By Brian Fraga - OSV Newsweekly, 10/9/2011
Our Sunday Visitor recently interviewed Deacon Henry Libersat, a retired Catholic journalist and former editor/general manager of the Florida Catholic who has preached across the United States, Canada and South America. Ordained 25 years, he frequently visits wakes and leads liturgical services in the Diocese of Orlando, Fla.
Our Sunday Visitor: Why is it important for a Catholic to have a funeral Mass?
Deacon Henry Libersat: If Catholics truly realized what the Mass is, you couldn’t keep them out of church, because the Mass is the representation of what happened on Calvary. At Mass, you’re actually, spiritually standing at the foot of the cross. You’re witnessing your salvation. You’re witnessing Jesus Christ dying and rising again.
OSV: What is the significance of a wake?
Deacon Libersat: I see the wake as a true moment of healing and evangelization. I see it as an opportunity to pray for the deceased and the families. I try to help the people there understand that the Lord God, through Jesus Christ, is opening his arms to receive people into his kingdom.
OSV: How do you lead a prayer service during a wake?
Deacon Libersat: I try to be gentle. I try to help the family understand that God knew their loved one was coming into the world before the world ever existed. The person lying in that coffin was consciously delivered and loved by God. I also work in the salvation offered by Jesus, and the good news of God and his mercy.
OSV: What does a wake prayer service consist of?
Deacon Libersat: The ritual the Church offers is beautiful. It covers the basics. It is a Scripture service in which we have readings that we follow from the rites book. I deviate occasionally to explain to the people what’s going on. Some families want to pray the Rosary, and we’ll say a decade. I’ll explain the biblical roots for the Rosary’s prayers to the non-Catholics or non-Christians who might be there.
You then give a homily after the Gospel reading and we have prayers of intercession, focusing on Jesus’ love and forgiveness and that the Lord comforts us here in our sorrows. The final prayer is so beautiful. We ask God to take care of the family and to wipe the tears from their eyes. I can say that though there is great sadness, there can also be great joy knowing that person is in the arms of God.
OSV: How do you approach a wake when the deceased or the family may not have been attended Mass regularly?
Deacon Libersat: With a little pastoral sensitivity. You emphasize God’s mercy for people who’ve been away from the Church for a while. For people unchurched, two readings I like to use are from Romans, where St. Paul asks, “Who can separate us from the love of Christ?” With the Gospel, I read Jesus’ raising of the widow’s son. I think those two Scriptures lay a foundation for hope.
OSV: How do you handle requests for family members who want to speak at the wake?
Deacon Libersat: One of the things I do is I meet with the family beforehand. I’ll ask if anyone wants to say anything. I’ll ask them if they want to open it up to friends. You try to honor their wishes because you’re there to help them and to let them know that we care about what they’re going through.
OSV: Where should a wake be held?
Deacon Libersat: We encourage the wake to be done at the church.
Brian Fraga writes from Massachusetts.
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