|This is not the funeral I attended, but it gives an idea of the placement of people and props.|
The woman was a Roman Catholic, and I guess a fairly devout one. The service in the church was nice enough. The church itself was lovely. The pulpit stage area was vast, white, and decked with red Poinsettias. They had a huge crucifix, almost life size, featuring a slight but muscular Jesus hanging in death. The cantor, organist, and priest worked together nicely. The readings, eulogy, and priestly remarks were moving.
Yet, to me the funeral mass seemed preoccupied with the Catholic narrative, at the expense of genuinely celebrating the life and person of the recently departed. The priest talked about reading the obituary (he knew the deceased's daughter well, but not the dead woman) and seeing in her life a reflection of Jesus's ministry, taken from a passage in John.
I understood the rhetorical move the priest was making, something like "See, her life was very Christ-like. She was an emissary of Jesus on earth." That's a feel-good message. Yet it also voids the woman's real life, struggles, and triumphs: her life is reduced to a metaphor of an alleged life from two-thousand years ago.
We focused all too little on the actual woman who had died. Outside of the eulogy, which was delivered beautifully, we learned almost nothing of her personality, her wisdom, her dreams, her ideas. We avoided much of the changes and challenges she saw around her in 86-or-so years.
Several times, however, we were enjoined to petition God and Jesus to spare the dead woman's immortal soul and grant it everlasting admittance in heaven. Along with these petitions were those for other Catholic believers. One got the distinct impression that Jesus arrived and died for the benefit of Catholic believers. One also got the clear impression that the dead woman's final destination was not a slam-dunk. Maybe she was up in heaven, but maybe not. We were called to pray because we weren't really sure.
I nearly laughed out loud at the trans-substantiation bit. I don't mean to be insensitive or disrespectful, but I was tickled by the sight of the priest gravely raising a wafer into the air and uttering the ritual incantation to transform it into "the body of Christ." Plus, the hymn accompanying communion was called "Taste and See":
Taste and see, taste and seeThe Lord seemed full of crispy goodness that morning.
the goodness of the Lord.
O taste and see, taste and see
the goodness of the Lord, of the Lord.
When I die--which will not be for a long, long time, I hope--I would like my surviving family to talk about me and them. I would like them to share stories of times we had, jokes we traded, problems we solved. I would like people to walk away from my funeral thinking, "That guy lived. He had an impact. He was here and made an impression." I really don't care to have people comparing me to someone else, living or dead. And I don't really care to have folks pining after the welfare of my soul.
The Catholic funeral is, no question, an artful way for families to rally together and acknowledge the significance of a loved one's death. It's a time-tested method for expressing grief in a controlled, stable environment and in ways that affirm both the community and its values. But a good deal of it is also gratuitous, self-serving, and industrialized. The dead are cars traveling on an assembly line: focus on the one right in front of us. It'll go on, and we'll deal with the next one, in turn.