There was no funeral Mass for my dear friend

Dear Father Joe: One of my dear friends died. She was a daily communicant and a faithful member of her church. I was so shocked and sad that she didn’t have a funeral Mass, and I don’t understand why this happened. I talked to the priest and he said his hands were tied. Why would the church not have a funeral for such a faithful Catholic?

I’m so sorry for your loss, and I’m deeply sorry that you were not able to pray a funeral Mass for your friend in your spiritual home. At the same time, your grief and sad experience are a good opportunity for me to write about a topic that desperately needs attention. I hope it is some comfort to you that your pain may help others.

There are two reasons this may have happened: One is because of the church and the other because of the family. I’ll walk you through what I mean and then offer some points on how we can keep this sort of thing from happening.

One possibility is your church. Sometimes, priests simply cannot find another slot for a funeral and can’t find a priest to help them. I don’t know what else could have happened, but I’m sorry it did. I would suggest you get to that parish and ask for a memorial Mass for your friend; that might soothe some of your feelings of sorrow here.

Another possibility is the family. I cannot tell you how often in the last 10 years I have found out about a parishioner dying by reading the paper, not because the family told us. I’m learning that while Mass was important to their parents, it might not be to their children, so they don’t have a funeral Mass. There are times when the family sits down with the funeral home, plans out the whole thing, and then calls the church to put it on their schedule. That’s a huge problem because the church is a very busy place and might already have a funeral at that day and time, or they might not even have a priest there.

So, what do we do about this? We can plan. Planning will solve most of our problems and ensure that we have a dignified funeral Mass at the time of our death.

If you are reading this and want to have a funeral Mass, then you need to be sure to put that in your estate planning. I know that might sound extreme, but I promise you that it is not. When we die, our loved ones might be struggling to think clearly. They might not want to have a funeral Mass because they are mad at the Church or because they personally don’t go to church. They might make the mistake of thinking “Oh, she/he wouldn’t want a fuss.”

I cannot emphasize this enough: You simply cannot assume that after you are gone, your family will schedule a funeral.

In your planning, be sure to request that the funeral happens within a week of your death. Unfortunately, since the pandemic, people have become more comfortable putting off the funeral until a later date. 

If I may be so bold, I do not believe that to be a good idea. A funeral Mass is not a “celebration of life”; rather, it is primarily a prayer for the dead. It is a time to pray for the soul of the deceased and to give mourners the grace to endure and hope.

Putting it off for the sake of convenience is a bad idea spiritually but also practically. To be blunt, the vast majority of the families that we pray funerals for thank us for how well it went. They find the experience powerful, and it’s not rare that we get people back to praying in church.  

In your planning, you can even choose readings or songs, if you’d like. You can say if there is a funeral home you prefer. If you want, you can decide to leave those things to your family or your priest: It’s all up to you.

For us Catholics, we recognize that the cultural shift from “funeral Mass” to “celebration of life” is not one that lines up well with our faith. Many misunderstandings and issues happen as a result of this, and I hope that this article can help us avoid such problems.

Let’s make sure that we plan well for our deaths and that we are praying daily for the dead. May God bless our efforts! 

Enjoy another day in God’s presence.