Death of husband prompts wife to pre-plan


Bettendorf parish helps Catholics plan their funeral liturgy

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

BETTENDORF — When Kathy Hunt’s husband Gary died suddenly in 2007 at age 57, she not only was in grief and shock, but had the added stress of deciding where to have her husband’s funeral and burial.

Kathy and Gary grew up in different parts of Iowa and were living in Sheboygan Falls, Wis., when Gary died, but they did not have family there. “My first decision was where to bury him.” With help from her sister, Trish Hinchman, and sister-in-law, Pam Hunt, Kathy arranged for the funeral at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf, where she and Gary had been members on and off for years as they moved around the Midwest. Father Tim Sheedy, the parish’s pastor at the time, also was a college friend of Kathy and eased her worries. A vigil was held in Sheboygan Falls for friends and co-workers, followed by a vigil and funeral Mass at Lourdes.

Contributed Kathy and Gary Hunt are pictured in this photo taken prior to Gary’s sudden death in 2007. Kathy shares her story of arranging his funeral and how she is now pre-planning her funeral Mass to help alleviate the burden for her family.
Kathy and Gary Hunt are pictured in this photo taken prior to Gary’s sudden death in 2007. Kathy shares her story of arranging his funeral and how she is now pre-planning her funeral Mass to help alleviate the burden for her family.

“There was a lot to comprehend at that time,” Kathy said. Today, she is taking steps to pre-plan her funeral so that her two children and other family members do not have to worry about it. One step was participating in an Oct. 30 planning meeting at St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf titled “Preparing the Funeral Liturgy.”

Father Jim Vrba, pastor of St. John Vianney, led the meeting. Each participant received a folder that contained information on the Order of Christian Funerals: the vigil liturgy, funeral liturgy (with or without Mass) and committal (burial). The packet also had lists of suggested readings and music, a sample vigil service program from the vigil of Fr. Vrba’s dad, a sample funeral program, grief support pamphlet and other materials. “This is to help make it easier to express your wishes before the Lord calls you home,” Fr. Vrba said.

The vigil liturgy can be celebrated at the funeral home or church. The service includes a hymn, opening prayer, Scripture reading, reflection, sharing of memories, prayer of intercession, the Lord’s Prayer, concluding prayer, blessing and hymn. “This is a great time for storytelling,” Fr. Vrba said. The rosary is sometimes prayed, but does not replace the vigil. He noted it’s best to pray the rosary with family. The vigil allows everyone to participate.

The funeral liturgy is celebrated within or outside of Mass. Typically, a formal reception of the body is held either at the funeral home or church before Mass. Then the family gathers for prayer as the funeral home personnel prepare for the funeral Mass. Although some variations may occur, depending on the parish and pastor, at St. John Vianney the family gathers at the baptismal font where the casket or urn of the loved one is blessed.

The pall, a large, white cloth, is placed on the casket as a reminder of the baptismal garment. “We put on Christ,” he said. No cloth is placed on the urn containing cremated remains. For deceased veterans, a flag can drape the casket before and after the funeral Mass but it is replaced by the pall during Mass.

Music plays as the casket or urn is moved to the front of the church. A Bible and crucifix may be placed on the coffin. “A family Bible and crucifix can be used,” he noted.

At St. John Vianney, the opening hymn is played as family members gather in the pews. The Liturgy of the Word is celebrated with the first reading from the Old Testament, a responsorial psalm, second reading from the New Testament, and a Gospel reading. The Liturgy of the Eucharist follows and then the final commendation takes place. Fr. Vrba uses incense. The Song of Farewell is sung at this point.

The Rite of Committal follows at the cemetery. If this rite is not held at a Catholic cemetery, a special blessing of the ground will be done, Fr. Vrba noted. The rite includes a Scripture verse, blessing, prayers of intercession, the Lord’s Prayer and a final blessing.

Fr. Vrba said that, weather permitting and particular cemetery rules, the committal generally takes place graveside. At the Rock Island Arsenal in Rock Island, Ill., it will take place at a designated shelter. In some cemeteries, that may be a chapel. Following committal, families may host a luncheon. At St. John Vianney, it can be held at the parish or off site. Parishes have different guidelines regarding luncheons.

St. John Vianney’s health ministry team offers assistance to the family in many ways, providing advocacy to a loved one before that individual’s death and assisting the family afterwards and offering Grief Share twice a year.

Fr. Vrba encourages Catholics to think about planning their church funeral in advance and to talk with their pastor or designated parish employee to assist them through the process. When plans are finalized, one copy should be filed at the parish and another at home or with a trusted family member. Catholics should inform family members about the arrangements they’ve made and who to contact.

Parishioner Mary Rogers has her funeral Mass prearranged but attended the meeting to learn about updates she might want to include. “I don’t want this to be a burden on my family. They are so scattered around. I am doing this for them.”

Kathy Hunt said, “I will feel much more at peace if I have these decisions made so my family won’t have to do it for me.”

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