Catholic Free Press

Catholic Free Press Digital Edition

  • Oct
  • 31

Many settling for graveside prayers only

Posted By October 31, 2013 | 12:49 pm | Lead Story #3
funeral page art

By Patricia O’Connell
CFP Correspondent

The number of funeral Masses has fallen in recent years. In 2010, there were 3,167 Catholic burials in the diocese.
Three years later, that number dropped to 2,477.
It’s something that’s concerning, because there are many benefits to have a funeral Mass, both for the living and the deceased, according to Father Richard Reidy, a former pastor who presently serves as vicar general. The trend is so disturbing that Bishop McManus has written a pastoral letter on the issue.
“It appears that in a growing number of cases families may settle for prayers at the funeral home or graveside while omitting a funeral Mass,” Father Reidy said. “That is unfortunate because of the spiritual benefits that come with a funeral Mass.”
“Virtually every death brings a sense of loss, grief and frustration for those who love the person who is no longer physically in their midst,” he stated, noting that viewing death through the lens of faith is what gives people hope for “the prospect of a joyous reunion.”
“That reunion is possible only through Jesus Christ, because of his Passion, death and Resurrection, the spiritual fruits of which are present at Mass,” he added.
Father Reidy said funeral Masses offer great benefits for the souls of the deceased, as the living offer Christ’s sacrifice to the Father, ask God to purify them of their sins and admit them to heaven.
Unfortunately, he noted, it can happen that people who were very faithful to the Mass during their lifetimes don’t have a funeral Mass, if their survivors don’t recognize its importance. “That is particularly sad,” he said.
“People should make clear their wishes in making arrangements with the funeral home and family members,” he advised.
He said this is particularly important to do nowadays, when not all family members may be Catholic or practicing Catholics.
Father Reidy said funeral Masses are available even if the person who died wasn’t practicing their faith. “The baptized are members of the Church and they’re always beloved by the Church,” he stressed. “Absent public scandal, the reasons that kept them from coming to church regularly are not reasons to forgo a funeral Mass.”
“All the more is the need for the Mass for the person and their soul,” he added.
Father Reidy said cost is one factor he’s heard in the decision not to have a Mass. He said the $300 stipend, of which $100 goes to the organist, $100 to the cantor, $65 to the parish and $35 to the priest, could be waived. “The poor are not to be denied fitting funerals,” he noted.
In his time serving as pastor of St. Paul Cathedral, there were funeral Masses where only one or two people, in addition to the undertakers, were present. However, he said these were “some of the most moving funerals.”
“They were poignant reminders (of) how precious every single person is to God. Jesus died for us all but he would have died for any one of us as well,” said Father Reidy. “At times the deceased may have outlived family and friends or been forgotten by everybody else, but they are never forgotten by God. We should not forget his merciful love made manifest through the funeral Mass.”
Father John F. Madden, pastor of St. John Parish in Worcester, said there are “definitely” more services just at the funeral home, where families invite him to say prayers near the casket, but don’t want a church Mass.
This is a trend, he noticed, that’s accelerated in the last few years, if not over the past decade.
He said this is unfortunate, as families who attend a funeral can then look back upon that time as a moment of grace.
“Jesus died for us on the cross and rose for us to live forever and they can continue to go back to that,” he said of the memories of a funeral liturgy.
Msgr. Francis J. Scollen, pastor of St. Peter Parish in Worcester, confirmed that he’s also seeing fewer funerals. “We have less than we did before, but we still have a lot,” he said.
Not too long ago, he explained, his parish had about 100 funeral Masses each year, a number that’s recently dipped to between 70 and 80.
Some families, he said, choose to have prayers only at the funeral home. He noted a sentiment of people not wanting to be buried from a church, or their loved ones opting out of a church funeral, because the deceased didn’t attend Mass.
“I think money is an issue for some people,” he said, adding that, “that’s not an issue here.”
“Most of the churches around here will say, ‘If you don’t have the money, don’t worry about it,’” he added.
Msgr. Scollen said funeral Masses are teachable moments for the people in the pews. He said he tries to make them all feel at home as he talks about the Holy Eucharist.
He has noticed that mourners, even those who don’t practice the faith, still have a sense that their loved one’s soul lives on.
Even when a family opts not to have a funeral Mass, he schedules a memorial Mass for the deceased on a Sunday morning. He invites the family members.
“Sometimes they come and sometimes they don’t,” he said.


A program from the TV Ministry: A Conversation with Bishop McManus: Bishop McManus and Father Richard Reidy speak with Ray Delisle on funeral practices.