Homily no. 27 – ‘Sacramentals & Funerals’ (CCC 1667–90)

Português: Funeral do papa João Paulo II.

Português: Funeral do papa João Paulo II. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We have finished our examination of the seven sacraments of the Church, but before we move on to the next section of the Catechism, Part III, on the moral life and the commandments, we stop to consider a final few elements of the liturgy, namely the ‘sacramentals’ and funerals.

In the Gospel today, Jesus says, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We shall come to him, and make Our home with him.”  It is part and parcel of the Catholic life, that we surround ourselves with constant reminders of the Lord’s presence and His blessing — His ‘making His home with us.’  Many of the ‘sacramentals’ of the Church are associated with the Lord’s blessing of our daily life — not by the great channels of His life and grace that are the Sacraments, which we have focussed on so far; but by the smaller ‘everyday’ ways of His association with our life.  Perhaps the most common examples are the Sign of the Cross, and the use of Holy Water.  We might use these signs any number of times a day, and they recall for us the great protection which God affords us, by the Cross of Christ, and by our Baptism.  Holy Water is always available over [there] by the Confessional for parishioners to take to their homes for personal use.  Many other blessings exist in the Church, some more solemn, others more simple; some which all may exercise, others reserved to priests or bishops.  Blessings which laypersons can recite would include the saying of grace at meals — it’s a practice which every Catholic household should hold on to, or revive: thanksgiving for the food we have, and an expression that all we have comes from God Himself.  Other blessings which normally a priest would perform, would be: the blessing of rosaries and medals and statues; the blessing of cars or houses; the blessing of persons on particular occasions, such as wedding anniversaries, or of a pregnant mother.  And then there are other blessings normally reserved to bishops, such as the blessings of consecrated persons in religious life; or of churches, or altars.  All these blessings are accompanied by prayer and sometimes the use of holy water and holy oil, or incense.

Perhaps the most solemn blessing — reserved to the bishop or to his delegate — is that which we call ‘major exorcism.’  This is the prayer of the Church for someone who has come into contact with something from the devil or his fallen angels, and is concerned with driving out, by the power of Christ, whatever ill effects the Evil One has afflicted the person with.  Sadly, this is not as rare as you might think, given the plethora of evil influences around us.  But, it is a stark reminder that there are things we should never dabble in, as they are associated with things of the devil: examples would include séances, spiritualists, the use of mediums or clairvoyants, the use of tarot cards or ouija boards, or any form of witchcraft.  You might think that these things are exotic and far-removed from our experience, but I’m afraid this isn’t so.  I can think of two venues, a pub and a restaurant very near here, that offer ‘psychic nights’ and ‘celebrity mediums’ — we should never even think of attending such a thing, and should tell others we know to avoid them.  I would go as far as to suggest you express a complaint to landlords that offer such events.  Any power that is truly present in such communing with dead spirits is not from God, and therefore opens one up to contamination by, and affliction from, the Devil.  No Christian should ever go anywhere near such things.

A final mention needs be made here of the funeral.  After someone has died, they can no longer receive the Sacraments of the Church, but of course the prayers of the Church accompany them and are a source of solace for the bereaved.  It is only right that a Catholic’s funeral should be carried out within the context of the Funeral Mass within the Church itself.  For, we can offer the Sacrifice of the Mass for the person who has died, for the forgiveness of their sins and their eternal rest.  Having a service only at the cemetery or Crematorium is not right; the Catholic person deserves the offering of the Mass,  If you are in any doubt that your family would arrange your funeral within the Church itself, then you should write down, alongside your will, that your funeral should take place in the Mass in Church.  I have re-printed my sheet for the use of parishioners to indicate their wishes about their funeral.  We should remember above all, that the Christian funeral is not essentially about a looking back over someone’s life, and a celebration of their earthly life.  That is not the sense of a Christian funeral.  The Catholic rites for the dead are a prayer of accompaniment, knowing that the person has now passed out of this world, but are in need of purification from their sins, and in need of our prayers and the sanctifying power of Christ Jesus.  So, we set the funeral in the context of the Sacrifice of the Mass, and we sing and pray in the light of the Resurrection of Jesus, for the repose of their soul.  In the funeral, most of all we should hear the words of Jesus giving us strength in the face of death: Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.  I am going away, and I shall return … A peace that the world cannot give; this is My gift to you.

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About Fr Philip Miller

I'm the Catholic Parish Priest at St Augustine's, Hoddesdon, Herts, UK, in the diocese of Westminster. This cycle of homilies is one of my contributions to this parish's life in the 'Year of Faith' (Oct 2012 - Nov 2013) called for by Pope Benedict XVI to renew the Church's understanding of the faith.
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