Question: Some people have asked me, as a pastor, why I do not thank the congregation for being present for Sunday Masses. I do say thank you to the choir, but should I also thank the people? In Luke 17:10 it says, “We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.” That suggests that we should not be thanking everyone. Is my thinking wrong here?
— Father Ignatius F. Himawan, New Braunfels, Texas
Answer: There are three schools of thought on this general matter. The first holds that it is most appropriate to thank the ministers and musicians at the end of the liturgy in recognition of the many hours of work and dedication they have put into the preparation of the liturgy. The second school (to which I more or less belong) holds that thank yous and congratulations to ministers and musicians should be done sparingly because it courts the dangers of turning the liturgy into a spectacle and importing secular ideas of performance into worship. The third school would rule out any thank yous as entirely inappropriate and beyond the bounds of what is liturgically appropriate. This school would pay much attention to the quote from Luke 17:10 to which you refer.
Wherever a pastor stands on this matter, I imagine that few would go so far as to actually thank the congregation for being present. The liturgy of the Church is and has always been influenced by cultural patterns and ways of thinking. The notion that we are somehow doing God a favor by actually going to Mass is a real danger today. We should be thanking God rather than expecting God (or his ordained ministers) to be thanking us. In this regard we would do well to consider the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (see Lk 18:9-14) and the dangers of self-congratulation the parable enshrines.
Proper funeral procedures
Question: I was really distressed recently when our parish would not allow the casket of my mother to stay overnight in the church after the vigil service for her funeral. They insisted, for insurance reasons, that the casket return to the funeral home and then be brought back next day for the funeral Mass. Is this a growing trend?
— Name and address withheld
Answer: Unfortunately, what you describe is a trend in many parts of the country — and one that good pastoral and liturgical thinking does not condone. The traditional arrangement is that after the vigil in the church, the body remains overnight until the funeral Mass next morning. The procedure you mention is partly the result of funeral directors not wanting to leave responsibility for the body of the deceased to the local parish and of diocesan lawyers and insurance personnel intruding upon pastoral and liturgical practice.
If the body cannot be brought to the church for the vigil, then it makes more sense to have the vigil at the funeral home, and then to bring it next day to the church for the funeral Mass. This is not the perfect arrangement, but at least it makes more sense than what you describe.
Catholics ought to assert to pastors their desires to follow the prescribed liturgical rites and procedures of the Church and their unwillingness to let the legal and insurance arms of the diocese make policies at variance with solid pastoral principles — and be choosy about which funeral homes they select for family funerals.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.