Thoughts on a Roman Catholic Funeral Mass

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.

In His Courts

Psalm 100
Often, people are depressed when it comes to holidays. People are not very keen on Thanksgiving and Christmas, because those holidays are when they have to be around other people. Or maybe they simply hate the commercialism that often goes along with the holidays. Is it because we are not content with what we have? I think that some are like that. When we lose sight of what God has given us, then we become discontent. We want a better life than the one we have now. We want something that God will not give us: heaven here on earth. What is the problem? The problem is that we are not thankful for what we do have. This Psalm is especially for us.

This Psalm is written against the background of Leviticus 7:12-15, which read this way: “And this is the law of the sacrifice of peace offerings that one may offer to the Lord. If he offers it for a thanksgiving then he shall offer with the thanksgiving sacrifice unleavened loaves mixed with oil, unleavened wafers smeared with oil, and loaves of fine flour well mixed with oil. With the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving he shall bring his offering with loaves of leavened bread. And from it he shall offer one loaf from each offering, as a gift to the Lord. It shall belong to the priest who throws the blood for the peace offerings. And the flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving shall be eaten on the day of his offering. He shall not leave any of it until the morning.” Now, we should not glean from this passage that all of our thanksgiving food has to be eaten today! The Bible does speak about gluttony. What we should learn is that this Psalm was probably sung before one of these thanksgiving offerings. That is of interest to us, since we also are celebrating a thanksgiving meal today.

The first thing we notice about this Psalm when we read it is the joy that pervades the entirety of it. It says to make a joyful noise in all the earth. There is supposed to be gladness and singing in verse 2. Now, imagine yourself to be an employer who has servants working for you. How would you like it if these servants were always gloomy and dejected? How would you like it if they always grudged the work they gave out, while they were certainly on the ball in receiving their pay-check. Those are not fun employees to have around. They suck energy away from the other employees, don’t they? Gloom and doom is very exhausting. Well, if that picture is not very exciting, then God would certainly not like gloomy servants either, would He? Do you think that God enjoys servants who are always wanting to do something else? Thomas Goodwin, a Puritan, said this especially in reference to pastors, but it applies to all of us. I am modifying it a bit here: Do you think you can come in on the Sabbath day, write a sermon, and preach it, but all the time you think that your study is a prison, and you would gladly be doing other things, such as sin, except that your master commands you to do otherwise? If so, then you are ungrateful, no matter how much you do for God. For us who are not pastors, the application is like this: there is no such thing as gloomy thankfulness or gloomy obedience. You can’t be doing the thing that God wants you to do, while being gloomy and sad at the same time. God requires us to be thankful, which means being joyful. And heaven knows that we have reason enough to be joyful. If the OT Psalmist had reason to rejoice, how much more do we have reason to rejoice, now that Christ has done His great work?

The second thing to notice here is that all the nations of the earth are called to give thanks to God. The people of the earth may not be aware of the fact that God is their King, but that is what this Psalm is saying. God is their king, whether the people of the earth know it or not. The nations of the earth did not know God as the Lord at the time when this Psalm was written. Therefore, it points forward to a time when that will be true. That time is the end of time, when the Lord comes back, and all shall bend their knee to Him as Lord, whether in submission, or in rebellion.

Notice all the commands in this Psalm: make a joyful noise, serve, come, know, enter, give thanks and bless: seven in all. This is a Psalm that has wheels, as it were: it goes somewhere. That is, we are supposed to do something in response to it. We are to do all these things.

The one command that is rather odd in this context is the command at the beginning of verse 3. The Psalmist commands us to know something. Now, when the Psalmist uses that word here, he does not merely mean that we should have something in our head. He also means that we should acknowledge something to be true, that we should confess that the Lord is God. It also implies trusting the one about whom we know that He is God. It includes knowledge of who God is. After all, it is not possible for blind sacrifices to please a seeing God. If we blindly sacrifice anything, hoping that someone up there will see and be pleased, we are deluding ourselves. God has made Himself known to us, in order that we might know Him.

What else are we to know? We are to know that God made us. The more familiar KJV here has the other reading: It is He who made us, and not we ourselves. The different readings are not all that far apart in meaning. The emphasis here is on who God is and what He has done. If God has made us, and we didn’t make ourselves, then that means that we are indeed His. He can do what He wants to do with us, and that is His business. But what does it mean that God has made us? The text means more than that God created us. That is certainly true. However, it is also true that God recreated us when we become a Christian. That is proved by the fact that the Psalmist goes on to say that we are His people, and His sheep. You couldn’t say that about unbelievers. In a sense, God created a people for Himself in the Exodus, and it is to that to which this passage points. God created a people for Himself out of the people of Israel. God is portrayed as a shepherd, and indeed, God did shepherd His people Israel out of Egypt and into the promised land. So also does He do with us. He shepherds us out of our previous life of sin and darkness, and brings us into the light of life. Now, Christ is our Shepherd. He leads us into the good grass. He feeds us with Himself in Communion. This verse was of great comfort to Phillip Melancthon, when his son died on July 12, 1559. He recited these words to himself: “The Lord is God. It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people, the sheep of His pasture.” You see, Melancthon knew that God was shepherding his son home. And that was comfort indeed.

In verse 4, we see something else: we are clean spiritually. It is only the clean people who can actually enter the courts of the living God. God does not tolerate the presence of evil in His courts. The writer here is of course talking about the temple of the Lord. And now, the temple is a rich idea in the NT time period. Christ is the new temple. We are the temple of God. And the church is the temple of God. All of those are true in different ways. We are united to Christ, the true temple. That means that we are holy, set apart, clean. We have been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb. That is why we can enter into church, into the very presence of God, with great thanksgiving, and with great praise! That is deserving of thanks, if there was ever anything that deserved thanks.
This thanksgiving is to be given publicly. That is, it is to be given in the context of the church. The command is to the church to give thanks. This does not rule out private thanksgiving, of course. However, the context here is definitely corporate. And indeed, that is what we are all doing right now. That is what family gatherings are for. It is public there too, in a way.

In verse 5, we see something that is not always so obvious. We see that God is good. Contrary to what the world thinks, God is good. The world looks at all the bad things that happen in this world and says this, “Either God is not all-powerful, or else He is not good, since there is evil in the world.” Usually, the world will say that God is not all powerful, since there must be room for each person to rule his own life. Our Psalm would beg to disagree. The Lord is good, and His steadfast love endures forever. That is, nothing can thwart God’s love for His people. His faithfulness continues throughout all generations, precisely because God has sent Jesus to earth. That is the way of salvation. That is how God has been faithful. The answer to evil is that God defeated evil at the cross and resurrection. Eventually, evil will be overcome entirely. But Jesus gave evil a death blow on the cross. It is for that that we should be thankful. Give thanks to God, and bless His name!