Parish Newsletter

A Service of the Parish Evaluation Project

Milwaukee, Wisconsin


January, 2010


Taking Leave Of Loved Ones

Each Catholic parish has its own way of doing this.  What is given below are key moments in a process used by one of the parishes we visited recently.  It is spelled out as the final play in a person’s life.


Act One

The play begins when it becomes clear that a person is dying.  The focus is on keeping the person comfortable and free from pain as much as possible.  During this period the pastor or pastoral minister of the parish visits the one who is dying, and along with offering support and encouragement, makes this request.  “After you die and are in the life to come, promise me that you will ask our patron saint for these special requests: that we will grow in holiness as a parish family and that our membership will increase.”


Act Two

When the person is close to death, the Sacrament for the Sick is celebrated.  All the family and loved ones gather around the person and lay their hands on the dying.  They are invited to say a silent prayer or speak briefly to their loved one.  Once this is concluded, the words of the ritual are spoken as the forehead and hands are anointed with oil.  “. . . May the Lord who frees you from sin, save you and raise you up.”


Act Three

Once the person has died, family members arrange the funeral.  The pastor or pastoral minister sits down with them to help pick out readings and songs.  They are also asked about the person’s life, from childhood through adulthood, right up to the moment of death.  This becomes material for the eulogy that is usually given by the pastoral minister at the beginning of the funeral.  The family is usually relieved to be freed from this task, although on occasion, a family member may wish to do this.  If so, the person is asked to write out the reflection, keeping it to one single-space, type-written page.


Act Four

At the memorial service, friends and relatives are invited to offer reflections and stories, but within guidelines so that the service does not go on too long.  This time is often accompanied by both laughter and tears as spouse, children, grandchildren and friends remember favorite experiences they had with the person who has died.  The service is well-focused and uplifting, lasting no more than thirty to forty minutes.


Act Five

As the funeral begins, after the opening prayer, the eulogy is offered by either the pastoral minister or a family member, keeping it to no more than four or five minutes.  As a result, the priest who gives the homily can concentrate on the Scripture readings, using the occasion to help all present become aware of their own future death and rising to new life.


Act Six

At the gravesite, whenever possible, those assembled are given an opportunity to put closure to the rite by placing flowers on the casket as it is lowered in the grave.  They are then invited to put a shovel-load of dirt on the grave as a parting gesture.

Tom Sweetser, SJ & Peg Bishop, OSF