N A PRETTY REGULAR BASIS, people not involved with Church music will speak to me about my work. When we start to speak about funerals, they usually have quite a few questions. At one of my previous parishes, I had 40-50 funerals per year. They would ask me, “How do you do that? I don’t think I could be around death that much. It would depress me.”
This is when I give what my wife calls my “It’s What We Do” speech. Apparently I have fallen into predictable patterns of storytelling and explanation. I call it consistency; she calls it annoying. Here it is:
Burying the dead is one of the Corporal Works of Mercy, and the funeral rites are part of that work. It’s What We Do. As Christians, we owe it to one another to pray for the dead. Furthermore, it is the only way to truly grieve the departed than to face their mortality (and ours) head on. It is for this reason that the funeral liturgy is filled with both prayers for the deceased and with reminders of our own mortality (even with the removed Dies Irae). As much of a cliché as it is, death is a part of life. Not one of us is getting out of this alive. We need that reminder of our mortality, and the dead truly need our prayers.
That’s why I can participate in so many funerals. I see them as an act of mercy, and as such, my duty as a Christian.
It’s What We Do.