The Last Word - September 2018

Just a Humble Observation

Having been assigned to various faith communities as a priest in the Diocese of Portland over these last 25 years, I have had the privilege of meeting many people.  On a daily basis, I’ve made it a habit of perusing through the obituaries of the various Maine newspapers.  It’s not that I long to see my own name in print sooner than later, but it does keep me connected with individuals who have crossed my life’s journey either directly or through extended family members.

There is much to learn as one reads through these short snippets of peoples lived lives.  Some stories may be shorter than others, but all contain a snapshot of a person who, as a believer, I see is created in the image and likeness of God no matter who they are, young or old, male or female, rich or poor.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church #41 reiterates this, “All creatures bear a certain resemblance to God, most especially man created in the image and likeness of God.”  And so, for me, even in death, the human person’s remains need to be treated with dignity and respect.

As I read through these short biographies, I see individuals who have been faithful Catholics from birth to death. Many were schooled through the Catholic education system. Some were very involved in their parish communities as altar servers, lectors, and extraordinary ministers of holy Communion or through serving on various parish boards, committees, organizations, or sodalities. Some were daily communicants. Yet, what is becoming more and more revealing is that either they or their families opted not to have a funeral Mass but, rather, a service at the funeral home or a committal service at the cemetery or no services at all.

My hope is that we’re not losing our sense of who these individuals were or what the celebration of a funeral Mass is.  The word Eucharist means thanksgiving.  And so, the celebration of the Eucharist at a funeral is a prayer of thanksgiving to God for allowing us to share part of the journey here on earth with these individuals until we join them again in the eternal kingdom.  It is also our prayer of support for those who remain and grieve the loss of their loved ones.  The Funeral Rite, Order of Christian Funerals, General Introduction #4 reads, “At the death of a Christian whose life of faith was begun in the waters of baptism and strengthened at the Eucharistic table, the Church intercedes on behalf of the deceased because of its confident belief that death is not the end, nor does it break the bonds forged in life.  The Church also ministers to the sorrowing and consoles them in the funeral rites with the comforting Word of God and the Sacrament of the Eucharist.”

Many of my brother priests have shared with me how important it is for individuals or families to make sure the dying are administered the sacrament of the anointing of the sick.  So why would we not want to celebrate the Eucharist together as a thanksgiving once we or our loved ones have passed from this life to the next? As people of faith, don’t we have the hope of eternal life?

Rev. Claude R. Gendreau, is an ecclesiastical notary in the Diocesan Marriage Tribunal and provides supply ministry on weekends.