Home Diocesan News Beyond the luncheon: Allowing the funeral rituals to heal the grieving
Beyond the luncheon: Allowing the funeral rituals to heal the grieving Print E-mail
Written by Ann-Margaret Lambo Special to the Exponent   
Wednesday, 19 April 2017 11:43

CANTON – Funeral hospitality goes way beyond a luncheon served after the liturgy, says Pat Berring.

The hospitality associated with any funeral is a unique, faith-filled tradition, guided by the rituals of the Catholic faith, says the liturgy coordinator at St. Michael the Archangel Parish here. In that position and as director of the parish’s bereavement ministry, Berring has given presentations in the diocese on “Funeral Hospitality – Before, During and After We Go Our Separate Ways.”

In a recent Exponent interview, Berring noted that hospitality is rooted in the idea of ritual – “a virtue that is both commanded and commended through Scripture. She explained that the Greek word for “hospitality” translates as “love of strangers.” The writer of the letter to the Hebrews reminds readers not to forget to “entertain strangers, for by doing so, some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”

“Real hospitality is not just a social grace,” Berring said. “It’s a habit of the heart. It is part of who we are as followers of Christ. And there is hardly any other occasion in such need of hospitality as the time of death.”

“As bereavement ministers, liturgists, musicians, clergy, [and] really anyone on the parish level who meets with those who are experiencing death in their families, we know that it is an aspect of life we can’t avoid,” Berring said. “We meet people at a very vulnerable and fragile stage. They arrive on our doorstep immersed in their sorrow. Ministering to them truly is an honor and a sacred trust.”

“I don’t like to use the word ‘plan’ when I sit down with a family for funeral preparation,” Berring noted. “As [Father] Austin Fleming [a priest of the Archdiocese of Boston] says, ‘Everything [the rituals that make up the Order of Christian Funerals] is already planned. What we do is prepare…. Not to prepare is a violation of God’s holy presence and a crime against those who gather to celebrate that presence.’”

In the Catholic Church, “rituals carry us from birth to death,” Berring noted. She pointed out that the very first ritual we celebrate as Catholics is that of baptism. And that sacrament anticipates the final rituals. “In the rite of baptism,” she explained, “after the candle is presented, the presider says of the newly baptized, ‘When the Lord comes, may (he/she) go out to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom.’”

“And then at a funeral, at the greeting, this baptism is recalled with the sprinkling of holy water and the placing of the pall.”

At the end of a funeral liturgy, the words “before we go our separate ways” are always spoken. These words signify that the funeral celebration is coming to an end, but they also signify there is going to be a departure.

“Each person goes out differently from the way they came,” Berring said. “Nothing is going to be the same, for the bereaved family certainly, and for the community, because someone is missing, someone is not there.”

The preparation that a parish takes on with a funeral stems from the reality that “there is no typical funeral. Everyone is different, people are different, the deceased is different from all others,” Berring offered.

Still there are needs unique to those who mourn. In an attempt to meet these needs, St. Michael Parish, as other parishes in the diocese, has a bereavement ministry that reaches beyond the liturgy and the funeral luncheon that parishioners help serve. St. Michael’s HOPE Ministry group has responsibilities that include members following up with personal contacts, phone calls and cards. Once a year, the parish has a HOPE ministry memorial Mass. The group also connects people with support groups in the community.

To family members and friends of those suffering loss, Berring recommends “staying in contact with the person or family….Send a card, make a phone call, invite [them] out to lunch. Anything that lets them know that you remember.”

Berring counsels being “careful what you say” to those grieving a loved one’s death. “We often say to the family that their deceased loved one ‘is in a better place.’ To that family, the better place is with them. Or oftentimes, we say to children ‘God wanted Grandma’ or ‘God took Grandma.’ What does that say to the child about God? It can all be very frightening. But we have our own personal faith to carry us through, we have the Holy Spirit, we have the community and we have the rituals.”

To Catholics involved directly with bereavement and liturgy in their parishes, Berring says, “Whatever role we have, it is our challenge to ensure the integrity of the ritual – to help guide the family though choices that will allow the ritual to do its profound and powerful work, and not suggest or allow anything to weaken it. We can help the bereaved to find the healing action of the rituals. This presence to the bereaved is one of the ways that the reign of God is made visible. And that is hospitality.”


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