How does liturgy become pastoral ministry? This introduction to the vigil and related rites often give some clue to the student of liturgy, or to the neophyte minister as to how to proceed.
52. The time immediately following death is often one of bewilderment and may involve shock or heartrending grief for the family and close friends. The ministry of the Church at this time is one of gently accompanying the mourners in their initial adjustment to the fact of death and to the sorrow this entails. Through a careful use of the rites contained in this section, the minister helps the mourners to express their sorrow and to find strength and consolation through faith in Christ and his resurrection to eternal life. The members of the Christian community offer support to the mourners, especially by praying that the one they have lost may have eternal life.
53. Ministers should be aware that the experience of death can bring about in the mourners possible needs for reconciliation. With attentiveness to each situation, the minister can help to begin the process of reconciliation. In some cases this process may find expression in the celebration of the sacrament of penance, either before the funeral liturgy or at a later time.
The tone of ministry is gentle accompaniment of the mourners.
Obviously, a “careful use” of rites is best achieved when ministry doesn’t begin with the mourning process. An effective pastoral minister will know the families involved, either through the dying process or friendly pastoral contact. As a church musician in large parishes, I’ve not always been close to every family. That changed significantly when I served a small parish in a rural community. That pastoral experience has continued to inform my approach when I’m called upon to assist in planning the funeral liturgies.
If the rites are “carefully used,” then there will be at least an openness to engaging God in prayer. And if that happens, it permits grace to be given to those who seek it. The priest and other ministers serve as spiritual porters, if you will. We can guide people to the door, and beckon them to enter. God takes care of the rest.
The faith community have a ministry also. Prayer is at the top of the list of possible means of support. The celebration of the Eucharist is the main venue for gathering a community, as would seem to be well-suited for this prayer to take place. Additionally, an occasional encouragement, especially for the young and neophytes, to pray for the dead, specifically and in general, should be added.
OCF 53 makes special note of the need for reconciliation. This might be sacramental, but it also might be encouraged among estranged friends, or even family members. I’ve known priests who have excelled as agents of reconciliation–even outside of the celebration of the sacrament. The rite is right: this should not be overlooked if it is needed.