Monday, July 20, 2009

Homily for the Funeral of a Priest

As Dean (Vicar Forane) it is my responsibility to oversea the funeral arrangements for Diocesan priests who serve in our deanery. Fortunately such occurrences are not frequent, and as the priests are usually retired, the arrangements are already clearly set out. On the day of the funeral, one of the bishops of the Diocese usually celebrates the mass and preaches, but it is the dean's responsibility to preside and predach at the Mass the evening before the funeral when the body is received into Church. The homily at this mass is brief, and includes few references to the life of the priest himself (which will be very fully recalled the next day). What follows was originally written for the mass for the reception of the body  of Canon Francis Grady at St Gregory's Church, Longton on 20th July 2009


Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever (John 6:51)

A priest is a minister of the resurrection. Everything a priest does is about the resurrection.

We perhaps don’t always think about it in this way, but it is profoundly true. We are taught of course that the priest stands before us in persona Christi in the person or in the place of Christ. And it of course the Risen Christ who the priest presents to us.

The stole which hangs over his shoulders (and which is now draped on his coffin) indicates that he is clothed with the risen Christ, in order to bring him to others. When he wears that stole and celebrates the sacraments, the grace which comes from his anointed hands is the grace which comes from the resurrection.
In the sacrament of reconciliation he gives absolution ‘through the death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ’. In the sacrament of the sick, the healing power of Christ’s resurrection soothes, heals and comforts.
In Baptism (represented by the cross on the coffin) he enables us to die with Christ so that we may share his risen life.
And most of all, when the priest lifts the chalice and paten (which also rest on the coffin) we behold and adore the the living bread, the food of eternal life.

And in his pastoral care, his daily work, the priest carries the risen Christ to his people. Sometimes in deed, in taking communion to the sick. Sometimes in word, in his teaching and preaching. And always in person, as the one who bears the presence of the risen Lord to his people.

And now the priest, this priest, meets the reality of what he has always lived, as the grace of the resurrection, so abundant in his life, now becomes his reality and the reward in death. What he has lived, what Christ has given us through him, now he becomes.

May Christ, the living bread, who gave his life for the world, raise him up on the last day.

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