A machine that operates with Christian compassion

A machine that operates with Christian compassion
The Notebook


I sat with a bereaved women in her kitchen and asked her how she was getting on. “Not too bad”, she replied, “I learned a lot over the days of the funeral. Now I know about the ‘funeral machine’ and how effective it is.”

I was bemused and wondered was this some kind of contraption undertakers use today. Then she explained that the funeral machine consists of nothing mechanical, just good people, working together smoothly, even if they have never worked together before.

These people, primarily neighbours, but augmented by cousins and other friends, together make up the ‘funeral machine’, a unique Irish creation. Instinctively, they know what a grieving family needs and work together to provide this.


They sweep and vacuum and render the house spotless, they make sandwiches and tea (and buy the essentials the family needs), they manage the traffic, they do everything practical, surrounding the bereaved family with compassion and care. The machine cranks up when news of a death becomes public (usually via www.rip.ie now) and stays in operation till well after the burial.

She pointed out that the time of a funeral, all the bereaved family are required to do is sit and listen and mourn and pray and grieve: for everything else, the ‘funeral machine’ takes their place.

She couldn’t get over how easily the machine slotted into place.

I had heard of this uniquely-Irish operation from another parishioner, though he hadn’t been familiar with that phrase. He told me of the sad morning when he returned home after the death of his mother in a nursing home. On entering his house, he found his next-door neighbour on her hands and knees, washing the kitchen floor.

In another culture, he would probably call the police, but instead he saw a harbinger of the ubiquitous funeral machine. All he said to me was: “That was when I knew what being part of a community means.”

The funeral machine has been in operation for years in Ireland, centuries probably, though its form adapts to the needs of the day.

Some may wish to keep their home private; then the funeral machine patrols the environs as effectively as the US President ‘s storm troopers. Some may wish a non-religious funeral; even in this case the machine adapts itself to the family’s wishes.

In the case of the parishioner who spoke to me, for her the parish funeral team was the ‘cherry on the cake’. Members of the local team blended in, according to their speciality: helping the family participate in as full a way as possible, according to their wishes.

She felt those who ministered in this way complemented the funeral machine, as well as leading prayers at times and encouraging family members to help in this also (e.g. each reciting a decade of the Rosary during the vigil in the house etc.).

Have you ever heard of the funeral machine? Or have you been part of one? I learn something new every day in the parish!



I heard recently about a clever approach a Cork pastor takes in looking after coeliacs’ Communion. Conscious that his own fingers may be covered with gluten at Communion time, he has come up with an ingenious plan. He holds the pyx with low-gluten hosts alongside his ciborium, and when a coeliac approaches and points to the pyx, the priest says “The Body of Christ”. He then extends the pyx to the coeliac, who takes the host from the pyx and receives it, without the priest touching it. It seems a suitable way of bringing hosts to those coeliacs able to digest our low-gluten hosts.



Getting what you pray for…eventually!

I manage to pray the Divine Office twice most days (morning and evening) and always have a list of intentions to go through, usually parishioners’ needs.

Since November 2014 I have been praying for a ‘good, new, bishop’ for my diocese. A colleague suggested I add in the word ‘holy’ but I was afraid that might set the bar too high!

Instead ‘pastoral’ was added and at last, last month, the Holy Father sent just such a candidate to Cork and Ross.

Which proves that prayer works —even though sometimes the Holy Spirit seems to be very relaxed about it!