For anyone who might like to attend, there is a Solemn Requiem Mass here at St Catherine's this coming Saturday November 9th at 12 noon. It's being offered under the auspices of the Order of St Lazarus - for deceased members and friends but also for the war dead (being the eve of Remembrance Sunday). High Mass will be accompanied by a small Schola to enhance the chant and there is a light buffet lunch afterwards.
It is, of course, one of the spiritual works of mercy to pray for the dead and there can be no greater prayer than to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the souls of the faithful departed. I am increasingly saddened by the fact that I hear of lay people conducting funeral services or a funeral service with Holy Communion here in my own diocese. The diocese now has training courses for laity to do this on the grounds that so many priests look after more than one parish and can have a great many funerals to conduct but I suspect the practice is growing as a way of involving laity in the running of parishes rather than solely for practical reasons.
It strikes me as a strange thing for a Catholic not to have a Requiem Mass. I know families request a service sometimes because none of them are practising or they have many non-Catholic relatives but the Catechism does state that:
"The Christian meaning of death is revealed in the light of the Paschal Mystery" (1681)
- ie that which is celebrated in the Mass. The very participation in the Kingdom that we hope for our deceased loved ones is "anticipated in the Eucharist" ((1682). If we think of the Church surrendering the deceased into the Father's hands, then the Catechism says:
"This offering is fully celebrated in the Eucharistic sacrifice." (1683)
"When the celebration takes place in church the Eucharist is the heart of the Paschal reality of Christian death. In the Eucharist, the Church expresses her efficacious communion with the departed: offering to the Father in the Holy Spirit the sacrifice of the death and resurrection of Christ, she asks to purify his child of his sins and their consequences, and to admit him to the Paschal fullness of the table of the Kingdom. It is by the Eucharist thus celebrated that the community of the faithful, especially the family of the deceased, learn to live in communion with the one who "has fallen asleep in the Lord," by communicating in the Body of Christ of which he is a living member and, then, by praying for him and with him." (1689)
It strikes me that we now have a whole sub-structure organised in most diocese that mirrors the ordained clergy. It's as if people have said, "We can't have women priests or lay people presiding at Mass so we will do the next best thing" - a parallel ministry, operating just below the surface, that does its best to carry out the functions of a priest without actually calling it that.
Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion not only carrying the Eucharist out to the sick on a regular basis more often than the priest might be able to get there but their "ministry" is also used not as an act of service when there are literally too many people for it to be practicable for a lone priest to give communion to all but rather used as a tool to allow laity to do what the priest usually does. It also leads to Eucharistic Services in the absence of a priest (spoken of in the Church's teaching as only happening on a Sunday when there is an impossibility of a priest being present to offer Mass. Weekdays are simply not mentioned.) This allows the non-ordained - from the visual impact point of view, particularly women - to be seen "standing in for Father" - most importantly, standing at the altar and doing some of those things the priest would usually do. Weakening the link in everyday lived experience of a solely male ordained priesthood.
The same now apples to funerals. Both, it seems to me, devaluing the Mass - or we might say, more accurately, devaluing the Holy SACRIFICE of the Mass.