By Emily Schmid, Director of Liturgy and Music
November is the month the Catholic Church remembers its Saints and honors all who have passed away. This focus is most present in the readings each weekend as they direct us to the end of times, reminding us of our inevitable death. Even though some of the language in scripture can be gloom and doom about the end of times, the Catholic view of death is very hopeful. St. Paul reminds us that “We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” (Romans 6:5) Through our baptism, we are promised to live again with Christ. As children of God, have hope in the promise of Christ best relayed to the thief on the cross that “today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
The focus of funeral Masses celebrated within the Catholic Church is also a theme of hope. Funerals serve many purposes. They help us grieve, say goodbye, and remember our loved ones. But most importantly, funerals point us to the reality of Heaven. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that “For the Christian the day of death inaugurates, at the end of his sacramental life, the fulfillment of his new birth begun at Baptism…” (paragraph 1682). The funeral liturgy reflects this connection between baptism and death through the symbol of a white funeral pall and the blessing of the casket (or urn) with holy water. The Priest also wears white, symbolizing baptism and our participation in Christ’s death and resurrection, a sign we also see during the Easter Season. We see the Body of Christ in the community gathered to remember our loved one. Our prayers for all the faithful departed are lifted up in the liturgy and seen as the Priest incenses the casket.
These signs, symbols, and themes can be made even more apparent through the scripture and music present in the liturgy. There is an opportunity when planning funerals to display our love for the deceased, express our grief, but also show our hope in Christ. Music plays a vital role in a funeral liturgy because music is evocative, personal, and a beautiful release for emotions. “Where words fail, music speaks,” says Hans Christian Anderson, and when planning funeral music with families, we need to be intentional about how our music is speaking in the liturgy.
I have provided my ten favorite funeral songs at the end of this post. You will notice they are not the old standards, but some fresh takes on the themes of baptism, death, and resurrection. My hope is that people will consider conveying the theme of new life and hope when planning funerals for themselves and loved ones
May the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace.