Thursday, February 9, 2012

How to Vest at a Funeral?

There's an interesting blog post over at Gottesdienst Online about how to vest at a funeral and whether or not to add the Alleluias back in if a funeral takes place during Lent. I started commenting, but because of the length of my comment, I decided instead to make it a blog post here:

Allow me to interject some high-octane ignorance into this discussion:

I was told that funerals are for the congregation, not the deceased member. It's for the survivors, not the deceased. A Christian should not pick the hymns she'd like to have played at her funeral, because it's not her funeral. It's the congregation's funeral, if you will. (On a much LARGER note, this is why a Christian should not, for pious or other reasons, wish against having a funeral - we need to mourn whether you want us to or not. Don't deny us the opportunity to gather around the Word and to say prayers and be ministered to in our time of need.)

When it comes to forcing people to be Easter happy and suppressing the need to mourn, what sets the tone more than anything else is going to be the preaching, the hymns, and the prayers. In a funeral, the Minister is ministering to the mourning. Preach the theology of the cross, preach baptism, preach the Resurrection, and so forth and comfort the mourning with the Gospel. If your preaching and hymn selection and prayers don't inhibit mourning, neither will your surplice (or alb). By the same token, I wouldn't switch to white paraments  and stoles to try and further emphasize the resurrection. The funeral pall and your surplice (or alb) are sufficient.

Also, I'd say you don't have to "somber it up" by NOT wearing your surplice and going all black. There's a dead body in a casket. As long as you're not trying to pretend that someone hasn't died and that people aren't mourning and needing the comfort of the Gospel in their grief and sadness, the reality of death is not lost on the people in the pews (or the men in vestments, for that matter).

I'd say that, like many things in Lutheranism, the mood or tone of a funeral is a both/and; it's another one of those mysterious struggles with the tension. Mourning and sadness, but at the same time rejoicing in Christ and the Gospel. Is the Christian funeral supposed to be an occasion for grieving or an occasion for celebration? The answer is... yes. Case in point: the liturgical color for Holy Friday is black (actually, as I understand it, there is no liturgical color for this day - it's really the ABSENCE of color, but we call it black), but everybody calls it "Good" Friday. How can the day Christ was crucified be called "good?" If you understand this, you understand why a funeral is the seemingly paradoxical combination of mourning AND celebration.

As far as sticking to the Liturgical Calendar and not changing the paraments and vestments for the occasion of a funeral or switching to white (or black), my mind is divided. On one hand, Death does not schedule its activity according to the Liturgical Calendar, and a death can occur on any given day of the year. His funeral was during Lent: wear purple. Her funeral is in the season of the church: wear green. Funerals happen all over the place throughout the life of the church.

On the other hand, we wear white on the Annunciation even though it's smack dab in the middle of Lent. Page xi of LSB says Occasions (except Harvest Observance and Christian education) have designated liturgical colors regardless of when they are held. Ordination and/or installation? Break out the red! On saint commemoration feasts we wear white or red (depending on whether or not the saint was martyred), regardless of the season. So if a funeral were, if you will, a commemoration of this saint who has just died, and he or she wasn't murdered for her faith, I wouldn't object to white paraments if you go into with this rationale.

Now that I think about it some more, let's go back to the ordination / installation idea for a moment. We wear red on this occasion because we recognize the Holy Spirit at work when a man is ordained or installed. Pastors, let me ask you this: when someone is baptized during the Divine Service, do you switch to red vestments and paraments or do you just stick with the Liturgical Calendar default? Holy Baptism is no small part of the funeral rite, the funeral pall is white because it represents Christ's robe of righteousness which was given to the Christian when he was baptized, promises made by God at the baptism are remembered at the funeral. Holy Baptism is all over the place in a funeral, no? So on the question of funeral vestments, I'd say that if you stick with the calendar for a Divine Service baptism, stick with the calendar for a funeral.

So my default continues to be "stick with the calendar," but now it's based on the Holy Baptism precedent. Ministers: strike the balance between sorrow and celebration not with the vestments and paraments, but with the content of your preaching, the prayers, and the hymns.

Though, I wouldn't look for the liturgical calendar default as a mark of orthodoxy.

Actually, you know what? Let's just keep going with the Holy Baptism-funeral connection. Because God makes us His children through Holy Baptism, and when one of God's children dies, He calls that child home; I think we can all agree that the only appropriate liturgical color for a funeral is "Children of the World."

So that's my contribution to the discussion. I'll keep an eye on the original blog post over at Gottesdienst as the discussion continues to unfold.