Preparing for Heaven

by | Mar 31, 2023

Funerals and Burials

There are many things that we put a good deal of thought and research into in our lives. If we are buying a home, we look for the house that fits our budget, go to open houses, figure out what we need and what we can live without in a new place, the neighborhood that will meet our needs etc. We plan for vacations, parties, holidays….but do we ever think to plan for death, when we will be making that journey to God? 

Before I get started, I would like to make a few points:  

  • All Catholics will die 
  • No one has been known to die when talking about death

When someone dies, you grieve—even if it’s expected. While this is going on, you’re expected to make well over 100 decisions around what has to happen after that death. By pre-planning, you can make these decisions without stress, with no deadlines, and you can gather all the information you need to make good decisions.  

Think about a wedding and how long a couple will spend in planning that ceremony and reception. Now think about how long one spends in preparing to meet God…. the services, burial, and many details. Seems like we need to rethink how long we take in making some major decisions. 

We look at preparation for death to cover the 3-legged stool: cemetery, Church, and funeral home.  

A. Cemetery 

You need to have a place for the body … or as a funeral director once said, “I’ll have you all dressed up with no place to go.” 

      • How do you want your body prepared? Full body? Natural? Cremation?  You need to decide this, so you know what kind of space/place to purchase.
      • Where do you want to be buried? In ground? Mausoleum? Crypt? Natural area? Ossuary?    
      • How do you want to be memorialized? Monument? Marker? Photo? Special urn? 

B. Church

Today, I have seen that adult children often do not follow the religion they were broght up in. If following your religious tradition is important to you, pre-planning will help you avoid the chance that family members may not be comfortable planning a funeral Mass or service, as they are no longer practicing or connected to a church. There are usually 3 parts to the Order of Christian Funerals: Visitation/Wake, Funeral Mass, and Prayers at the Gravesite:

1. Vigil/Visitation: 40 years ago, when I started in parish ministry, a Vigil was a given. It would usually occur at the funeral home the night before the funeral. It’s a time to focus on the individual…the “me” part…. storytelling, favorite memories, non-liturgical music, photo boards, etc.

The casket was usually open for “viewing.”  It was a time to spend with the family talking about how the person had impacted the visitor’s life. Usually, at the end of this time, there would be a Prayer Service. There would be times for people to share a favorite memory/story. It was a mingling of a variety of people from all phases of a person’s life.   

Today, this part is skipped or pushed into a “one-hour” visitation at the church directly before the Funeral Mass. The family doesn’t have much time to really greet those visiting or listen to stories. People pack in to leave their name in the remembrance book and drop off a card. The casket may/may not be open. During this same time, the liturgist/pastoral care person is trying to help the family understand what their roles are during the Mass, practice their readings, explain timing, etc.  

In short, it’s often chaotic, trying to pack what usually occurred in 3-4 hrs. into 1 hour instead. This is still an important part of the OCF and helps the grieving process through companionship and storytelling. While I understand why some people do not choose a Vigil, I encourage them to think through when they wish to hear stories or memories of their beloved. The Funeral Mass is not the time for this. Why? Should a reason be given? 

2. Funeral Mass: This is the “we” time…we gather as a Church community to remember the one who died and entrust the person to God. We pray for the individual and choose Scripture and liturgical music that speak of how this loved one lived the gospel message. We honor the person’s Baptism by clothing the casket with a white pall reminiscent of the white baptismal garment.  We also include the use of the Pascal Candle and incense. The priest speaks prayers of resurrection and returning to our Creator. The community holds up the family members during this Mass. The deceased was part of this community, celebrated life events, Eucharist, and the liturgical year.  

 Today, we often find people trying to push the Vigil into this celebration. They request eulogies, which are not even mentioned in the Funeral Mass, non-liturgical music, or readings that are not from Scripture.  

 It is preferred that planning for the Funeral Mass is to be done with parish ministers who know what the Funeral Mass is supposed to be. These individuals will help you choose what is appropriate for this celebration.   

There is another part of the “celebration” that has become its own ritual, which is the lunch. This can occur either following the Mass or the burial. Sometimes it’s open to those who attended the Mass, other times the family decides to go to a restaurant or relative’s home on their own.  I’ve seen the lunch become something of what the Vigil had been earlier—a time to share stories, music, memories, and connect with the family. This is more acceptable than trying to merge it as an expectation of the Funeral Mass. When I was ministering in a parish, we would set up the lunch room with a microphone, podium, and bring in any displays and memorabilia. This seemed to work best for all involved.  

3. Burial Rite: This is the last formal rite of the Order of Christian Funerals. This is the “they” part of the 3 rituals. It is welcoming the loved one to his/her final resting place and into the communion of the saints. The final prayers entrust the deceased to God and to a future hope of resurrection. It’s the last goodbye. The cemetery is a holy place where you know your loved one will be cared for until the end of time. You have a place to come to remember, share stories, and pray.  

C. Funeral Home

The funeral home is where you entrust the body of your loved one. It is the funeral home that will remove the body from the home/hospital, etc. and keep it until family members can meet. Funeral personnel help family members make some of the many decisions that come with death: how the body is to be prepared, obituary, death certificates, memorial cards, casket/urn, timing of events, flowers/remembrances, contacting social security, contacting the church cemetery to finalize times of arrival, and other legal paperwork.  

Funeral directors are also ministers who walk with families through all the stages of the ritual. They are good listeners who guide you during this time. 

You can pre-plan with a funeral home also. You can make several decisions now, when you don’t have a time constraint or aren’t under stress. As part of the planning process, you will be asked about your Church and cemetery plans, which is why I list Funeral Homes last in the planning process. 

The bottom line is, as I’ve said before, there are many decisions that need to be made at the time of death. I come back to the wedding analogy and how long a couple spends in planning that ceremony…. and then how long one spends in preparing to meet God.  

Let’s compare our planning for death to the wise virgins in one of Jesus’ parables. Will we be ready to meet the Master when he arrives? We need to give our “going home to God” a high priority in our life. Planning ahead makes us wise and less stressed on our journey to heaven. 

Resurrection and Gethsemance Cemeteries are hosting pre-planning seminars coming up in late April. To learn more about pre-planning cemetery and financing options, register today by clicking on the button below!