A question that arises for priests (outside of cities) concerns Sunday funerals. In particular, priests wonder if it is fair to transform a scheduled Sunday Mass into what becomes in effect a funeral Mass, with burial afterwards, often in the adjoining churchyard or a nearby cemetery. Ireland may well be the only country in the world in which such an issue arises, because of our national interest in (or obsession with?) funerals.
It’s possible to make a case for, or against, Sunday funerals. Here is the case ‘against’: people who come to the regular Sunday mass are annoyed enough already. They are the backbone of every parish, they come to Mass Sunday after Sunday, with no necessity of what some might call ‘gimmicks’ to entice them.
The First Communion/ Confirmation preparatory Masses already drive them mad. On those special-Mass Sundays, there isn’t a car-parking space to be had within a mile of the church, and Mass is lengthened so that every child gets to participate. And what really annoys the regulars is that these children, so much highlighted at those liturgies (as they see it) rarely put in any appearance once the sacramental ‘big day’ is over.
The other part of the case against Sunday funerals is more practical. In the past, churches had many Masses on Sundays, so if a funeral was added to the last Mass, everyone who wanted a ‘faster’ Mass could find it. Nowadays, however, other options are fewer. That’s the case against a funeral at Sunday Mass.
Decisions regarding Sunday funerals should be made on a case-by-case basis”
A case can be made ‘for’ Sunday funerals as well, partly because a church should have a welcome for everyone. If all God’s children are to be welcomed, even those on the edge, then there need to be special Masses, even on the Lord’s day. Children’s celebrations and other themed masses fit under that umbrella, as do Sunday baptisms during Mass – and funerals also.
In the parish where I minister, people who bring a child to be baptised are given the option of one particular Saturday afternoon every month, when they may share their baptism with a few other families – or ‘any Sunday Mass’. And some people choose the latter option, making for a celebration that goes down well with the broader parish (especially when it doesn’t occur too often).
People who would rarely get the invitation to a christening get to witness that beautiful sacrament when it is celebrated during Sunday Mass. And, so the logic goes, if we have christenings during Sunday Masses, why can we not have funerals too?
The practical case for Sunday funerals is made too, often by the Parish Finance Committee, who delight in a full church (and a larger collection). These realistic individuals are usually supporters of children’s Masses also, for similar reasons.
They would agree though that decisions regarding Sunday funerals should be made on a case-by-case basis, in recognition that not every Sunday Mass would be suitable for the addition of funeral prayers — though some may be.
I have only celebrated one Sunday funeral in my years in Newcestown. I learned from it that Sunday funerals only work if the Sunday Mass remains intact, with Sunday vestments, readings by the regular Ministers of the Word and Sunday homily – though with perhaps a few mementos presented to introduce the deceased to regular Mass-goers.
Sunday Mass ends as usual, and it’s only when the priest re-emerges from the sacristy to lead the prayers that the eulogy occurs (when only those who have come specifically for the funeral remain). The Liturgy of Farewell and procession to the grave then occur.
Prepare in advance
What are christenings during Sunday Mass like? Christenings ‘break into’ the regular Mass thrice. At the start, the parents are questioned and the child welcomed.
The Gloria and readings follow. After the homily, everyone renews baptismal promises, then there’s the baptism, chrismation, white garment and candle. Bidding prayers follow, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
Blessing of the parents precede the final blessing. (During a call to the couple’s home the evening before, the Oil of Catechumens is used; water is blessed in advance also).
Baptism doesn’t lengthen the Mass once the homily is shortened, and no one objects to that!