A friend of our family died quite unexpectedly last week at the age of 59. They buried him today with the Mass of the Resurrection. Every time I attend a Catholic funeral it is a real visceral reminder of how important it is to me that I die as a Catholic, so I can be buried with a Catholic Funeral.
I have attended other Christian and non Christian funerals in my lifetime, and I am telling you now, nothing compares to the Catholic funeral. I am not sure if it is because of our theology of the four last things (Death judgment Heaven and Hell) or it is because of our understanding of the unlimitless font of unconditional love that flows from God, or it is just because we know how to do ritual really well, but I have never at any other denominational funeral felt the way I do about the dearly departed as I do at a Catholic funeral.
Somehow for us, the one we love while no longer accessible to us in the normal animate way, is still as close to us as if they were just in the next room. I think perhaps because of our understanding of the Communion of Saints, that everyone who dies in Christ at Baptism, rises with Christ in the end and is there, in that better place than we will ever know on this side of eternity, waiting for us to join them someday. Catholic Funerals are about Hope.
Another thing, no matter how tragic the circumstances of the end of someone's life; a Catholic funeral isn't a reliving of that tragic moment in time, but a celebration of all the wonderful loving, happy times that came before it. We dance, we laugh, we share happy memories. We spread that joy that comes from knowing that when we have those happy memories, eventually they will crowd out the pain of whatever tragic ones we have had to face. Catholic funerals are about Joy.
No one can ever make me believe that there is better funeral music written in any time or place than songs like Panis Angelicus, Ave Maria, Be Not Afraid or On Eagles Wings. Each verse brings such a sense of serene knowledge that all will be right again in the world. Catholic funerals are about Peace.
Even Martin Luther is purported to have said that it is better to live as a Lutheran, but to die a Catholic. I think he wanted the funeral.