October 26, 2021 // Uncategorized

The importance of the Catholic funeral Mass

By Karen Clifford

Death is a subject most people don’t usually wish to talk about. But communicating final wishes to loved ones is vital.

Msgr. Michael Heintz, vicar general Father Mark Gurtner, and Pat McGann, director of McGann Hay Funeral Home in South Bend and a St. Pius X, Granger, parishioner, offered their views on the importance of preparing for a Catholic funeral.

Father Gurtner and Msgr. Heintz pointed out that just as a will is important in expressing a person’s desires after death, a written document specifying wishes for a funeral can be made by Catholics as well.

“I think people should definitely prepare a document with their funeral wishes,” said Father Gurtner. “You don’t know what the situation will be in the future and where your family members are going to be at in terms of the faith, so for family members to have something specifically spelled out for you is very important.”

When children leave the Church, Father Gurtner pointed out, they often do not realize the importance of the funeral Mass. “What we see happening is people that are good faithful Catholics, who go to Mass every week, sometimes every day, are denied a funeral Mass because the children don’t know their wishes.”

Msgr. Heintz encouraged parishioners to plan their funeral rites and is happy to assist them. “This includes not only music and readings for the Mass, but also the vigil service at the funeral home and the committal service at the place of burial,” he said.

Father Gurtner recommended having several copies of funeral arrangements in several places, such as filed with the will, in the church office and with family members.

When the death of a Catholic is near the priest should be notified. “If you know the death is coming soon, you should call the priest so they can hear their last confession, anoint the person and give Communion,” said Father Gurtner.

“There is often a misunderstanding by some that a person will die and then the priest is called to give the last rites or anointing of the sick. The anointing of the sick can only be given to the living,” he continued.

Both priests agree it is preferred that a funeral home should be contacted first following the death of a family member. “A funeral home director serves as a kind of intermediary and can assist the family with many of the decisions that need to be made about the particulars of which they are more competent to deal with,” said Msgr. Heintz.

McGann spoke about the role of the funeral home in the Catholic Mass.

“Over the years, the funeral director’s role has evolved and will continue to evolve as the Catholic Church adapts to societal changes. We guide and advise the family members regarding local customs in the arrangement conference at the funeral home or the family’s home.”

The music at a funeral Mass should be liturgically appropriate. Father Gurtner recognized that while some popular Christian music is liturgically appropriate for a funeral Mass, some should be used only at the funeral home.

As for cremation, according to McGann, the bishop has asked funeral directors in this area to share with Catholic families that are thinking about cremation the order of the Church’s preference in this area. They are:

• That the whole body be brought to church for the celebration of the Mass of Christian Burial; and that a vigil, rosary, wake or prayer service be held the day before at the funeral home with cremation later, followed by burial in a consecrated cemetery.

• If the whole body is not brought to church, the ashes and urn should be brought to church for the celebration of the Mass and burial following.

• A memorial Mass can be held for the deceased without the body or the ashes and urn if the other two options are not possible or wanted.

Father Gurtner concluded, “The priest blesses the cremains and the Church says that they must be sealed, usually in an urn. They must be treated just like a casket. You can’t keep it on your mantel. You can’t spread it around. And they should either be buried or sealed in a mausoleum. That is the reverent way to treat the cremains.”

Reprinted from Today’s Catholic, 10/29/2009

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