I attended a Requiem Mass awhile ago for a deceased relative of a family friend. My understanding of our Catholic faith was that we were coming together to pray for the deceased. But apparently the celebrant priest was under a different modus operandi.
Turns out he was a family friend of the deceased, he told us in his sermon. He had a few anecdotal stories to share about the deceased and her family. He used humor and told us many laudable traits the deceased exhibited while on earth. It was as if we were all there to share pleasant sentimentality toward the deceased.
After all, his sermon made no mention of the fact that the deceased already faced her particular judgement. He made no mention of the fact that the deceased might not already be rubbing elbows with the saints in Heaven. His sermon did not exhort us in attendance that day to pray for her pour soul.
If you were weak in your faith or did not know any better, you would think he was canonizing a saint. No incense was used. Heck, he even wore white vestments!
A Requiem Mass should have black vestments as a two-fold reminder. One, it was customary for dark clothing to signify poverty. Wearing black for the Mass would be an act of humility towards our Lord on behalf of the deceased to say she left this world with no possessions, just as she entered the world. Her worth resides in Christ, not her own merits. Second, black also symbolizes mourning and grief, as we are saddened for the loss of this person.
But hey, let’s wear white vestments, to blur the lines and make people forget why we are even attending a Requiem Mass at all.
In reality, that priest did a great disservice to the soul who passed away, as well as to those in attendance. He gave those in attendance the illusion that eternal salvation is assured, and he can pronounce as much for his family friend. A Requiem Mass is not the time for such false presumptions.
It seems as though a couple generations of Catholics—clergy included—have lost grip with a key component of the Catholic faith. That is, they forget that the doctrine of purgatory. For, the Church is made up of the Church Militant (here on earth), the Church Triumphant (saints in Heaven), and the Church Suffering (those in purgatory).
To pray for the dead remains “holy and pious,” according to no less than the authority of the Bible (2 Macc 12:45). This is why the Catholic Church offers a Requiem Mass for those who pass away.
The Eucharist remains “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1324). Thus, “From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God” (CCC, 1032). The Catechism also commends “almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead” to merit the souls in purgatory (CCC, 1032).
Further, Section 958 of the Catechism reads, “In full consciousness of this communion of the whole Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, the Church in its pilgrim members, from the very earliest days of the Christian religion, has honored with great respect the memory of the dead; and ‘because it is a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins’ she offers her suffrages for them’ (citing Lumen Gentium, 50; cf. 2 Macc 12:45). Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective.”
The priest at this Mass made no mention of the Church’s teaching. Now, there is a time and place for sharing heartwarming stories about the deceased. But let us save that for the luncheon after the burial. Let’s not forget the purpose of a Requiem Mass.
So remember this when you are filling out your paperwork for how you want your funeral Mass to be conducted. Specify you want black vestments to be worn for it. Ask your family and friends now to be prepared to storm Heaven with prayers for you when you pass away. What’s more, do not forget to pray for the deceased.
After all, it is difficult to find a priest who will say a Requiem Mass for you without canonizing you a saint in the process. For, if everyone believes him then, who will be left to pray for you later?
Have you experienced this too?
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