The death of a loved one is it difficult and emotional time for family and friends. Because emotions can easily overrun sound judgment at such a time, it is important to wrap your head around the meaning of a funeral beforehand so that you don’t get disappointed by any misunderstandings. It’s really not that complicated.
First of all, there is nothing inherently wrong when a family and friends recall the good qualities of a deceased person whom they loved. They should cling to those positive memories and let go of the negatives.
But there is a time and a place for everything. The funeral is neither the time nor the place for a eulogy. The funeral plays a unique and irreplaceable role of intercession for the soul of the deceased.
Can you think of any sacrament (or any other moment in the Christian life, for that matter) in which we stand before God and brag about how great we are? No. In every sacrament, the emphasis is on God’s greatness, our weakness, and our rejoicing in God’s mercy to fill the gap between us.
A funeral is no different. In fact, a funeral is the moment par excellence to turn to God’s mercy because time has run out on the deceased. In a sense, the funeral is more about God than about our loved one. All the prayers and actions in a funeral centre on imploring God’s forgiveness on that person, emphasizing our hope in the mercy obtained for us through the Death and Resurrection of Christ.
There’s an old song by the Newsboys called “Real good thing.” Although it’s not about a funeral, the refrain is very relevant in understanding a funeral.
When we don’t get what we deserve, that’s a real good thing, a real good thing
When we get what we don’t deserve, that’s a real good thing, a real good thing
The first line refers to eternal damnation while the second line refers to eternal salvation. Indeed, in Christ, we can aspire to avoid what we really deserve by our sins, and hope to obtain the eternal bliss that we could never deserve on our own. The Newsboys were cleverly using paradoxical language that would seem absurd and even unjust to a secularist but which expresses the profound mysteries of the Faith.
Because we rely on God’s mercy and not our merits, there is no need at the funeral to expand on the deceased’s virtues. It’s not a job interview as if we had to convince God or ourselves of the deceased’s worthiness for salvation.
Nor is it a time for the family and friends to use the virtues of the deceased as a means to blow off some steam. It’s not about you. It’s about your deceased loved one. You’ll do him much more good at the funeral by praying for the repose of his soul while praising God’s generosity. Save your praise of the deceased for an appropriate moment later.
So next time you’re at a funeral, focus on eternal things: pleading with God, in a hope-filled manner, to grant eternal life on your loved one. Continue praying for your loved one’s soul until the day you die. Only the hope of him resting in God’s arms will bring you lasting solace.