Ministry to the Dying, Dead, and Bereaved
Part 2 History

Chapter f30 After Vatican II [1975-2050 CE]

Secular History

Church History

Ministry to the Dead and Bereaved

Secular History

Aging Populations:  As the "senior" segment of the American population grows larger, ministry to the sick, dying, and bereaved will become increasingly important in the years to come.  John L. Allen, in The Future Church (Double Day Publishing, 2009. ISBN 978-0-385-52038-6. pp162-163, 168) writes:

"In the United States, the Catholic Church will have 6.8 million additional members over the age of 65 by 2030, by far the most substantial expansion of any subgroup in the Church. Inevitably, these trends mean that the Church will be pressed to invest an increasing share of its resources in ministry to the elderly. Ministries that will expand rapidly include: Chaplains in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and hospitals; Ministry to shut-ins, including the need for Eucharistic Ministers who can take the sacrament to elderly parishioners; Demand for funerals and anointing of the sick; Pastoral Programs to help people deal with bereavement and loss; Catholic nursing homes, hospitals and daycare centers."

Allen quotes Lisa Cahill:

"In her 2005 book Theological Bioethics, Boston College theologian Lisa Sowle Cahill analyzes Western approaches to aging, decline, and death in terms of three contemporary trends:  1)individualism, meaning self-determination;  2) the medicalization of social problems, such as the proper balance between independence and dependence; and 3) the refusal to accept that life has limits, resulting in frustration and despair when science, technology, and money fail to take away suffering that is inevitably part of life.

One task for a contemporary theology of aging, she writes, is to develop an alternative Catholic understanding of death and dying, one more rooted in community, in spirituality and moral discipline, and in an acceptance of the finitude of life rooted in faith about the life to come."  (John L. Allen, The Future Church. Double Day Publishing, 2009. ISBN 978-0-385-52038-6. pp162-163, 168.)

Funeral Cost:  Another "secular" issue is the ever increasing cost of funerals.  "Currently, the average funeral in the United States costs anywhere from $7,000 to $10,000. This range includes the services at the funeral home, burial and installation of a headstone. And keep in mind that prices may vary greatly, depending on different funeral homes and their location in the country." [result of Google search].

The American Way of Death   There are elements in contemporary society that tend to "deny that death exists" -- Even at funerals, the contemporary vocabulary avoids "death related" words.  Cemeteries are moved -- for both financial and social reasons -- away from the Church / Parish property to a place outside of the city.  -- The deceased is clothed and "made up" to appear sleeping.  Some people want to avoid the funeral altogether and have the body buried by the funeral home with no one present and then have a "party", a "Celebration of Life" of the deceased.  There are times when this does not take place in a church or funeral home, but at a bar or other "celebration" space. 

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Church History

The changes in the funeral liturgy take place in the context of the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council:  Active Participation of the faithful (vernacular, choice of readings, adaptation to pastoral circumstances, etc)

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Ministry to the Dead and Bereaved

Gradual implementation of the reforms of the Council. 

Gradual involvement of laity in bereavement ministry.

Shortage of priests causes some bishops to request permission for deacons to perform the funeral rites. People prefer the priest to do it. 

Cremation permitted.

Cultural Variations:   When I was in Kerala India, the mother of my host, Rev. Dr. Jacob Thekeparampil, had recently died.  According to the Catholic custom in India she was immediately buried.  A shrine for her spirit was set up in the home where she died -- the home of her daughter and son-in-law.  The shrine, placed in the principal room of the house, consisted of her bed, her picture, and fresh flowers.  Her spirit-person remained in the home for 40 days -- just as Jesus' spirit-person remained on earth for 40 days -- and then ascended into heaven.  On the 40th day we celebrated her funeral.  Many of her friends and relatives came (about 600 people) and there was a Mass in the parish church, a procession to the grave (where she had been buried 40 days ago) in the adjacent cemetery, and a festive, sit-down meal at the home for all 600 people.  The meal was arranged by the funeral director --  who in India is equipped to set up the tent, tables, chairs, provide the food, waiters, etc.

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Copyright: Tom Richstatter.  All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 03/26/15.  Your comments on this site are welcome at trichstatter@franciscan.org