A few years ago my family went to three funerals in less than a year (cousin, great-aunt, and grandmother). My non-Church-going brother attended all three with me and asked afterward “Wasn’t that impersonal? They all seem to be the same each time.” (He also asked “Did they change some of the words since I was a kid?” Yup.) Both of these statements are relevant to parishes who are seeking transformation.
I think there are three things parishes can do better when it comes to funerals.
First, provide a forum for parishioners to learn more about what happens at a Catholic Funeral. Although most people aren’t into contemplating their death on a regular basis, Catholics do love learning new things. Have an Adult Education session on what the different aspects of a funeral are, what to think about when planning a funeral, and why planning it ahead of time might be beneficial for your family. This article from the OSV Newsweekly a few weeks ago is a great starting point. One of the parishes I work with even has this all laid out on their website including a link to the readings and music suggestions.
Next I would recommend you think about the friends and family who will be attending the funeral who are not parishioners at your parish and many times not even Catholic. This is an opportunity for hospitality and evangelization (there are some who disagree with me on this point). The death of a loved one or friend affects us all very differently. Will someone greeting visitors at the door, handing them a program so they know what’s going on during the Mass, and providing lunch for them after suddenly turn them into Faithful, Mass attending, tithing Catholics? Maybe not, but that’s not why we would do these actions.
The intention is to provide comfort and love to those who have lost someone close to them. We don’t know the situation, the relationship, or what else is happening in someone’s life as they walk into your Church for a funeral. This Mass may be their only good encounter with a Catholic Church, or their first in a long time. Don’t miss this opportunity.
Finally, be intentional about ministering to the family. A few months ago I saw that my friend had an official name tag on her counter from her parish. I asked her if everyone got them. She said, “No, I joined the Bereavement Ministry at the parish. We attend funerals as a group, ensuring that no family is alone during the Mass.” This group of volunteers sits together, near the front (most people who don’t know what they’re doing at a funeral sit in the back to ‘be out of the way’) so the family knows they aren’t alone. They are a physical presence for their brothers and sisters who have experienced this loss.
I’ve heard of so many things parishes are doing to show hospitality during funerals. Luncheons, grief sharing groups, memorial Masses, having a Mass said for the deceased on the anniversary the following year, and more. Share what your parish does.