An English teacher I had in high school had us write our own obituary as an exercise. In college, I took a class called Death and Dying where we did a similar exercise. Lastly, I’m Irish, and we think about death a lot.
And so, I was thrust into my own Irishness yesterday when Fr. Z’s blog was sent to me by some of my compadre bloggers. He, and his audience of “liturgy rubricians” (is that even a word?), suggest that black vestments be used for funerals. They don’t give any really good reasons for it in my view (see, combox) other than “well the Pope once said that you COULD do it.” Mind you, the same pope didn’t say that you SHOULD do it. He just didn’t forbid priests from doing it altogether. Ahhhh, freedom!
Now, I like the use of white for liturgy vestments at a funeral simply because it is an Easter moment and a reminder of Baptism. We live in hope, in faith– and not in assurance– that the person is with God. Our notions of time have no boundaries in heaven, a point that people who say, “I will be in purgatory a long time”, often misconstrue. Therefore, the dead person may be praying for us as a saint in heaven already. They may also not be. We don’t really know–but we still live in hope. I don’t think that black makes that hope any more profound, not do I think that white makes it any less of a teaching moment or drive home the point that we need to pray for the person’s soul. I think it simply serves to make people hopeless and afraid.
Do we really think that black vestments place the “Oh my gosh, I’d better straighten up or I’ll go straight to hell” mindset in some people’s minds? I think they come TO the funeral thinking that long before they even see a priest.
White also connects us with baptism and all those saints that came before us to this very moment of faith. This moment when we get to make the ultimate choice for a life with God or not. Can God really be all we need or do we still hold on to something else, kicking and screaming, that we still long for something else?
We trust that God can forgive, nay perfectly forgive. And we hope that our deceased brother or sister may accept God’s forgiveness over their own choices to choose their own desires–a choice still available to us in the afterlife when we are brought face to face with our own failings in this one by God. Do we believe that life continues? Then we believe that we still have free will and we still have the freedom NOT to choose God.
But we also are faced with a God who wipes the slate clean if we only ask.
Hmmm…a clean slate. Kinda looks like a white vestment to me.
Since I’m Irish, I do think about death a lot…and the “thin places” where I believe the saints, all the people with God, still talk with us. And so I wait for my own death in hope as well. That I may join the saints and be considered worthy enough for life eternal. That I may choose the saints over other choices that leave me unfulfilled and that as Thomas Merton reminds me, I may choose to be a saint, especially when it is all too easy to choose not to be the best version of myself.
Funerals mean a lot to me. On my computer, I have a file called a “dead file” which contains matters pertaining to my funeral liturgy and wake. I’ve emphasized that there are people that should be “nowhere near the pulpit” those days. People who would not make this a prayerful moment, but rather thrust people into hopelessness and quite possibly boredom. I hope that my funeral and wake not be a day where people sum up my accomplishments and failures, but instead, simply pray in hope. To do the former would be to just celebrate my life here on earth, to do the latter would be to celebrate death. And in death, hope exists because we have a God who is hope, who can make all things new again. And the truth of the matter is that when I am long forgotten by people on this earth, I will not be by God. And that through baptism, I can once again be connected with all those who came before me.
Now that’s worth praying about. That is worth celebrating.
That is worth hoping for.
Today may we pray that beyond the death of loved ones we may be able to live in hope of the resurrection…and celebrate death.
No matter what some clown wears.