Celebrating Life

Celebrating Life

Recently I presided at a funeral Mass at a nursing home. The deceased—let’s call him John—resided there for fifteen years. John’s wife Mary was suffering dementia and John cared for her as best he could. Then, John died.

His family and the pastoral staff told me that helping Mary understand that John had died proved difficult. No one knew how she might react at his funeral. Yet, when she saw John’s corpse from her wheel chair, she spoke his name and wept at the casket. Then she lapsed into silence.

Catholic nursing care facilities usually have a pastoral staff, but often there is no priest on the team. So the family and the staff must find a priest to preside at funeral liturgies if they will not take place in a parish. John and Mary had both outlived their pastor. Pastors of neighboring parishes were not available. So I accepted the family’s request. Ideally, pastors should know their flock, but that is not always possible. So, presiding at funerals like this one is never easy.

As it turned out, the funeral was beautiful. The wake was in the nursing home chapel, just before Mass. That provided time for friends and family to express their sympathy. It also helped me learn how John lived his life of faith. One of John’s nieces organized family members to handle the Scripture readings and the prayers of the faithful. The pastoral staff acted as Eucharistic ministers while a family friend led the music. Good planning and the participation of family and friends are needed if the Mass of Resurrection is to be a meaningful celebration of the liturgy.

As a Franciscan priest, I am amazed how God’s grace penetrates our human frailty and reminds us that we all go home to God. The poet John Donne expressed it so beautifully: “Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”

Photo Credit: nuchylee

St. Anthony Messenger Press has great resources for those doing ministry with terminally ill patients and with grieving families. These may be of interest.


About the Author

Dan Kroger, O.F.M., a native of Cincinnati, joined the Franciscans in 1967 and was ordained in 1973. He taught high school and served in rural parishes in the Philippines. Dan earned a Ph.D. in Christian ethics at Notre Dame. He also taught at De La Salle University, Manila, until he was assigned to his present post as publisher/CEO at Franciscan Media in 2006.
  • Sanorared

    Thanks for sharing this, Dan. It was nice of you to step in and preside for the celebration of “John’s” life.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1492380477 Joris Heise

    Like old trees past the time of bearing fruit, sometimes we become–like John and his wife–simply there, objects of beauty, needing care, deeply rooted beyond the present state of things, and then comes moments of death and transition that remind us of the whole picture, the whole lifetime and that is God’s view.

    • Dank

      Hey Joris, that was a great poetic statement of what was going on in John and Mary’s life.
      Now that I am on Medicare, I am becoming more sensitive to such matters. Hope to see you somewhere in the future. Dan Kroger