Rituals play an important role in our lives, although we may not think about them often. We celebrate birthdays from an early age with parties while milestone birthdays and wedding anniversaries call for bigger parties and pictures in the newspaper.
We celebrate winning in sports with great fanfare: Grey Cups, Stanley Cups, gold medals. We celebrate graduations with elaborate ceremonies. We shake hands; we hug a friend; we greet someone with "How are you?" not expecting a detailed report but a simple "Fine" response.
Why do we do these things? A hug, a handshake simply says "Welcome" or "I care for you." A celebration of winnings expresses our admiration for those who worked hard to win.
Give meaning to life
By rituals, we are enacting the meaning of our lives; we are giving tangible expression to our emotions, to our inner sentiments.
A funeral service is an important religious ritual. Funerals help us face the reality of death. In earlier times, death was an ever-present reality with people dying younger and usually at home. Instant communication throughout the community was by the ringing of church bells.
Time to grieve
The family carried out the ritual ceremonies of preparing the body, which was kept at home where friends and neighbours came to pray and express their sympathy. Relatives continued to wear mourning clothes, usually black, for a period of time. Now, many of these rituals have disappeared.
When death touches our lives, it is a sacred time, bringing the whole community to prayer, lifting them up to the heart of God. Funerals form an important part of this prayer. They serve to thank God for the life of those who have died and make known the good that the person has accomplished in life.
They often vividly recall the goodness of the deceased person for future remembrance and leave the family knowing that others care and help them accept their loss. They help bring those who have died and those who remain into God's mercy and love.
We Catholics used to have a funeral Mass that emphasized the terrible aspects of death and judgment. Today, we celebrate the entrance of the dead into heaven with a Mass of the Resurrection. How much more appropriate for those whom have faith in Christ and in the resurrection of the dead with Christ.
Family of faith
The Mass and prayers are offered and will continue to be offered for the soul of the deceased. But they are also offered for those who have lost a loved one. After all, we are a family of faith, part of the one body of Christ, who stick together through tough times as well as good times.
Why do people choose not to have funerals? Those who have never practised any formal religion or who profess to be atheists or agnostics may not want a religious funeral.
However, there are many ways of memorializing the dead even in a secular way. The lessons of death apply to all.
Respect their wishes
Some people, even Christians, seem be very private in their lives and want their privacy preserved in death also. Perhaps, they feel they don't want anyone to see them dead or they don't want a fuss to be made. In one way, we need to respect their wishes.
On the other hand, it's important to note that funerals are as much for the living as for the dead. The prayers are for both and the condolences are for the living who now must bring closure to a chapter of their lives, praying a grateful farewell for a life precious in God's eyes.
As friends, we express, through our visible caring and our prayers, our sadness at the loss and our support now and in the future for those who remain to grieve. A death, particularly of someone we know, makes us more aware of our own death and helps us look forward, without fear, to our resurrection and life in and with Christ.