Saturday, December 8, 2012

Impressions At A Funeral

The mortuary's printed program was:  Viewing 10 a.m., Funeral Mass at 1 p.m., Reception 2:30 p.m.

So we prepared accordingly, shooting for 12:30 p.m.  It wasn't as far as we'd thought it would be so there we were at 12 noon.  At the Viewing Room door, a lady usher told us that the Rosary had begun, but we could go inside anyhow.  (Rosary?  What Rosary?  The program hadn't mentioned it.)  The door was thick, the voices inside had been inaudible out in the silent hall and the other side of the door was a shock.  The room was packed!  I haven't seen that many people in one place since the Dairy-Queen gave out full-size samples back in 1967.

We huddled by the door trying to either climb inside the frame or into the wall.  And still more people came in groups of three, five... By the time they hit the third Mystery, I was ready to bail.  If you have not said nor heard it, the Rosary could be described as fairly repetitious.  I got my chance when only a moment later, the door swung open and four more people edged their way in.  Seizing this opportunity, I went out the door into the lobby.  I told the woman at the door that I was giving up my place in favor of family members; that we were there only as good friends of the deceased's son. 

Here I sat down, quietly writing these notes until the usher, who had been listening at a crack in the door, urgently waved to me and said, "They're starting the eulogies now!"  I came willingly, but I was greatly puzzled -- the Rosary hadn't been announced and now this sudden segue from the Rosary into listening to the eulogy seem rather abrupt.  Not that I would know.

It must be said that my only frame of reference for Catholic funerals were the Masses for my mother-in-law and later father-in-law.  Looking back on these events of 20 years ago, I don't remember the Rosary being read nor any eulogies from the pulpit or at graveside.  "Must be they do it differently out here," I thought and squeezed back into my allotted 2 sq. in. of space. 

The oldest son eulogized their mother and then three of the nieces rose up from the front rows and, to a favorite Hawiian song, began a dance to celebrate the deceased in the space just in front of the coffin.  They were very graceful and moved as one person.  It was my first hula at a funeral, but our friend had said that it would be an "island funeral."

With barely a five minute respite, we were ushered into the chapel from the Viewing room where pews with heavenly-comfortable long cushions awaited us.  It was considerably bigger than the prervious room and everyone spread out accordingly.  

The order of the service:  welcoming the casket by the priest at the top of the aisle while a soloist sang "Amazing Grace."  Then, safely back in his pulpit, the casket parked in front of him, the priest issued a sort of multi-purpose absolution of all present with a general forgiveness thrown in for all.  Then a bit of Scripture, followed by a duet.

The priest has a breathy, whispery voice - like Jackie Kennedy.  He kind of creeped me out at the welcoming of the casket.  This breathy little voice was going on about how the coffin coverlet (from the altar - and they take it back at the end of the funeral) is "like a warm blanket for her; she is comfortable now."  I didn't think mentioning "warmth" around a dead person was very tactful.  Nor that he was doing the grieving any good by suggesting that she's still alive inside there and all she needed was a blanket. 

The next funny thing the priest did was this:  during his telling of the Mary and Martha and Jesus story, he acted out the voices!  Martha was high-pitched; Jesus was a calming baritone.   

He troubled me further in his Mass of Saints.  His insider knowledge was that "everyone you know that has died is with us here and now."  He then launched into "Jesus is coming to all who are troubled" with zest and then he gave a sort of General Absolution and moved on to the gifts. 

Two family members were sent up the aisle to the back of the chapel, returning with a small, wrapped gift each.  The soloist sang "Ave Maria"with the priest kind of moo-ing along with her.  At first I couldn't figure out what or who was making that noise, but then the fat lady with the big hat in front of me shifted and I could see that it was him. 

Possibly enrvated by his moo-through of "Ave Maria, he enthusiastically offered to bless us with the Eucarist "Even if you haven't made your Confession in some time, just come up here and stand with your hand over your heart to show you love Jesus and I will bless you with the Eucharist!" he shouted, maniacally waving around a communion wafer.  Much of the audience surged forth while the soloist sang "Come Home."  I was reminded of a genteel sort of revival. 

And, despite it being a Catholic service, the Jews got shout-outs by his several mentions of "the Passover dinner" with a couple of "Shalom!"s thrown in for good measure.  All very inter-faith and welcome for that.

To Be Continued.  I'm not done with this thing yet. 

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