Today I went to a Roman Catholic Funeral Mass. It was the funeral of the father-in-law of one of my best friends here in North Dakota. My thoughts were going a mile a minute, especially since this was the first RC funeral I have ever attended. I will divide my thoughts into the things that I liked, and the things that I disliked.
Things I liked:
1. The beauty of the sanctuary. Issues of the second commandment aside, the inside of the sanctuary of the church is incredibly and stunningly beautiful. I think it is possible for a Protestant church to be that beautiful without slipping into idolatry. Quite frankly, it is easier to worship God in a beautiful church than elsewhere, though we should worship God everywhere. We Protestants have lost sight of what true beauty can accomplish. This is a favorite quote of Adrian’s from _Les Miserables_, by Victor Hugo: “Madame Magloire,” retorted the Bishop, “you are mistaken. The beautiful is as useful as the useful.” He added after a pause,”More so, perhaps.” – Bishop Bienvenu. It has become one of my favorite quotations.
2. There seemed to be a fairly strong emphasis on the resurrection of Jesus Christ, with a relative lack of emphasis on purgatory. I didn’t here much about purgatory, though it may have been part of the stuff I missed simply because I could not hear it very well (the priest is getting old, and their PA system is almost shot to pieces). But I did hear a fair bit about the resurrection. Therein lies our hope with regard to death.
Things I didn’t like:
1. The Eucharist and Baptism automatically save without any reference to faith. That was fairly clear from the liturgy. The idea was implied (though not stated) that it didn’t really matter how one had lived one’s life; the important thing was that he had been baptized, and had never fallen out of favor with the church. I’m sorry, but the Christian life is more than that. Faith is essential to the Christian life. And it is faith in Jesus Christ, not in the saints, or in the Sacraments, that is required. This is not to denigrate from the importance of the Sacraments. But there are biblical examples of saints dying without having received either Sacrament. The thief on the cross comes to mind. He is promised paradise on the basis of faith alone.
2. The prelude to the service: this consisted of several hundred repetitions of the “Hail Mary.” I’m sorry, but I don’t pray to saints (especially since Paul and others say that all Christians are saints). I pray to God alone.
3. The last thing that I didn’t like was that the funeral seemed to be just as much for the benefit of the departed as for the bereaved. Funerals are only for the living. The dead are beyond our reach. We cannot help them. Funerals are for the living.
This funeral made plain to us that the differences between Protestant and Catholic are very much alive and well. I am proud to stand beside Protestant and Catholic on such socially important issues a abortion. However, that partnership must not be allowed to eliminate the fact that there is still a rift between us. I for one am not going to cross that bridge over to Catholicism. I will stand on the solas of the Reformation.