Today’s funerals: clergy or celebrant?

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Clergy once were staples at funerals but now, reports USA Today, they are sometimes replaced with secular “celebrants.” “What we’ve found in the past decade is that when you ask people whether they want a minister, people say, ‘Not interested,'” said William McQueen, president of Anderson-McQueen Funeral & Cremation Centers in the St. Petersburg, Fla., […]

  • Robert Johnson

    Being Catholic in this age has its pluses and minuses, as most can attest to. One curious phenomenon is that, since most people seem to be unchurched or only slightly so, a death in the famiily seems to be something of a dilema, at least where the memorial service is concerned. They seem to not want a “religious” service as such, but want something spiritual included, which is where a Catholic layperson can have a profound effect.
    My first service was for a woman I was quite close to. Both her and her husband had no religious affiliation, but they knew that I was very devoute in mine. I was very honored and touched that she allowed me to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy over her shortly before she died. After her death, the husband asked me if I would lead the memorial service in prayer (non-denominational he requested). I borowed a book from my pastor called “The Order of Christian Burials”, and searched out a prayer that had no objectional (from a Protestant perspective) material. After the prayer I included the traditional “May perpetual light shine upon her…” and made the sign of the cross, which some in the audience made as well.
    My second service was last year, for my mother, God Rest Her Soul. Sne was a non-denominational Christian, but one member of our family is a flat out Catholic hating Baptist, so again I had to make sure there was no inflamatory passages in this service as well. This service was held at a funeral home, and I followed the general structure of a funeral Mass, again out of the Order of Christian Burials, (without obviously the Eucharistic liturgy), and created a little program that people could follow. We had readings from the old and new testament, & sang hymns and had testamonials at the end. This turned out quite well, & I am sure that my mother was very pleased & lifted up by this service.
    As it turned out, we had to transport my mothers remains to the Los Angelas area as she was to be buried in the family plot there. I have a brother that lived quite near the cemetary, & my mothers sister and some nieces and nephews also lived in the area, so we arranged to have a graveside service for them. Of course this was a little different, as the liturgy for internment is distinct from a funeral Mass. There are many similarities however, so the program was not too hard to adapt. My brothers wife’s family is a large, close knit and loving Cuban family and just about everyone was there. Again we had readings, prayers and hymns, and at the end, my brother and I sprinkled the casket and guests with holy water from cedar boughs. It was really quite beautiful, and seemed to touch all there, even though most never met my mom.
    My last and really the saddest service for me, was only two weeks ago, for the same brother in LA, who died suddenly at age of 62. I was very close to Ken and loved him dearly, as did the whole clan of Cubans that attended the funeral for my mom. His wife asked me to lead the service in prayer, which I did, again out of the OCB. Ken was not religious but had a great devotion to nature, and was very spiritual, being drawn to the American Indian practices of shamenism. After I had read a passage from the Old Testament (from the Liturgy of the Hours – Daniel 3: 57-88, 56) and led the prayers, bundles of sage were passed around and lit. Even though this is not the symbolism for American Indians, I imagined this as incense, with the smoke rising with our prayers to God. There were many stories and testamonials about Ken, who was really a very remarkable man, and of course, many tears.
    I hope my experiences in this area give courage to anyone who may end up in similar circumstances. I find pastors can be very helpful in providing materials and encouragement for such endeavors, but better yet, the Holy Spirit seems to be hoovering over such gatherings, providing a clear route to heaven for the deceased, and giving strength and fortitude to us, who “know not what we should pray for as we ought”!

    Robert Johnson

    PS. Please pray for Peggy, my mother Louise, and my brother Ken.