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Funerals – Thoughts for Consideration

A funeral has a dual focus: on the dead person and on our own hope of eternal life.   It should also take account of the mourners’ own profound sense of grief and loss.

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The Eucharist at the Funeral

While some will not want to celebrate the Eucharist during the actual funeral, others will find it helpful.  A Eucharist does however raise the question of whether or not members of other churches will be able to receive communion.

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Interchurch Couples’ Experience of Funerals

All these are true stories, but names have been changed to protect identities.

Two Churches, One Funeral

Decisions about funerals have to be made when we are at our most vulnerable.   We have just lost someone we greatly love and we are likely to be in a state of great shock.   It is of special importance for interchurch couples to discuss freely their own personal feelings about bereavement and funerals, so that when the day comes for arrangements to be made a plan can be acted upon which they have long ago agreed on jointly.

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Felicity and Frank

Felicity and Frank had been married for many years when Frank died in 1990.   In the past there had not been a great deal of co-operation between their local churches, and they often felt frustrated.   Yet Frank’s funeral was an occasion of hope for Felicity.   Her Methodist minister took the service, their son read the lesson, and Frank’s Roman Catholic priest took the committal at the graveside in the local cemetery.   Because Felicity had had to be married in Frank’s church, it was his wish that he should be buried from Felicity’s chapel and that their graves should eventually be side by side.   It was his way of redressing the balance, and Felicity found this arrangement, which they had agreed together, very comforting.   She felt that at long last they had together achieved something.

Andrea and Adam

When a diagnosis showed that Andrea’s husband Adam had a very serious illness, the news came at a time when his own United Reformed church was in process of calling a new minister.   Andrea told her Roman Catholic priest about Adam’s illness and he at once responded by offering himself as Adam’s minister during this period.   Two or three times a week he visited Adam and Andrea and held a simple and beautiful service with them in their home, giving them communion together, and he was with Adam the day he died.   It followed naturally that Adam’s funeral should be conducted in the United Reformed church with both a United Reformed minister and Andrea’s priest taking part.

Gwen and Gerald

Gwen chose the hymns and readings for her husband Gerald’s funeral, but her wish to receive communion, along with other Anglican members of the family, at the requiem mass, although discussed by Gerald’s Roman Catholic priest with her Anglican vicar, was not granted.   She had suggested that her vicar should take an active part in the mass and bring the family the reserved sacrament, but at the time (1988) he did not feel able to ask his bishop’s permission to do this.   However, he with a number of members of the Anglican congregation attended the requiem, as did the local Baptist pastor (there was no minister at the Baptist church then).   Gwen’s and Gerald’s son suggested that the family should ask for a blessing at the requiem and this was given to them – the first time such a thing had happened.   Since then Gwen has been able to receive a blessing whenever she has attended mass.

Gerald’s ashes were buried in the Garden of Remembrance at the Anglican church, so it was the Anglican priest who said the words of committal.

Monica and Michael

Monica has had experience of several funerals among interchurch families. She believes that as it is the living who are taking part in the funeral, they deserve a say in what happens, so we should beware of hedging the arrangements about with conditions. She recommends at least one good cheerful hymn, and sees hymns as “a great bond in common” between the various traditions. She says, “My husband hated funerals, so we never discussed them.” For Michael’s funeral she chose “Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven”, to which she had walked up the aisle at their wedding, and “The Lord’s my shepherd”, which pleased everyone. He is buried in the local cemetery; in November, when there is a Catholic procession to the cemetery, her husband’s grave is also blessed.

Paul and Petra

Paul and Petra were eagerly looking forward to the birth of their first child when Petra learned that there was no trace of the baby’s heartbeat. Shortly afterwards she had a miscarriage. At this sad and difficult time they were fortunate in receiving tremendous support from those around them, especially from a Roman Catholic university chaplain who was already a friend. He came to their home and combined the Catholic rite of blessing of parents after a miscarriage with a celebration of the Eucharist for them both – “a beautiful way of acknowledging that our child was now with God”.

Purgatory

The idea of purgatory postulates that, because we are unlikely to have reached a state of perfection by the end of our earthly lives, we are not fit to see God face to face without some form of purification.   Because of the way this idea has sometimes been presented, occasionally the death of a loved partner or friend will reawaken in a Roman Catholic brought up in a traditional – even old-fashioned – way many fears and anxieties.

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Burials

Burial, or cremation followed by committal of the ashes at a later date, is, of course, a matter of personal choice; interchurch marriage partners will probably be aware of one another’s feelings, and some will long ago have made a decision together.

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My Funeral Arrangements

I should like these instructions to be followed when my funeral is being arranged.

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