Newspaper Archive of
Catholic Northwest Progress
Seattle, Washington
November 15, 1963     Catholic Northwest Progress
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November 15, 1963
 

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Friday, 1963 PROGRESS-- 'To bury the dead' EDITORIAL. HE American funeral industry has been the subject of severe crificTsm during the past few months. Morticians have been accused of commercializing death and capitalizing on bereavement. Since Christ- ianlty has always considered "10 bury the dead" a work of mercy we have a right and obligation, 10 re-examlne the ro/e played by those who perform thls sacred task in our name. That certain funeral directors are guilty of grave abuses cannot be denied. The passing out of Ameri- can Beauty roses as mourners file by to view the last remains, the enticement to purchase elaborate ser- vices far beyond the survivors' means, the display of caskets wlfh built-ln accessories ranging from hand painted portraits of the deceased's favorite horse to foam rubber posture-perfect mattresses, smack not only of abuse, but of sheer paganism in its lowest and most degrading form. But should these unprincipled practices of the few be allowed to tarnish the image of the legit6 mate mortician who works out his salvation through the corporal work of mercy he strives in all sincerity 10 perform? We think not. Furthermore, is if not true that Mr. John q. Public, saturated as he is with the paganism and materialism of our day, has himself encouraged and even demanded certain compromises with the dignity and simplicity that has traditionally characterized Christian burial? In today's funeral more concern is shown for the survivors than for the deceased. This false empha- sis is as old as man and is as unmistakenly pagan. Back in the 4th Century, A,D., St. Augustine, writing in condemnation of the extravagant and showy funerals of pagan Rome had this to say: "The funeral preparations, the condition of the sepulchres, +he pomp, do more for the consolation of the living than for the dead." IXTRAVAGANCE and artificiality will always rush in "-- to glamorize a graveside unaHended by the spirit of Christian faith. For the devout Catholic, faith and the profound simplicity of the Church's liturgy set tone and meaning for fee funeral service. Nothing could be more beautiful or consoling than the requiem Mass and its accompanying absolutions. But what of those who have no faith, or are affiliated with no Christian Church? What is death for these people? It is an aspect of reality not to be faced, but to be abhorred. Since for these there is no religious belief to give death meaning, the funeral service becomes everything. Nothing can be too good or 10o expensive for the departed loved one. The casket is the|r last and only means of honoring his beloved memory among men. The funeral parlor becomes their capel, the director their priest. Heaven, the love and mercy of God, the consoling words of Christ, His passion and death, the pledge of future resurrection  these eternal truths are of no consolation to men without faith. It ;s only natural under such circumstances to de-emphasize the unknown fate of the deceased and to concentrate upon those aspects of the funeral service that will be of comfort to the survivors. Even among those with faith, the spectre of pomp and vanity hovers over the Christian funeral. But for a different reason. Amerlcan cuffure has con- sc;ously or unconsciously cultivated certain status symbols. One is the car; another, no less important, is the casket. Whether John Brown's body is encased in pine, mahogany or brass when his soul appears before the Almighty, makes no difference to God or 10 John Brown--but it can make a world of dlf- ference to his survivors. The Browns lived first class, they must be buried first casket. Those who ride through life in Cadillacs are rarely content 10 send their relatives off to eternity in a pine box. MONG the status seekers there is no such thing as a standard car, or a standard house either as regards price or design. The man who could devise a universally accepted casket for anything but desti- tute Americans would certainly be a genius. Many llve beyond their means to impress those about them wlfh how much money they make, those same people more often than not want to die beyond their means to show how much they supposedly left behind. Now, we can blame certain morHc;ans who en- courage funeral extravagances for the sake of profit. But let's not make Mr. Funeral Director the scapegoat for pagan and materialistic excesses of which we our- selves are guilty. If you walk into a funeral home and demand the best that money can buy to bury dear old Johnny, then don't complain when six years later you are still paying the b. Here in +he Northwest, to our knowledge, so- called excesve abuses are the exception and not the rule. We have reason to believe that the so- called cost of dying is considerably below the national average. Morticians who fly 10 perform a corporal work of mercy in the services they offer can be found in every community. Since the director is obliged 10 offer his services to everybody, his poll- cies are pretty much uniform. There is nothing offen- sive or extravagant in the standard services of the reputable mortician. Use of mortuary facilities, em- balming, detailed paper work, transportation to and from the cemetery--these have their legitimate and necessary plac in the modern funeral. It is up to you to add the extras. F YOU want 10 be assured of proper burial for your- self and your family, carefully select your mor- tician, know what kind of casket you want and then insist on getting ft. The services are the same whether you select a $300 cloth-covered pine box or a $3,000 bronze, silk-llned, sweet-scented showpiece. And the corpse inside is just as comfortable in the one as in the other. If you are truly more concerned for the im- mortal soul of the deceased than for the grief and hear+ache his departure has caused, you will dem- onstrate this by the Masses and prayers you offer in his behalf. I+ amazes us to go +o Catholic funeraJs, see the casket draped with expensive floral displays of every arrangement and description and hear of no one, not even close relatives who have come for- ward to have a Mass offered for the dead man's soul. How often have we been to requiem Masses in which not even the family receives Holy Com- munion? Can we blame these thoughtless omissions on the local funeral director? During the month of November, Holy Mother Church reminds us that we cannot separate the reality of death from the even more important reality of future llfe. The second book of Machabees reminds us that "It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought +o pray for the dead that they be loosed from sins." It is through the Mass coupled with prayer and sacrifice that a Christian best honors the dead. If +hls thought is foremost in our minds there will be little danger of being carried away by false senti- ment and shal|ow emotion when God comes calling for the soul of a loved one. "4