It’s a recurring problem at some Catholic liturgies — notably, weddings and funerals — where a sizable number of those in attendance may not be church-going Catholics.
How do you handle the blank stares and stony silences?
(And the silence can be deafening, and dispiriting. I’ve presided at a couple of weddings where, after I’ve said, “The Lord be with you” … nobody uttered a word.)
Well, they handled things very deftly at my aunt’s funeral on Wednesday, at St. Anthony’s parish in Hamilton, NJ. Before mass began, a woman came forward from the sanctuary and welcomed everyone. She essentially became the MC for the event. She directed people to stand and greet the casket; later, she announced who would do the readings, and then ushered them to the ambo and then back to their pew. When announcing the hymns, the leader of song gently encouraged people to stand, sit or kneel — and she offered a brief reminder at communion time about who was welcome to receive the Eucharist.
The whole event proceeded effortlessly and tastefully from moment to moment, and I couldn’t help but be grateful. Funerals can be overwhelming and confusing. The emotions of the moment can often cloud our thinking. But the good people at St. Anthony’s helped do the thinking for us. I liked that.
At my parish, the pastoral care administrator helps facilitate some of the these things, but it’s not nearly as coordinated. I got the distinct impression that this is a ministry — a couple of elderly gentlemen assisted by serving the mass and helping the priest with the incense — and it’s one that I think would be welcome in most parishes. (When my mother died in the early ’90s, a group of retired men called “The Arimathians” helped arrange the readings and music for us.)
I’m curious: how do they handle these things at your parish?