We've all been there. Someone we love has died ... or someone we love has just lost a loved one. It may have been expected and a long time in coming, or it may have been sudden and out of the blue. It doesn't matter - it's still a shock to our system. It still sends us reeling to some degree. While we try to move through the days, weeks or months of grief that come with loss, each of us needs support. We need to know we are not alone. We need people who are willing to be present to us in our bereavement.
Bereavement ministry. That's what it's called. It's multifaceted and takes different forms to cover a myriad of needs: a dinner casserole, a kind word or hug, a listening ear, promise of prayer. You don't have to do anything on a grand scale and you don't need to be eloquent or have just the 'right' words to say: there are no ‘right’ words. The one constant in all of this, the one thing each of us can offer, is compassion.
As a pastoral musician, I am acutely aware of one particular place where that support is needed: at the funeral liturgy. Families gathering for the funeral come in all configurations. Some are quite large while others are very small; some are strongly Catholic, some, not so much; in some cases, there are family members who have been estranged from the Church for years and this funeral is their first time back. For some people, the beauty of the liturgy and the support they experience during it may be enough to make them want to reconnect with their original roots. In many cases, the grief they are feeling can even make them forget what they’re supposed to do – when to sit, stand or kneel. Prayers they pray almost automatically at other times, escape them. Hymns they’ve chosen for the liturgy and fully intended to sing get caught in their throat by emotion. It’s impossible to participate in Mass ‘as usual’. At some funerals, the only voices that can be heard are those of the priest and musicians through the microphones.
This is where you come in. Could you make it part of your gift to the Lord to be part of this aspect of bereavement ministry? Could you plan to support our grieving brothers and sister by attending and participating in as many funerals as possible? Some of our parishioners already do this; many others would be a great help. There are no rehearsals … no need climb choir loft steps … nothing ‘special’ to do … no sign-up sheets. Just come to the funeral. Sit at least two-thirds of the way toward the front, so that family and friends of the deceased can sense your prayerful presence and see when you kneel, sit and stand. Sing the hymns, pray the prayers and responses, and offer condolences when you can.
If this sounds like something you are able to do, thank you. Your gift of time and presence to those who are grieving is a true treasure. You will be living out the Corporal Work of Mercy, “Bury the Dead” and two Spiritual Works of Mercy, “Comfort the Sorrowful” and “Pray for the Living and the Dead”. May God bless you for your gift of self to Him.
Submitted by Libby Lynch, Director of Pastoral Music for Saint Patrick Church in York, Pennsylvania