Bishop Denis Nulty explains the background to the discussion of funeral liturgies that has started in the Diocese of Kildare & Leighlin.
Pastoral Letter from Bishop Nulty for the Month of November 2014
As requested by the Commission for Liturgical Formation in the diocese I have written a letter to honour the special place the month of All Souls has in all our lives.
This letter will hopefully start a diocesan wide conversation around how we celebrate funeral liturgies in the diocese, all the time encouraging best practice.
Pastoral Letter for the Month of November …
… beginning a conversation around how we celebrate Funerals
Death brings us face to face with the colder side of life. The month of November usually sees a dip in temperatures from the milder weather of October and this resonates with the coldness we can experience when the one we love has died. Death affects everyone in a community, in a parish and especially in a family. I am particularly conscious of those who have experienced bereavement in the past year; you are in my prayers and those of the parish community in this month of November.
Of course death doesn’t have to be cold and often it isn’t. There is warmth in death in the assuring knowledge that the one we mourn, the one we miss, the one we will never forget is already gone to the Father’s house. The consolation and support that our faith brings to us at the time of the death of a loved one, through the prayers of the funeral rites and indeed the care of the faith community, helps enormously. In recent years, parishes have organized special liturgies and Masses around remembering those who have died, candles are carried forward, names are read aloud, daffodil bulbs are planted – these celebrations are to be encouraged as they mean so much to those who are left behind to grieve.
As Catholics, it is our faith that gives us an understanding of death grounded in the hope and joy of the resurrection. I think we do death and funerals well; maybe at times we struggle at the earlier bit, the living bit! For us, death is of course not the end but a triumphant passing over from this life to our true home in heaven. In the face of death, St. Paul reminds us “for we know that when the tent we live in on earth is folded up, there is a house built by God for us, an everlasting home not made by human hands, in the heavens” . The Church confidently proclaims this message through her liturgy, through her celebration of the funeral rites and through the care of the priest and the local parish community around the time of the death and often long afterwards.
In a time when sadly the numbers who regularly worship are smaller than we might wish, the numbers who attend funerals are larger than ever. This is particularly evident at the funeral of a young person when his or her peers are brought then into very close contact with the mystery of life and death. How often a priest might meet someone later in life and they’ll say: “Oh, Father, you’re the priest who celebrated my mother’s funeral”. The celebration of that funeral liturgy, the impression the priest and parish community made on the bereaved family leave an indelible imprint on that family for years to come. I commend also the bereavement counsellors and Bethany Support group who are there to listen to the bereaved and their story, acknowledging the very unique context in which each story is embedded.
It is because this is such an important moment in the life of a family that the Commission for Liturgical Formation in Kildare & Leighlin Diocese is very interested in commencing a conversation around how we celebrate the liturgies in the Diocese for the funerals of loved ones. In a recent survey carried out by our Diocesan Commission funeral ministry emerged as a top priority for the Commission to work on over the coming year. This pastoral is seen as the beginning of a diocesan wide conversation on the rite and the rituals around death. We propose in the coming months to offer a Saturday gathering in each of the new deanery areas to broaden this conversation. In November 2015, in a years time, the Diocese through the Commission for Liturgical Formation hopes to offer a definitive set of norms and guidelines around best practice in funeral liturgies.
There is a topical story-line in RTE’s long running drama ‘Fair City’ that captures beautifully the sense of loss, the particular context and how so often even well intentioned friends miss the signals. Charlie is the bereaved husband, still mourning the death of Esther, he clutches onto her scarf, a scarf that retains the smell of her perfume. His pals Bela and Cass are concerned about how untidy Charlie’s home has become and fear he is letting himself go so they set out on a secret cleaning spree. Their enthusiasm is quickly squashed when Charlie returns home early, notices the tidied house, but wonders where the scarf has gone. Cass had washed it and washed away the perfume scent.
I thank you for keeping the scent alive for so many in our parishes in the dignity and way funerals are celebrated. I encourage you to engage in this diocesan wide conversation. I assure you of my prayers and thoughts for each of you in this All Souls month. In this centenary year of the commemoration of the start of the First World War, the words of the poet Francis Ledwidge who was killed near Ypres in Belgium towards the end of that war, on 31 July, 1917 seem appropriate:
“He will not come, and still I wait.
He whistles at another gate
Where angels listen” .
May those we miss deeply these November days, rest in the peace and light of Christ. Amen.
+ Bishop Denis Nulty
2 Ledwidge, Francis: ‘The Complete Poems of Francis Ledwidge”, Martin Brian & O’Keeffe Ltd. London, 1974, pg. 169 – the poem: ‘A Little Boy in the Morning’.