This put my mind at work to compile the following items to consider were preparing for - and participating in - the Church's funeral liturgies.
- Call the priest. Please, when a loved one dies, call the priest. It sometimes happens that a family will wait more than 24 hours to call the priest. After such time, there isn't much that we can do. It is best to call the priest when your loved one is still conscious so he can hear their confession and give them the apostolic pardon. There are also prayers the priest can pray after someone has died. Don't worry about "bothering Father;" he is there to be bothered in times such as this.
- Be flexible. You may not always be able to have everything you desire for your loved one's funeral. It may be that the church itself is not available when you want, or that Father has other commitments he simply has to keep at certain times. In short, do not set your plans before talking with a priest. Generally we are happy to work with you and will do what we can to schedule things as seems best for the family; but sometimes we simply cannot reasonably reschedule an event already set with 200 people.
- Don't chew gum. This is simply tacky and disrespectful. If you're nervous, hold your rosary beads.
- Don't talk; pray. When sitting in the front row during the prayer service for your loved one - or anywhere else, for that matter - do not talk with your neighbor throughout the prayer service. It might be a better use of your time to actually pray for the one you love. If you do not want to be there to pray, go get a cup of coffee and the prayer service will have concluded by the time you return.
- Enter silently. When you arrive late for the prayer service - as sometimes happens and cannot be avoided - enter the funeral home quietly and take your seat quietly, without drawing attention to yourself or greeting everyone you know in the middle of an important prayer.
- Turn off the cell phone. By now this simply ought to be obvious. If you must keep your cell phone on (maybe someone is lost on their way to the funeral home), use some sense and stay at the back of the room (with your phone on silent mode). When your phone vibrates, step outside and then answer your telephone, even if it is rainy or windy; do not answer your phone in the funeral home in the middle of a prayer service.
- Be sensible. When you hear a cell phone ring during the prayer service and you know it isn't yours but you also know that yours is not on silent mode, have some sense and silence it then and there to save yourself embarrassment later. If your phone does ring and it isn't on silent mode, have some sense and don't let it continue ringing thinking nobody will know it is your phone; everyone knows it is your phone and wishes you'd stop the ringing already.
- Think of others. I know you don't see your family and friends perhaps as often as you would like, but the "receiving line" at a visitation is not the time to "catch up." There are a great many people who would also like to express their sympathies to the family and don't need to stand behind you as you converse for twenty minutes with each member of the immediate family. If you need to catch up with them, pick up your pen and write them a letter, send them an e-mail or give them a call after the funeral. Each of these latter efforts will certainly be more appreciated and sincere.
- Pay attention. If several priests are present at the prayer service, do not thank a priest for his beautiful words if it was not he who spoke the words. This way a priest will not feel under-appreciated and you won't be embarrassed.
I know that some of these may seem harsh or cold, but there does come a time when these things need to said, and certainly the funeral itself is not the time.