The late Joan Rivers had written in one of her books that she wanted a splashy “Hollywood” funeral when she died. Although it seems that her actual services may have been much more low-key, lots of celebrities were in attendance for them. I hope that pleased her. Like Joan, I have some pretty firm ideas of the kind of funeral I’d like to have and it’s very far from her Hollywood vision. I hope my family is reading this.
I want a Requiem Mass. This is the traditional Catholic Mass for the dead. It’s not a “celebration of life” service into which many funerals (sadly, even Catholic ones) have devolved. In a Requiem Mass, I am not eulogized or praised—I am prayed for. The focus is not on warm, fuzzy memories of days gone by, but on storming the gates of heaven with prayers for my immortal soul. There are no video montages, no funny stories, no heartwarming remembrances. This is a Mass for a sinner in need of the mercy of God. That would be me.
Yes, I do hope and pray to die in a state of grace, close to God in every way. For me as a Catholic, this means clinging to Jesus in the Sacraments of His Church, especially Holy Communion and frequent sacramental Confession. I pray that, before my death, I’m able to receive the Anointing of the Sick, which we sometimes call “the last rites.” In this Sacrament, the priest will anoint me with blessed oils and will pray for my soul and my body. He will hear my last confession and give me absolution of my sins. He will share with me the Body and Blood of my Savior in the Holy Eucharist. He will encourage me to go with faith to the house of my Father (Luke 15:18) like the prodigal child that I am. And, please God, He will welcome me into His presence.
A Requiem Mass is my Church’s liturgy for a baptized Catholic following their death. My body, anointed in the last rites will be in my casket which will be placed near the altar of my parish church. This liturgy is, first and foremost, a Mass. It is NOT a time to praise me. It is the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. The prayers of this Mass will be offered for the benefit of my soul. The Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) will be sung, which is a beautiful prayer pleading for God’s mercy and forgiveness of my sins. It should be in every funeral Mass. Sadly, many Catholics have lost the sense of praying for the souls of the departed. We prefer to think of everyone heading straight to heaven. But we must not do this, if we love them. We must pray. Other prayers in the Mass will ask that God limit my punishment in purgatory.
Catholics believe that when we sin we can be forgiven by God in the sacrament of confession, but even then we will continue to be wounded by the effects of our sins. Think of sin as a nail driven into a piece of wood. Confession and absolution remove the sin (the nail) but the hole it leaves is still there. That hole is healed by our suffering, either in this life or in purgatory. That’s why we continue to pray for our loved ones after they’ve died. And that’s a wonderful reason for a Requiem Mass. I need those prayers, for sure.
A Catholic funeral is for the soul of the deceased person. We don’t automatically believe that the person who has died is already in heaven. Our prayers for them are for that end. Our hymns at the funeral are for that end. I I pray that my Requiem Mass will pull no punches in begging our generous and loving Lord to forgive me and heal me and welcome me home. If you want to tell funny stories about me and reminisce about the good times and eulogize me into the wee hours, please do—at my wake, but not at my funeral. As a matter of fact, what I truly want upon my death is a Requiem Mass in Latin with a schola, but I’ll save all that for another day. Just remember this: I need your prayers now AND when I die. I need (and desire) the beautiful Requiem Mass of my holy Catholic faith. Heaven is my goal, not Hollywood. Sorry, Joan.
“May the Angels lead you into paradise, may the Martyrs come to welcome you….”
—-from the Requiem Mass