Dear Father: What I Don’t Want At My Funeral

Posted at Catholic Insight


Painting: An Angel Frees the Souls of Purgatory by Ludovico Carracci. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Dear Father,

About that funeral I attended at your parish: I know you were trying to be nice and consoling and reassuring but can we talk? One day, maybe soon, I’m going to die. If you happen to be the priest celebrating my funeral Mass, then I’m worried.

You know how you let the family deliver a eulogy right after the entrance hymn? I’m not an expert but isn’t that kind of strange and wrong? By allowing the eulogy at that time, it seemed like it was part of the Mass when, of course, it wasn’t. What really concerns me is that the eulogist said things about heaven and about the soul that just weren’t true. If that were my funeral Mass, the eulogist wouldn’t have done me any favours because most of the people in that church would now believe that I’m a canonized saint sitting right there beside Jesus. So they won’t pray for my sorry soul and I’ll be in purgatory for a very long time. Who wants that? I don’t. So if you’re the priest at my funeral some day, tell my family to give the eulogy anywhere but in the church and remind them that I still need prayers because I’m not in heaven yet.

Which brings me to my next point. Father, you said the deceased’s soul is in heaven now. How did you know that? It seems to me that you didn’t help that poor soul either. There was a captive audience in the church and not once was the need for prayers for the soul of the deceased mentioned. They were wrongly reassured that the soul is now in heaven. Really? Do you need a primer on purgatory, Father? Here’s what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

“All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven… The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned… This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: ‘Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.’ (St. Gregory the Great) From the beginning the Church has honoured the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead.”

At my funeral, Father, please don’t tell them I’m in heaven with all the angels and saints. God willing, I hope to be there one day but first my imperfect soul needs to be refined in the purifying fires of Purgatory so that I can receive and give back perfect love in Heaven. I could be in Purgatory a long time. If you really want to help me, tell everyone to pray for me every day. Most importantly, have them request Masses for me. Trust me, Father, I’m going to need them.

One more thing: Maybe you were just trying to be welcoming and ecumenical but there was no reason to let everyone receive Holy Communion. There was no announcement about how only baptized practicing Catholics in a state of grace (i.e. not in mortal sin) can receive the Holy Eucharist. Communion became a free-for-all. I was sitting at the back of the church so I had a great view. I watched as confused people who obviously didn’t know what was happening go and receive Communion. Did they know they were receiving the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of my Lord, your Lord? I’ll bet they thought they were just receiving a piece of bread. At my funeral, tell them not to come up to receive Jesus in Holy Communion unless they meet the criteria for worthy reception of the Holy Eucharist. I don’t want Jesus abused.

For most of my adult life, I have tried to live from one Holy Mass to the next, looking eagerly to the next time I can receive Jesus in Holy Communion. For me, and I’m sure for you too, the Eucharist is central to our life and the Real Presence of Jesus is what sustains us and helps our faith to grow. Being able to adore Him in the Blessed Sacrament here on Earth is a foretaste of what Heaven will be like.

When I die, maybe people will miss me enough that they will come to the Mass and some of them will cry. That’s good. That means I touched lives. But what’s most important is that my funeral will be truly Catholic.

Do that for me, Father. Tell them I tried to love God with all my heart but I wasn’t perfect so I need to spend time in Purgatory to have my soul purified. Tell them they can help me by praying for me. And tell them about Jesus in the Holy Eucharist and why they can’t all come up to receive Him. Be kind but tell them the Truth. One day, God willing, if I’m in Heaven on the day of your funeral Mass, I’ll pray for you and I’ll keep praying for you until we are together in Heaven.

Signed, concerned but hopeful.

Painting: An Angel Frees the Souls of Purgatory by Ludovico Carracci. Source: Wikimedia Commons

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27 Responses to Dear Father: What I Don’t Want At My Funeral

  1. Oh Terry, this is a pet peeve of mine, too –I want people at my funeral to know I need prayers in purgatory! Well done. Thankfully, our parish always stresses that only Catholics in full communion with the Church can receive the Eucharist.

  2. Nancy says:

    Thank you for saying this! May – no, most – Catholic funerals I’ve been to in my adult life have been like the one you spoke of attending. And homilies are often filled with “assurances” that the deceased is gardening/ golfing/ hiking/ reading/ bowling/ with the angels. I might just leave a link to this blog post along with my own funeral instructions :)!

  3. Oh my gosh! You’re sure this was a CATHOLIC funeral? Yikes! So sorry: for you, the people in attendance, the person in the casket, and that priest! The seminary he went to needs an overhaul. At least no one said that the person is an angel now. Wait, or did they? It’s so annoying when people say that. I’ve heard that there are more Protestants in Purgatory than Catholics because Protestants don’t believe in Purgatory and therefore don’t know they need to pray for their loved ones. Yes, this is truly disappointing for a Catholic funeral.

  4. daveallen says:

    Good call. I’m Protestant, but I can relate a lot to this. Over my travels, I’ve visited many churches, and found that more and more services were being watered down, that ministers seemed to be preaching upbeat pablum in fear of offending their audience.They aren’t doing any favors.

  5. Imelda says:

    Oh, I am with you in this sentiment. How often do people (unknowingly) cause harm by saying that a deceased is in Heaven now in order to console the bereaved family/friend. It is more prudent that people consider the deceased as someone in need of Mercy and prayers.

    In one book about Purgatory I read, it was said that one grieving mother acted ‘foolishly’ by crying no end about her deceased son. One day, in a vision, she saw her son in tattered clothes and looking forlorn. When she asked her son about why he was not like the other radiant persons she saw in her vision, her son answered that no one was helping him get better wherever he was. The others look good because they were helped by the prayers of the living. Having learned about this, the mother turned her tears to prayer and was soon rewarded with another vision where her son looked happy and radiant.

  6. Hi Terry! That was very well said. Question: was that a letter that you wrote and sent to a priest? If so, I would love to hear if he replies and what he says. I was just reading recently about how those in purgatory lament how easily they are forgotten, and how no one prays for them. It is no wonder, when they get funerals like that.

    • Thanks, Isabella Rose. It’s not an actual letter but I wrote it later when I was thinking about what I would like to say to the priest. Sending it to the priest is something to think about, though.

      • It is really well written. To be honest, I think it should probably be read by every priest, and some Bishops too. It is too bad there is not a way to send it to all the clergy, because even those who know those things can always use a reminder. God bless you!

  7. Michael says:

    Terry: Thank you for another great post. Conversely, I have heard of families being upset when the priest asks for prayers for the deceased soul. Why are prayers being asked for someone already in heaven? I have also heard: They are dead! Why do they need prayers? As a Church, we are need of improved catechesis.

  8. It’s as though you were recording my most common rant! Not only do I agree so whole-heartedly with this post, but I think that your approach was chosen beautifully. By making it about your own funeral, you’ve likely dramatically increased the number of people who will prayerfully consider what you’ve said instead of feeling defensive about a loved who they were quite happy to picture playing winged bowling with St. Peter. The first time I ever began to grasp Purgatory was when a friend of mine made an almost identical speech to your post. And then BAM! The honest-to-goodness truth of Purgatory hit me right between the eyes like a brick. No one had ever explained it to me like that. No one had ever meant anything they said about Purgatory or taken it seriously in my presence until that moment. Hopefully your post has done the same thing for someone too. 🙂 Thanks for writing it.

    • You’re welcome. Thank you for your support. There are so many jokes about purgatory and too many bowling-with-the-angels analogies. All they do is deny the truth of purgatory and the necessity of praying for our deceased loved ones.

  9. Catherine M. J. Evans says:

    I read an anger phase of mourning. I’m sorry for your loss.

    • No anger, Catherine, and it wasn’t my loss. But it is a concern.

      • Catherine M. J. Evans says:

        We don’t know everything. God is generous. There were Saints that were acknowledged on earth as saints long before they died. May this person rest in peace and may their loved ones find comfort.

        It concerns me when we talk about the hierarchy of the church as if we know better. We don’t know everything. Whose to say that person didn’t go right to heaven. Some people wear Scapulars and Mother Mary gets them out of purgatory on her day Saturday.

        Oh, and who made you and the gossip crowd communion police. So how do you know who it is that may have communion or not. Oh and by the way some protestants were baptized and received Communion in the Catholic Church. We don’t know if we are in a State of Grace or not.

        No anger here, just life experiences. Sounds like a case of taking on too much responsibility in this area. I know, been there done that. I do enjoy your blog and you do write well. I do enjoy a good banter, now and then.

      • Thanks for your point of view,Catherine. We’re going to have to agree to disagree.

      • Catherine M. J. Evans says:

        Thanks, peace.

  10. rightbill says:

    Reblogged this on The Catholic Me….

  11. rightbill says:

    Amen to all of that! Thanks for this post – I’m re-posting on my blog. After my Dad’s funeral, I wrote a document on the proper reception of the Eucharist and sent it out those who were there who were confused as to why they couldn’t receive.

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