Friday, 6 October 2006

Funeral matters, pt. 1

It occurs to me I haven't delivered a true rant yet, and I promised you one at the beginning. Here goes:

I went to a friend's funeral yesterday - not a close friend, but someone I knew from church - she was the one person who knew that the one time I got up and walked out of a sermon, that was EXACTLY what I had done, not gone to the loo. She was a lovely person who had been diagnosed with a bone disease and had spent a lot of time in hospitals when she was young, and was in some degree of pain most of the time I knew her. She grew up, married, had kids, sang for the noted Anglican choir down the road before her conversion (you could tell where they were yesterday - fabulous), converted to Catholicism 12 years ago and created her own story, as we all do. She had a wicked sense of humour and could always leave me in hysterics when describing the performance of the choir during mass. It would usually begin, "That doesn't sound like any Byrd I've ever heard..."

Her funeral yesterday was simple - it was essentially the 10am English mass (though she attended the 11am Latin on Sundays) with "Dear Lord and Father of mankind" as the opening hymn and "Soul of my Saviour" as the communion hymn, and, of course, the Order of Christian Funerals instead of the usual liturgy.

A few things ruined it for me:

1. Ok, it was the 10am mass, a public one. But IT WAS SOMEONE'S FUNERAL. As soon as you see that, PLEASE walk out, and leave the mourners to their grief. Attend a different mass, or don't attend one that day - it's not going to kill you. I always get rebuked by Catholic priests about this - "The requiem mass is to pray for the dead, so it doesn't matter, the more people who come to pray for the dead, the better." I disagree. It's as if they don't want to acknowledge the pain and grief of the survivors, almost as if they're saying the survivors SHOULDN'T grieve, and if they are and want a private funeral mass, they're being selfish or aren't spiritually advanced enough. Newsflash: Grieving is a healthy, normal, HUMAN process, and it is necessary for moving on. The funeral plays a big part in that - it's a ritual that lets us say goodbye. Priests forget that the 'stranger praying for someone's soul' isn't doing that - they're a voyeur, much the same way people rubbernecking at a traffic accident are. And as for the voyeurs who don't have the grace to sit at the back inconspicuously...

2. The person whose mobile phone went off TWICE...the second time AS SOON AS SHE REFUSED THE FIRST CALL. TURN. IT. OFF.

3. The parish regular (C.S. Lewis' secretary for SIX months and he's STILL cashing in on it) who walked in AND SAT AT THE FRONT. AND DIDN'T EVEN MOVE WHEN MEMBERS OF THE FAMILY NEEDED TO SIT ON THAT SIDE BECAUSE THEY'D RUN OUT OF SPACE ON THE OTHER.

4. The celebrant's sermon:

a. He began by mentioning her "physical difficulties", and saying that we all had physical difficulties as we get older. Maybe I'm being a bit pc, but I can't imagine that after having had a healthy youth, anything that I go through physically would be comparable to what she's been through for as long as she can remember. And I think it might have been better if the sermon had focused on *who she was*, and given us some personal anecdotes.

b. Then went on to say that her spiritual difficulties were even greater. That made me very uncomfortable. It's not my - or anyone else's - business. And even if I did know, I'm not convinced the funeral is the place to bring it up.

c. He quoted,
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28)

That was in the reading. Then he said, "And I think she found that rest here, worshipping in this church." Not "the Catholic Church" or "Christ's Church" or "the one Church". Honestly, she found peace in her *conversion*, not a particular church - it's a *universal* church, and wherever she was, she'd have found her rest in that.

d. Then came the Catholic triumphalism..."People see the Catholic Church and don't like it. They see authority and are frightened by it..." and so on. I get really frustrated by Catholics (clerics in particular) singing the "Church wonderful" tune, and dismissing anyone who's critical of it as being unable to see the truth. People aren't afraid of the Church's authority - what they see, what they feel, is a Church that clutches the way a controlling parent does when they feel they've lost their child: berating, bemoaning, using guilt and tightening the rules to hold on to what is slipping through their fingers. Rightly or wrongly, what people saw in 2002 was that the first instinct of an institution pledged to protect the vulnerable was to protect itself. I don't mind people thinking the Church is wonderful - obviously I do or I wouldn't be here - but I DO mind people refusing to see its dark side and excoriating anyone who does. Just as you only truly love someone when you know and accept both their light and their darkness, you can only love an institution when you know its strength and failings.

And the funeral needed to be about the deceased and comforting the family, NOT about how wonderful the Church is, or how wrong people who don't accept the Church are - a good number of mourners were non-Catholics. That was a bit below the belt.

e. And then, when he went on about how she seemed to have been there as long as they had been at the parish, he said, "We've been here 16 years, and now I can't remember when she converted..." and looked to one of the chief mourners to give him the answer, "12." Easily solved - look up the records when you're writing the sermon.

He needed to have taken the time to craft a thoughtful, pastorally sensitive sermon.

But there was a real moment in all this: Jim, who helps put the hymn books away after mass, and used to carpool - and giggle like mad - with her every week. When he choked up during the first reading, I welled up. Afterwards, as I headed back to work, and passed him watching them put the coffin in the hearse, pale and set apart, eyes bright with unshed tears. I touched his shoulder and got a soft, "How are you, love?" and hugged him impulsively, asking, "How are YOU?"
"Fine, I'm fine."
And I hugged him again, saying words I never use unless I mean them: "Love you."
As I walked away and looked back over my shoulder, he was crying.

Aspects of the funeral may have left me cold or angry b/c of what I saw as other people's selfishness on a day that demanded self-giving. But it didn't matter - God was there, in the person of someone who had loved her unconditionally.

Requiescat in pace.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As far as the mobile phone went, that person deserves to have it shoved where the sun don't never shine.
As far as CSLewis' secretary is concerned, that is grossly unsensitive. At some churches, the priests have been known to ask such people to move...
As far as the homily was concerned, that priest needed a really good talking to. To put it mildly. Do your homework, mate - it might just be another funeral to you, but to the family it was THEIR funeral.
Maybe get godzdogz to include some of this rant. There is too much here that is important to risk it not being read by too few people!