoors or shooting sports, Parnell says….

“This isn’t a joke. It’s a job that we take very seriously,” he said. “This is a reverent business. We take the utmost care in what we do and show the greatest respect for the remains.” It has established to promote the service and traffic on it has been growing, Holmes says.

For $850, one pound of ash will be loaded into 250 shotgun shells. The ash is mixed in the cups that hold the shot, not the powder.The same amount of ash will fill the bullets of 100 standard caliber center-fire rifle rounds or 250 pistol rounds…

“Some people have been concerned that a small amount of ash will remain in the animal that is shot with the ammunition, Holmes said. “But it’s just carbon, and a small amount at that. You don’t have anything to worry about.” The animal should be killed quickly by the shot, to prevent any possibility of spreading the ashes in the animal’s blood, he says. The area around where the animal was struck should not be consumed…. The full article is here:

Sigh…Where to begin. It is interesting that the proprietors have to assure us this isn’t a joke. For indeed, it seems just that, a sick joke. And then things descend to the absurd when we are also instructed to thoroughly clean the meat of the animal killed by cremains laden bullet.

Some bad jokes come to mind, to wit: Joe really lived to hunt, now he’s dying to hunt. Joe would really be blown away by this…etc., add your own. But remember, as the proprietors assure us, “this is a reverent business” and thus all joking is inappropriate.

And so it is, but so is loading human ashes into shotgun shells and bullets and shooting away. Simply calling something a reverent business does not make it so.

Again the Church allows cremation so long as the reason for doing so is not contrary to the faith (e.g. denying the resurrection of the Body). But pastorally there are challenges presented to the Church in the way people routinely treat ashes.

Granted, most of the “scattering” practices are not as absurd and irreverent as shooting animals with them. Many in fact consider various scatterings as reverent. But the bottom line for the Church is that cremains, though in ash form, are still what remains of the body. And we should no more scatter them than we would scatter body parts about.

Reverent burial or placement in a mausoleum are the only proper destination for cremated remains. Thus, not only is scattering not considered appropriate, but so is the practice of some of retaining the ashes in their home.

Yet another problem encountered by cremation is the practice of delaying the burial indefinitely. I often find that the burial of cremated individuals is not scheduled the day of the the funeral. When I ask as to the specific date I often get a lot of vague answers. I am beginning to conclude that I will not schedule the funeral until the burial is also scheduled. For too often Uncle Joe is waiting in the closet to be buried.

To conclude, a new cremation regulation, dated March 21, 1997, was granted by the Holy See as an addition, or indult, to the Order of Christian Funerals.

The instructions indicate the cremated remains should be treated with the same respect we give to the body of deceased person. The remains are to be placed in a worthy vessel which then is carried and transported with the same respect and attention given to a casket carrying a body.

Their final disposition is equally important, say the instructions: “The cremated remains should be buried in a grave or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium [a cemetery vault designed for urns containing ashes of the dead]. The practice of scattering cremated remains on the sea, from the air, or on the ground, or keeping cremated remains in the home of a relative or friend of the deceased are not the reverent disposition that the Church requires.” The instructions also state that, if at all possible, the place of entombment should be marked with a plaque or stone memorializing the deceased.

Delight in the Dies Irae!

I am of the mind that we set aside a great treasure and masterpiece when the sequence hymn for funeral Masses, Dies Irae got the boot some forty years ago. I know it was a “heavy” hymn with a sobering message, but it sure was glorious. The gorgeous chant was one of the more beautiful and soaring melodies of Gregorian Chant and manycomposers such as Mozart and Verdi set the text to stirring musical compositions.

Ah the Dies Irae!  It’s syllables hammering away in trochaic dimeter: Dies irae dies illa solvet saeclum in favilla, teste David cum Sybila! (Day of wrath that day when the world dissolves to ashes, David bears witness to it along with the Sibyl!) Many came to think it a theme too dark and sobering for the modern funeral. Perhaps at times it is a bit heavy but at the same time no hymn more beautifully sets forth a basis for God’s mercy. The dark clouds of judgment part and give way to the bright beauty of the final line Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem (Sweet Jesus Lord, give them [the dead] rest).

The hymn was not composed for funerals. Actually it was composed by Thomas of Celano in the 13th century as an Advent Hymn. Yes, that’s right an Advent hymn. Don’t forget that Advent isn’t just about getting ready for Christmas, it is about getting ready for the Second Coming of the Lord. And that is what this hymn is really about. At this time of year, as the the leaves fall and summer turns to winter, we are reminded of the passing of all things. The Gospels we read are those that remind us of death and the judgment to come.

Journey with me into the beauty and solemn majesty of this hymn. I will give you an inspiring English translation by W J Irons, one that preserves the meter and renders the Latin close enough. A few comments from me along the way but enjoy this largely lost masterpiece and mediation on the Last Judgment. (You can see the Latin Text along with English here: Dies Irae)

The hymn opens on the Day of Judgement warning that the day will reveal God’s wrath upon all injustice and unrepented sin. God’s wrath is his passion to set things right. And now it is time to put an end of wickedness and lies:

    • Day of wrath and doom impending,
    • Heaven and earth in ashes ending:
    • David’s words with Sibyl’s blending.

And all are struck with a holy fear! No one  and no thing can treat of this moment lightly: all are summoned to holy fear. The bodies of the dead come forth from their tombs at the sound of the trumpet and will all of creation answer to jesus, the Judge and Lord of all:

    • Oh 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 sepulchers it ringeth,
    • All before the throne it bringeth.
    • Death is struck and nature quaking,
    • All creation is awaking,
    • To its judge an answer making.
    • Lo the book exactly worded,
    • Wherein all hath been recorded,
    • Thence shall judgement be awarded.
    • When the Judge his seat attaineth,
    • And each hidden deed arraigneth:
    • Nothing unavenged remaineth.

Judgment shall be according to our deeds, whatever is in the Book  (Rev 20:12; Romans 2:6)! Ah but also in God’s Word is the hope for mercy and so our hymn turns to ponder the need for mercy and appeals to God for that mercy:

    • What shall I frail man be pleading?
    • Who for me be interceding?
    • When the just are mercy needing?
    • King of majesty tremendous,
    • Who does free salvation send us,
    • Font of pity then befriend us.
    • Think kind Jesus, 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,
    • Before the day of retribution.
    • Guilty now I pour my moaning:
    • All my shame and anguish owning:
    • Spare, O God my suppliant groaning.
    • Through the sinful Mary shriven,
    • Through the dying thief forgiven,
    • Thou to me a hope has given.

Yes there is a basis for hope! God is rich in mercy and, pondering the Day of Judgment is salutary since for now we can call on that mercy. And, in the end it is only grace and mercy that can see us through that day:

    • Worthless are my tears and sighing:
    • Yet good Lord in grace complying,
    • Rescue me from fire 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.
    • Lo I kneel with heart-submission,
    • See like ashes my contrition:
    • Help me in my last condition.

 And now comes the great summation: That Day is surely coming! Grant me O lord your grace to be ready:

    • Lo, that day of tears and mourning,
    • from the dust of earth returning.
    • Man for judgement must prepare him,
    • Spare O God, in mercy spare him.
    • Sweet Jesus Lord most  blest,
    • Grant the dead eternal rest.

A masterpiece of beauty and truth if you ask me. Some years ago I memorized most of it. I sing it from time to time over in Church late at night, the hauntingly beautiful chant rings through the echoing arches of our Church. When I die sing it at my funeral!  For I go to the Lord, the judge of all and only grace and mercy will see me through. Perhaps the plaintive calls of the choir below at my funeral will resonate to the very heavens as I am judged. And maybe the Lord will look at me and say,

    • I think they’re praying for you down there, asking mercy.”
    • “Yes, Lord, mercy.”
    • “They’re making a pretty good case.”
    • Yes Lord, mercy.
    • Then mercy it shall be


Dies Irae from elena mannocci on Vimeo.

I Wonder If We Forgot Something Important

I was busy Saturday….A wedding and later another Mass….So I didn’t get to see wall to wall coverage of the funeral for Senator Edward Kennedy. So… I may have missed something and you will correct me if I’m wrong. But here is my question: Did we pray for the happy reposeof his soul? As I went back and forth preparing this and that I saw parts of the funeral on TV. Surely I heard lots of praise for Mr. Kennedy. But did we pray or merely praise? Particularly alarming were the intercessory prayers of the congregation where the congregation prays for the deceased. They were directed not to Mr. Kennedy’s reposeor to the dead in general but rather to praise of his vision and the prayers for various causes. Not wrong per se but out of place at a funeral Mass at the very time we should be praying for the happy repose of of the deceased. Did we pray?

When I die please promise me that you’ll pray for me. You see, I’ll  have a journey to make. I have an appointment to keep. The scriptures all say it but we like to ignore it:

  1. Therefore, we aspire to please him, whether we are at home or away. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil.  (2 Cor 5:10-11)
  2. For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written: “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bend before me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” So then each of us shall give an account of himself to God. (Rom 14:10-11)

So when we die we are judged. We ought to pray a lot for those who have died. It is an awesome thing to go to God and to render and account. We who remain behind ought to offer heartfelt prayers for the faithful departed. And so I must indicate so frustration with many Catholic Funerals I have observed, both televised and not. Too often there are bold proclamations of how the deceased is in heaven now, in a better place, etc. Confidence in God’s mercy is good, but to completely ignore the  judgment that Scripture promises and make no mention of it is poor pastoral practice and robs the dead of the prayers they are due.

Consider this, what if I were to say at a funeral “John Jones is in Hell and there’s no use praying for him.” Now you would be rightfully angry and tell me that I was “judging him.” And you would be right. I would be making a judgement I had no right to make. But don’t you see, if I say “John Jones is in heaven now” and do not ask you to pray, that I am sitting in the very same judgement seat and making a judgment that is NOT mine to make?

“But Father, but Father….What about confidence in God’s mercy and joy?”  These are fine and have their place but they should be balanced with a sober appreciation that the dead can use our prayers. AND I actually HAVE God’s mercy in mind when I say we ought to pray for the dead who go to judgement. Remember, God has made a promise to us that when he was finished with us that we would be perfect as the heavenly father is perfect (Matt 5:48) Now are you there yet? What if you died today? Do you think the Lord will leave his work undone in you? That’s not very merciful. St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “May God who has begun the good work in you bring it to completion.” (Phil 1:6) God is faithful to the promises he has made and he will not leave anything undone in us. But again let me ask you, if you died today are you perfect yet? You know you’re not. We all fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). All of us are carrying things in us that we cannot bring to heaven. Not just our sins, but also sorrows, regrets, painful memories and hurts. You know you can’t bring this stuff to heaven, it wouldn’t be heaven! So the Lord has to purge these things from us.  Maybe that is what Scripture means when it says of the dead that Jesus will wipe every tear from their eyes (Rev 21:4).

Hence, when we die we are judged by God. But the judgement is not just between heaven and hell but as to whether Jesus’ work is complete in us yet. If it is not he will see that it is brought to completion. Here is the Catholic Dogma of Purgatory. It is purgatory where we let go of things for the last time, where we have tears wiped from our eyes and we have false notions corrected and where we shed the final vestiges of the world. Does it take tiem? How long? I don’t know. What is time even like after we leave this world and if there is the passage of time there, how does it square up with our assage of time? I don’t know. Just pray. Our beloved dead can use our prayers.

So, when I die, will you pray for me? Don’t talk too much at my funeral about what a great guy I was, only God is good. Don’t make silly statements about how I’m up there leading the music in heaven. Just pray because I’m probably, off to purgatory and could use your prayers. If I died today (not planning on it) I know I’d  have some tears to be wiped from my eyes, some rough edges to my personality that need smoothing, some intellectual misunderstandings to be set right, some attachments to be freed of. I cannot judge myself, but applying Catholic doctrine to my situation it’s looks like I’d be bound for purgatory. So pray.

Finally let me ask you again, in the funeral rites yesterday for Senator Kennedy did you pray? Did WE pray? Oh, I know we said the usual prayers in the ritual. But honestly, things seemed more than a little out of balance to me. Celebrate what is good? Sure. But Edward M Kennedy shares the human condition and we all fall short of what God has in store. I am not his judge, but I can pray. If he is like me, purgation may well be necessary. I don’t know what sins or hurts he brought to the grave with him. But he did go to judgement and we ought to pray. And yes, I’ll mention the unmentionable: he was wrong on abortion and several other Catholic Moral teachings. Where we are wrong, the Lord needs to set us right. Mr. Kennedy was right on other moral issues and the Lord can grant reward for that as well.  But just pray. Pray for him and all your beloved dead. Our modern understanding  of death needs to come back to a proper focus: hope and confidence in God’s mercy? Yes! But balanced with a sober appreciation of judgment that awaits us all.