Fr. Miguel Irizar

Fr. Miguel Irizar

November 9, 2015
THANDIWE KONGUAVI
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Funerals are an important part of the liturgy of the Church.

They are moments when we entrust a soul into the merciful hands of God to implore his mercy on the person who has died. They are moments to give thanks to God for that person.

And for many priests and pastoral associates who preside over the funeral mass, the funeral is an opportunity of evangelization, especially for people who rarely attend church.

"In the midst of grief, in the midst of sadness, we should try to help people turn their eyes on Christ who died and rose for us. So a funeral is the moment to do this," said Father Miguel Irizar, Pastor of St. Peter Parish in Villeneuve and associated parishes.

"It is an opportunity to catechize people on the meaning of death, but most importantly, on what Christ has done for us and on the importance of the liturgy of the Church for our lives."

Evangelization in the context of a funeral can certainly impact a person's life and even lead them to return to actively practising their faith, said Irizar.

Even though people are only at the church for an hour or families of the deceased are with a pastoral worker for an hour or two, it is an opportunity to plant a seed, he said.

Only God can know if the heart of a person has been touched by a funeral liturgy.

Deacon Leo Farley

Deacon Leo Farley

"We're not the one who is doing the work. It's God. We're only instrumenta. So we try to be good and docile instruments in the hands of our Lord and we know that the one who is able to change people's hearts is our good Lord," said Irizar.

"I try to be faithful to the liturgy by celebrating the funeral Mass with reverence and devotion, and in my preaching, by trying to turn people's eyes towards Christ."

All funerals are different, he said. For example, the atmosphere for the funeral of a child will be very different than the atmosphere at a funeral for a 90-year-old grandmother who was ready to be called home. But the Gospel is always the most important part of every funeral.

"Whether we are celebrating the funeral of a child or of a 90-year-old grandma, we try to always refer people's eyes to Jesus," said Irizar. "He is the centre of our faith. He is the way, the truth and the life."

REMEMBER CHRIST

The funeral Mass, like the sacraments, adoration, and everything in the Church has the same goal - to point to Christ, he said.

"Christ is the way to the Father. That is why we try to help people have this intimate union, intimate friendship with Jesus.

"We could preach about many things we could talk about many things, but we shouldn't forget about Christ. He should be central to our preaching and to what we do as priests."

Fr. Paul Moret

Fr. Paul Moret

Father Paul Moret of St. Matthew Parish in Edmonton also believes that funerals can be important moments for evangelizing.

This is not only accomplished in terms of what is said at the funeral Mass, said Moret. It is also accomplished in the care you take of the family throughout the process.

"All of that is part of evangelizing," he said.

A priest of 27 years, Moret has conducted funerals in country and city parishes. The wide range of people who come to pay their last respects or to support the family can pose unique challenges.

Funerals always draw a broader community including some who have a faith and some who do not. Often in the city, there will be people who have never been seen before at the church.

Knowing what to say to bring a realistic hope to the people gathered - some of whom do not understand or accept the theology - while at the same time not being too negative, can be a challenge, said Moret.

"Our theology isn't that easy in terms of getting to heaven. But most people don't understand about purgatory and all of that, so you can't go into theology for all these different things," he said.

GOD'S MERCY

"For me, it's a question of showing them where our hope lies. Our hope lies primarily in what Jesus has done for us, not in that the person was a nice person.

"That's all part of it but really, it's to show where our hope lies and to encourage them to continue to pray for our loved ones, to know that we're all sinners. We're all in need of God's mercy, so we need to keep praying for people."

Deacon Leo Farley of Sacred Heart Parish in Wetaskawin and Our Lady of Seven Sorrows in Maskwacis has presided over a wide range of funerals. Some included victims who died violently. Farley has always relied on the Lord to give him the words to say in these times of sorrow.

"Do I see this time as an evangelization moment? The answer is a resounding yes," he said.

When people are grieving for their loved ones, especially in the case of a violent death, some are filled with anger, and many with questions, said Farley.

"The message the Lord has given me, which I have consistently preached, addresses these questions focusing on God's love. (This includes) the fall of man; the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord; and our final destiny, which is our sharing in the very divinity of God in eternity."

COMING HOME

After the funeral, many people say the homily touched them, said Farley. He can recall one person who said they were coming back to church.

"Many have not been in a church in years and some have stayed away because of either indifference or they are mad at the Church or God," said Farley. "Whatever the reason, I see it as a time to reach out to them in their time of sorrow and to let them know they are loved and they are welcome back."