The story of the death and raising of Lazarus is one the most familiar in the New Testament. Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha, were dear friends of Jesus. They loved each other like family and when Lazarus died, Jesus wept with deep sorrow. But we also know that Jesus, the healer, the miracle worker, raised Lazarus from the dead.
When a family member dies, sometimes the first reaction is to get things over quickly in the mistaken belief to protect ourselves and our family from more pain. But while funerals are emotionally difficult, our extended family and friends give us comfort as we are pleasantly surprised to hear the never-heard-before stories of our loved ones. As Catholics, we also get comfort from knowing that our loved ones have been saved by Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice. As faith-filled people we know that this life to which we bid adieu was a gift from God and we hold dear not only the lived experiences, but also the final goodbyes.
When was the last time you attended a vigil or wake? What did your senses tell you? We choke back tears as we read the condolences. We hear the sound of flowing water, a small fountain or maybe a large baptismal pool. We hear voices, quiet conversations or loud boisterous laughing; some people are crying or holding back tears. Others shake hands or hug.
At the funeral Mass, there are candles, music, incense, sprinkling of water. There is a white pall on the casket atop of which are religious articles. There are Scripture readings and a heartfelt homily. If the deceased was a veteran, there may be military rites. It becomes a rich, earthy, ethereal experience.
Sadly, I have witnessed the funeral of many a devout Catholic whose families opted for a quick service at the funeral home, when that would have been the last thing that the deceased would have wanted. When was the last time you thought about your own funeral? Many of our parishes have pre-planning forms where we can make our wishes known. Much of the information involves the funeral itself – music, religious articles for the casket, Scripture readings, pallbearers.
The most important issue we have to be let known is what kind of vigil and Mass or service we would prefer. Discuss it with your family and let them know your wishes. While it is true that the emotional benefits of funerals are for the living, the spirit-filled ritual befits a tribute to the life of the deceased.
Wettstein is director of music and liturgy at Good Shepherd Parish, Chilton.