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Christ the Lord already reigns through the Church, but all the things of this world are not yet subjected to him. The triumph of Christ's kingdom will not come about without one last assault by the powers of evil. On Judgement Day at the end of the world, Christ will come in glory to achieve the definitive triumph of good over evil which, like the wheat and the tares, have grown up together in the course of history. When he comes at the end of time to judge the living and the dead, the glorious Christ will reveal the secret disposition of hearts and will render to each man according to his works, and according to his acceptance or refusal of grace. (Catechism of the Catholic Church para 680-682)Death is never convenient. I distinctly remember Wednesday afternoon, February 21, 2013. I was talking on the phone in my office at the portable trailers on the west side of Oconto Falls when my father called and left a message: “Call me.” I called him back and he said tersely, “Joel, my mother just died.” ‘Grandmy’ was cheerful and healthy, enjoying her 70’s and looking forward to golf. I was at a total loss. Fortunately, Holy Mother Church is never at a total loss; she knows just what to do when someone passes. Our loved one has to be transferred from the land of the living to the land of the dead. This involves three tasks: 1) wrap up their life on earth 2) take care of the body 3) take care of the soul.
The funeral vigil or “wake service” is all about their life. We talk to people and hear stories we never heard before. We celebrate the beautiful life of our loved one and we begin to get a fuller sense of what a blessing they were. This is a time to celebrate. Then we transition to the funeral Mass. We send the departed on their way by uniting our prayers with the most powerful prayer we have: the sacrifice of Christ Himself at Mass. We see this differently from our non-Catholic friends. They sing songs and read readings but they do not pray for the dead or offer Mass. Whether they have the funeral in church or in the funeral home, the content is the same. Catholics are different. A Catholic funeral is a funeral Mass. When Catholics say, “We’ll just do it at the funeral home,” they have just chosen to deprive their loved ones of the most powerful prayer possible. This sense of prayer culminates in the final incensing. We pray our loved ones might let go of what holds them back and “float” up to heaven on our prayers.
Finally, we escort their mortal remains to the cemetery and lay them to rest. We have now wrapped up their life, prayed for their soul, and reverently disposed of the body. And yet, we believe their life is not over. We face the bodies to the East and we wait for the second coming of Christ. In fact, for 2000 years Catholics have been reverently storing up their loved ones, patiently waiting for the fulfillment of Christ’s promise. We haven’t seen it yet, but we continue to wait in joyful hope. Everyone must make the journey of death, but what a difference it makes to know Who we will meet on the other side.
My Grandmy had once said, “I don’t want to be taken to church in a box.” But she was a faithful church-goer all her life, and loved God very much. So we decided on a short visitation, a funeral Mass celebrated by her grandsons, and escorted her to the cemetery where we lowered the casket in the ground and covered it with flowers. We followed what Holy Mother Church has been doing for centuries and it “worked”: we received peace and joy, and she received our prayers and love.