As it should be, the faith community is listed first under the heading of “ministry and participation.”
213. The community continues to show its concern for the mourners by participating in the rite of committal. The rite marks the separation in this life of the mourners from the deceased, and through it the community assists them as they complete their care for the deceased and lay the body to rest. The act of committal is a stark and powerful expression of this separation. When carried out in the midst of the community of faith, the committal can help mourners to face the end of one relationship with the deceased and to begin a new one based on prayerful remembrance, gratitude, and the hope of resurrection and reunion.
By their presence and prayer members of the community signify their intention to continue to support the mourners in the time following the funeral.
This is another section that could easily be overlooked, yet it contains an important perspective in the post-conciliar approach to death. Too much ink is given to the contrast between the extremes of the so-called “Mass of the Resurrection” and pre-conciliar black-vested “Day of Wrath.” The OCF steers a practical middle course, and you can see it especially in this section.
The rite acknowledges the place of interment is a locus of separation. There can be no healthy clinging to the deceased, or to the past. The other funeral rites serve to prepare loved ones for this reality. Pastoral ministers should be attuned to this in their ministry.
The community is an important witness because they are mostly all survivors to someone who has died. That people can return in prayer to a place of final separation shows there is courage and strength to be found in the mourning process.
Note the qualities for which we strive in the new relationship with the deceased:
- The Christian aims for prayerfulness in the remembrance of the dead. Not sentimentality. Not self-indulgence. As we remember the dead we pray for them, and we petition them to pray for us.
- Our response to human life is “gratitude.” We strive to find points of appreciation: love of family, a mentoring or teaching relationship, and aspects that have made us better persons or stronger Christians. This is why telling stories about loved ones is so important: the opportunity to cultivate gratitude.
- The quality of hope is vital. Death is not primarily a cause of worry for people of faith. It is an occasion of hope. While some might see this hope as part of our cultural self-deception, I disagree. People immersed in western culture avoid death, and when confronted by death they deny it, making deathless gods of celebrities (Elvis Presley comes to mind) or by fashioning caricatures of their positive qualities (or even our projection of desired qualities).
If a preacher is at a loss for material for a committal homily, OCF 213 would seem to provide more than enough for a good start.