Appropriate funeral liturgies

Question: Recently I attended a funeral Mass for someone who had committed suicide. It was a very tragic situation. But I was disgusted at hearing that all the Scripture readings were “happy,” and so was the sermon. Why does the funeral liturgy not take into account the tragedy of the situation? Also, why are funeral hymns so “happy” nowadays?

— Name and address withheld

Answer: A funeral liturgy that does not take into account the tragedy of a suicide is not being true to itself and is not of much help to the mourners. I am not sure what Scripture readings provided for funerals strike you as “happy.” But there are readings that are more upbeat than others.

The Old Testament readings from Job and the prophet Isaiah emphasize the redeeming power of God. The readings from St. Paul share a common theme of our participating in the death and resurrection of Christ through baptism. The readings from the First Letter of John and from Revelation emphasize the new heavens and the new earth that await all the just. Many of the Gospel readings are equally consoling. It is crucial that the power of life over death be given expression in the Scriptures; otherwise, the congregation misses the ability of the Christian funeral to proclaim Easter faith.

However, there are some readings that seek to plumb the depths of human misery. These are especially appropriate for the funeral of someone who has committed suicide. I have in mind the readings from Wisdom and Lamentations, which describe human pain and struggle, and some of the Gospel readings that deal directly with the crucifixion of Christ.

Like many pastors, I provide the bereaved family with copies of all the readings designated for funerals and ask them to choose those that most reflect the circumstances of the death being observed. (Sometimes people do a good job in their selections; at other times not). The challenge to the homilist is to weave the readings, the circumstances of the deceased and the needs of the mourners into a strong proclamation of the power of the Risen Christ over the most painful and seemingly tragic of human circumstances.

You ask why funeral hymns are so “happy.” One reason is probably some reaction to the bleakness of the music often used at funerals in the years before post-Vatican II reform. However, modern hymns that emphasize the Resurrection and salvation should not be dismissed as merely “happy.” The problem I experience with much of the music that is at funerals is that it is rather bland. We await a new generation of composers to provide funeral music with just the right combination of elements and the ability to fit diverse circumstances. 

Abortion destroys a soul?

Question: I read in a Catholic publication recently that abortion destroys the body and soul of the child aborted. Surely this is wrong. I thought the soul cannot be destroyed.

— Rita Moss, Rome, Ga. 

Answer: You are correct. While abortion destroys the body of the unborn child, it does not and cannot destroy the soul. The soul is immortal, and at the great resurrection the body and soul of the aborted fetus will be reunited.

Your question also raises the matter of the souls of frozen embryos. We easily forget that the frozen embryo is a human person with a soul and that its destruction is the destruction of a human being. 

Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.