Saturday, July 4, 2009

Ritual, even when imperfect, has power to comfort

Just celebrated the funeral of my dearest and most loved friend, and even though the grief is still raw, I have to admit - the liturgy (a Word service followed by the Rite of Commital at the cemetery) was a refuge of peace for me... that lasted pretty much the rest of the day.

The priest was an older man, rather old-fashioned, and a bit forgetful, but very sweet and sincere, and he knew the deceased from his attendance at Mass at that church for the last few years. He messed up a few times during the Word service, forgot I had already sung a psalm and did a second one, started to comment and homilize, then must have remembered he had not read the Gospel. He sprinkled in two rounds of Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be for good measure... really, by liturgist's standards, this was just shy of disaster - but it was sincere in its intent, and that covered a multitude of indiscretions.

Even though burying Jim was very hard, the Rite of Committal seemed fittingly dignified, and we all left in quietude, not tears, even the non-Catholics.

What is it about ritual that has this great power to comfort? The gathering of friends, the proclamation of the Word, the prayer, and the community joining in song... all of this leads us from that place of sorrow to a timeless place where even sorrow no longer seems to matter.

I had chosen to sing the familiar "Shepherd Me, O God" as the psalm largely because it is generic, and because I knew it so well that I felt I could actually get through it despite my sorrow at losing this person. Because that song is so much a part of my past experiences of funerals, it seemed fitting and it worked. Music, too, is a big part of that powerful ritual experience. I may not be able to hum the secular love songs that were special to me and my friend without tears yet, but I still can sing to the Lord in my friend's name without quavering. Ask me again why I love being Catholic!

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