OCF 8: Ministry and Participation

Sections 8 through 15 outline the principles of ministry and participation in the funeral rites. Attending to the burial of the dead and the comfort of mourners is something every believer is called to do. Compassion is based on Pauline tradition:

8. “If one member suffers in the body of Christ which is the Church, all the members suffer with that member” (1 Corinthians 12:26). For this reason, those who are baptized into Christ and nourished at the same table of the Lord are responsible for one another.

Concern for the seriously ill and outreach to them is endorsed in the pastoral care rites:

When Christians are sick, their brothers and sisters share a ministry of mutual charity and “do all that they can to help the sick return to health, by showing love for the sick, and by celebrating the sacraments with them.” (Pastoral Care of the Sick, Rites of Anointing and Viaticum, General Introduction, no. 33)

By extension, the Christian community serves those who grieve the loss of loved ones. What we offer is not just human consolation, a shoulder to cry on and so on, but a Christian consolation, a Christian hope.

So too when a member of Christ’s Body dies, the faithful are called to a ministry of consolation to those who have suffered the loss of one whom they love. Christian consolation is rooted in that hope that comes from faith in the saving death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christian hope faces the reality of death and the anguish of grief but trusts confidently that the power of sin and death has been vanquished by the risen Lord. The Church calls each member of Christ[‘s Body–priest, deacon, layperson–to participate in the ministry of consolation: to care for the dying, to pray for the dead, to comfort those who mourn.

This broad approach to ministry does not segregate parts of the Body: professionals attend to the religious/spiritual/Christian aspects as parishioners bake meals, offer a tissue, or shovel out the grave. The framers of the OCF recognize that while each member of the Christian community will offer service according to his or her own spiritual gifts, all cooperate together to offer a ministry of “hope and consolation.” What does this mean, and is it a watered down approach to ministry?

My interpretation is that ministry zeroes in on the key concepts of Christian consolation and Christian hope. Is the Paschal Mystery–Jesus Christ–central to the activities of the community? The act of baking a pie might, by itself, be merely human consolation. But such an act rooted in context: a widowed survivor serving the community just weeks or even days after the loss of a spouse. Singing in the funeral choir may be an entirely perfunctory activity, like volunteering at the hospital or as a school tutor. But joining a choir or serving in another liturgical ministry after having lost one’s own loved one to death: this strikes me as the embodiment of the triumph of the resurrection over death.

Professional ministers, too, have a hurdle to leap before they too offer something more than human service to the mourners. The notion that a priest or deacon can offer their particular service to the community does not automatically mean that what they offer is a ministry. Ministry, in the context of death, must by definition be rooted in the Paschal Mystery.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
This entry was posted in Order of Christian Funerals, post-conciliar liturgy documents, Rites. Bookmark the permalink.

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