This section and the next treat the matter of “Liturgical Ministers.” The rite suggests it is especially because of their office as parish shepherds that they are especially suited to lead a community through the period of mourning and loss.
14. Priests, as teachers of the faith and ministers of comfort, preside at the funeral rites, especially the Mass; the celebration of the funeral liturgy is especially entrusted to pastors and associate pastors. When no priest is available, deacons, as ministers of the word, of the altar, and of charity, preside at funeral rites. When no priest or deacon is available for the vigil and related rites or the rite of committal, a layperson presides.
An important question this raises is the role of a lay pastoral administrator when a community suffers a death. Is the pastoral administrator part of the “special” ministry to the community? Do such people take the lead in ministry, even if a priest is available for some or all of the rites?
When I served in rural Iowa, I was responsible for a number of vigils and one or two committal rites. This was a seriously important ministry, it seemed to me. It was always reinforced by my experience as a visitor to people during their days of serious illness or hospice care. It was there I first had the full awareness of the importance of the full spectrum of a pastor’s responsibilities. It was less about being “good at” visiting the sick, preaching, liturgical presidency, or the other various elements of ministry. It was as much and more about a ministry of presence, of simply being with the people. That strikes me as being very close to the virtue and value of the imitation of Christ. The presence of Christ in our lives is not only a theological and liturgical concept, but it’s also a way of life for those of us who serve the needs of others.
Please: let the voices of those who experience this, either as a pastoral minister, a priest, or as one who has lost a loved one to death offer comment.