Thursday, March 31, 2011
Today was my little friend's memorial Mass. I wish the skies would have been more considerate, but at least at the time of the Mass, it was just gray and not raining. Rebecca met me at church. We decided she would go to school late, following the Mass. I went to work very early, left for a few hours for the Mass, and returned after dropping Becca at her school. On the short drive over, she said to me: " You do want your funeral Mass in Latin, don't you?"
I laughed at first. I have the music picked out for my funeral and some strict instructions about no eulogies, etc. but I honestly hadn't given much thought to the subject. I know I'd like the priest to wear black vestments, and I clearly do not want any assumptions that I am in Heaven. A funeral Mass is offered for the repose of the soul of the deceased. If someone feels compelled to give a eulogy or a stand-up performance about what they suppose I'm doing in Heaven, they can save it for the luncheon afterward. But would I want my Mass to be a requiem Mass in the Extraordinary Form?
I told my daughter I'd have to think about it. Then I asked the question no sane parent would ever ask their own child. "God forbid, if you go before me, what kind of Mass do you want Rebecca?"
Without even a second's pause, she said she would like her funeral Mass to be in the Extraordinary Form. "It might be the only time any of our family ever goes to a Latin Mass", she told me, ever the considerate one. Little does she know. I come from a large Italian family known for getting demonstratively emotional at funerals. I will never forget my paternal grandfather's funeral as long as I live.
First, the "wake" was held over not one but two nights. The first night was for family only, the second was open to everyone. My grandmother and all my aunts wore black. On the evening before the wakes began, we visited my grandmother at the home she had shared with Poppy, and every new visitor was greeted by much wailing and shrieking, most of it in Italian. Then after each outburst, she would return to praying the very large Rosary she had in her lap, until the next unsuspecting person arrived to "pay their respects."
After the night of the first viewing, one of my aunts decided a funeral home was no place for grandchildren to spend an entire evening, so she generously agreed to take all of us back to my grandparents' house until the wake had concluded. She entertained us with stories and when the other adults arrived, my uncle Sonny took over. He told us about the days when a wake was held with the deceased person in the house, which is where the ritual took its name "wake" because someone was expected to stay up all night with the body, another sign of respect. The men told a lot of jokes, drank and laughed. What was so funny, their father just died? Still, it was comforting in a way to see them give the morbidity a break. But the real spectacle would begin on the day of the funeral.
I had never been to a burial before. I was barely ten years old at the time. I was already freaked out about seeing my grandfather's lifeless cold body heavily made up by the undertaker lying in the casket. There was much wailing and screaming when the undertaker tried to close the coffin before the body was transported to church for the Mass. Before he could close the lid, one of my cousins tucked a bottle of booze in the casket with my grandfather. Not sure what that was about, but it was a strange thing to do. At the cemetery, just like the famous scene in The Godfather, each person laid a flower on the casket. Not my grandmother. She tried to throw herself on top of it, barely restrained by the family. My theatrical aunt wailed loudly as the men tried to drag my grandmother from the grave. I was mortified and perplexed. My grandparents fought like cats and dogs. I could scarcely remember a kind word being exchanged between them, and here she was, trying to jump in the grave with him. I had never seen anything so undignified, until we were compelled to take her to the cemetery a few weeks later. This time, she kicked the dirt around the grave. Having visited my maternal grandfather's grave every Good Friday, I was again mortified. We always took care not to step on any of the plots or stones, and here she was, in her black dress, kicking wildly at the dirt. It was enough to make me never want to go to another funeral in my life.
While there have been a few deaths since then, no one has ever behaved quite like that again. Still, my family has a lot to learn about funeral decorum. One cousin talked throughout the entire Mass for my paternal grandmother. Another decided that he should be the one to give the eulogy, even though my grandmother never liked him and told everyone it took years off her life when he married my cousin. At my maternal grandmother's viewing, my mother walked in, took one look at her beloved mother in the casket, and suffered a serious heart attack. I thought I was going to have to bury both of them in the same week.
I'm very glad my little friend was given a reverent and dignified send-off today. The priest gave a simple but touching homily about how, when she was a baby, her godparents brought her to the Easter candle to be baptised and today, her remains were once again brought to that candle so her relatives and friends could ask God to bring her soul to eternal rest. It was an entirely appropriate funeral Mass, which is possible regardless of which form in which it is celebrated.
I still have to give Rebecca's question a bit more thought.
Posted by TLW at 7:22 PM