October 21, 2008

Committal Poll

There are two things I've been wondering about with regard to committals, i.e. the burial services that complete the liturgy for the Christian dead.

First, what to wear? I have always gone to the cemetery in just my habit, doing committal services in just my "street clothes" without any vesture. However, in the introduction to the rite it says that the minister should vest according to "local custom." I've asked a few of the undertakers what the local custom might be, but they are so trained to flatter and coddle the clergy that they don't want to say anything. (In this they are not be faulted, for in many or perhaps most cases, (to our shame) coddling and flattery are the most productive way to deal the clergy.)

So, what should I be wearing at committals? What is your good and catholic sensibility? Habit and stole? Habit, surplice, and stole? Don't bother?

Second, where should the military rite of committal fit into the liturgy? The tendency seems to do this part after the conclusion of the religious liturgy. Thus, after I dismiss the people, the soldiers or sailors play their automated bugle (or tape player, without any pretense), fold the flag and present it to the bereaved. It's actually quite successful as a rite and I've always found those who do these services to be exceedingly gracious and reverent.

Doing the military honors after the religious committal seems to work in some ways, e.g. the liturgy is not interrupted. On the other hand, I always have the nagging feeling that God should come at the very end. Doing the military honors before the final, religious committal would have certain advantages. For one thing, I'm not comfortable sprinkling the flag with holy water, and some of the soldiers and sailors aren't either. Removing the flag before the final committal would allow the coffin to be sprinkled during the rite. (This isn't in the rite itself, but seems to be customary and expected.) It would also allow the final "go in peace" to actually make some sense. What do you think?


ben in denver said...

I have not been to many committals, so take my commentary for what it is worth.

I think that the stole is very important. It is after all the symbol of your priestly authority. I think it is important to manifest the sign that the deceased is committed to the ground by the authority of the Church of Christ.

The surplice also seems appropriate, since it it the vesture traditionally worn when the priest gives blessings.

So my vote would be habit, surplice, and stole. I have very conflicted feelings about what color the stole should be. Certainly not rose, red, or green, but I'm not sure if it should be black, violet or white. The local custom, if there is such an thing in America at this point, is probably white since 1970.

I don't have a strong opinion about the military service. It seems important to include, but I'm not sure when.

Brother Charles said...

Thanks, Ben. I knew I could count on your advice!

I tend to agree with you on surplice and stole. White is the customary color, though violet and black are permitted. Should I take my black stole along to the cemetery (I could never get away with it in church :))

I would never think of trying to remove the military service...it is their right as citizens and veterans, seems to me, and just from a ritual-anthropological perspective, it's quite effective. I just wish we Catholics could get back to some of their reverence and precision!

Anonymous said...

Faher Charles, first of all, thanks for asking your readership (or "bloggership") this question. This is the firt time in my (concededly limited) experience that a priest has ever asked the question. I have been at wake services where I have seen priests (no Capuchins, of course) show up to conduct the service is all manner of odd attire, including a green clerical shirt in once case, and, in another, a black clerical shirt, open at the neck with the white tab just hanging there. My reaction in seeing these guys is why bother even showing up, because the manner in which you are attired speaks volumes about how you view this ministerial responsibility.

But enough venting. I think that the habit, surplice and stole would be both appropriate and very much appreciated by the family of the deceased. Personally, I like a violet stole and would not object to black, although I agree with you that white has become so entrenched that, even though black and violet are permitted, they might raise eyebrows. One question is how would you deal with the vesture in a winter-time burial when you would be wearing a coat?
As to the placement of the military component, I think that it should go before the religious ceremony. I believe that there is information on the web on the order of military funerals. I think that it is not favored to sprinkly Holy Water on the flag and that in military commitment ceremonies the guards actially raise the bottom of the flag if there is a need to sprinkly Holy Water on the casket (e.g., at the entrance into the church.

4narnia said...

hi Fr. C!
just wanted to add my comment on this subject. i've been to many committals (many of them at Graymoor) and i always see the Friar in his habit, surplice & stole. so, you have my vote for those three.
as for the color, i feel any of the acceptable colors would be fine. why not experiment with the other colors (violet & black) if people ask why, then they'll be educated!
i don't know anything about the military stuff, so i won't even "go there." :)
hope these comments frm us (your friends) helps!
i always enjoy all of your subjects that you post here on your blog page. even though i don't comment on every subject, i do read all of your posts. it's always a real learning experience and you're always so inspiring, too! thanks! PAX ET BONUM!
tara t