Three Funeral Speeches and a Eucharist: My Experience Actively Participating in Religious Ritual for the Deceased
by Kelly Ann
I have spoken at three funerals.
The first time was in 2002 for someone I didn’t know. Fresh off my mission, I gave the plan of salvation speech for an inactive member of my homeward who wanted a Mormon funeral. Why? Because I happened to run into my Bishop, who worked at the same company as I, shortly after he received the call. The Bishop conducted the service in the funeral home, with the ward organist volunteering her time as well. After a brief eulogy of the deceased by a visiting brother from Utah who was notably bothered by his brother’s lack of faith, I shared scriptures from the Book of Mormon about the resurrection, bore my testimony of the after-life, and tried not to marvel in the oddness of it all.
The second time I spoke at a funeral was in 2005 for my grandfather who was really like a father to me. In a Unitarian service, in which a handful of people spoke about various phases of my grandfather’s life (including co-workers, friends, as well as a nurse who cared for him), I represented my family by sharing what he meant to me and how I believed he was at peace even though he trash-talked all religions – as it was more of a compromise to hold the service in the local Unitarian church as he enjoyed attending community events there. I don’t remember exactly what I said but remember how good it felt to participate in the service. I also still remember my sister’s rendition of Abide With Me and the spirit it brought and the way the event really brought closure to my family and friends of my grandfather. My grandmother, a practicing Catholic, was denied a funeral Mass specifically for my grandfather but I attended a Mass with her where they prayed for him as well as for others. I really admired how the Priest recognized the commonalities in the religious diversity that existed in my family in some of his comments. Both services were the first realizations of how much I could feel the spirit in other churches.
The third time I spoke at a funeral was last month. Known as the religious one in my family, my step-mom, an atheist, asked me to help her plan a Catholic mass for her mother, an extended grandmother so to speak. With the advice of friends and help from the parish, we combed the internet for appropriate scriptures and selection of musical numbers. I learned about the Liturgy of the Word, the traditional reading of an Old Testament passage, a New Testament passage, and a Gospel passage as well as the Prayers of the Faithful. Trying to represent my step-mom’s mother, we selected passages (Lamentations 3:17-26, Second Corinthians 5:1, 6-10, John 12:23-28). Having struggled with depression her entire life, we hoped to portray how she found peace despite her pain through her faith as that was why in the end the family felt it important to offer her a Catholic Mass. Given my step-mom was un-comfortable reading a scripture in public, her cousin (representing the extended family) read the first passage and I (representing more of the immediate family) read the second passage while the Priest read the Gospel passage and Prayers of the Faithful. I was honored to participate in the service and truly understand and embrace the commonalities of my faith and reveling in the spirit present. And even just enjoying the ritual of it all, particularly the responsorials and all the standing and sitting.
However, an unexpected opportunity presented itself at the service. We did not realize that family members are also encouraged to participate in the Preparations of the Gifts in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Being asked minutes before the start of the Mass, I did not have time to think about the honor of carrying the bread and wine forward for Communion. As my brother and I walked to the front of the chapel with the bread and wine in hand, I welled with emotion to offer this sacrifice to the Priest. And yet, the irony struck me that I would never have had such an opportunity to do this in my own church (on so many different levels).
What is your experience actively participating in religious ritual for the deceased? How have various traditions brought you peace? Do you crave the traditions of others for your family, friends, or for yourself?