The use of motor vehicles and the spread from villages and towns dampens this neat description of the place of funeral processions in our Christian heritage, but it’s a good expression nonetheless, for catechesis if nothing else:
42. Processions continue to have special significance in funeral celebrations, as in Christian Rome where funeral rites consisted of three “stages” or “stations” joined by two processions. Christians accompanied the body on its last journey. From the home of the deceased the Christian community proceeded to the church singing psalms. When the service in the church concluded, the body was carried in solemn procession to the grave or tomb. During the final procession the congregation sang psalms praising the God of mercy and redemption and antiphons entrusting the deceased to the care of the angels and saints. The funeral liturgy mirrored the journey of human life, the Christian pilgrimage to the heavenly Jerusalem.
In many places and situations a solemn procession on foot to the church or to the place of committal may not be possible. Nevertheless at the conclusion of the funeral liturgy an antiphon or versicle and response may be sung as the body is taken to the entrance of the church. Psalms, hymns, and liturgical songs may also be sung when the participants gather at the place of committal.
As I see it, we have some obstacles imposed by culture and pragmatism. Funeral homes, not domiciles are the usual location for a vigil and wake. Still, we have a stational experience, which perhaps could be utilized by pastoral ministers and loved ones. At the place of death, be it a hospital, home, or hospice we can certainly send the deceased on his or her way with prayers and psalms. Our parish hosts most vigils, so the arrival at church is another opportunity.
You may have had my experience: the burial may take place at some distance from the church. Sometimes there is a pause for a meal, followed by a motorcade to the cemetery. How do you think we can recover some of the aspects of procession? Or are we more at ease with the stational experiences? Anybody have experience in which these processions are done well with some degree of substance?