As we continue through the Advent season, the Church is calling us to prepare the way of the Lord. This is not simply the historical remembrance of the Lord’s first coming to Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. But, most pressingly, it is a summons to prepare our hearts for the Lord’s Second Coming at the end of time.

For this reason, traditionally during the Advent season the Church reviews the Four Last Things, namely, death, judgment, heaven, and hell. It’s also an opportunity for the Church to remind the faithful of aspects relating to these Four Last Things, such as prayers for the dead, indulgences, and the importance of the Funeral Mass for our loved ones who have died.

Admittedly, such a focus does seem to fly in the face of Christmas joy. However, the Church is not in the Christmas season yet. The secular world has begun its Christmas, which discards the Christ Child. It has no need of the mystery of God’s incarnation among us – which is a central mystery of the Christian faith – and instead celebrates something else, something merely human, something akin to humanity worshipping itself.

This is not the Christmas of the Christian disciple.

Our Christmas is much deeper and completely focused on God. And when our Christmas comes, it is a season, since one chronological day cannot contain the mystery of dwelling among us.

And again, we haven’t entered the Christmas season yet. We enter the season on December 25, Christmas Day. And December 25 is only the first day of the Christmas season.

So, we are not in the Christmas season yet. We are in Advent. We are in a time of preparation and penance.

Advent has its own themes and lessons which it offers to us. There is a grace to the Advent season that we cannot let ourselves lose.

The Church is trying to catch our attention. She is teaching one thing, while a secular culture is celebrating something else.

The season of Advent is the season of hope, which is a trust in God above all things. It is in this context that we can understand how the Four Last Things are a natural part of the Advent season. Such a focus shouldn’t startle us, or depress us. The Church’s focus on eternity should remind us of our eternal home, of our destiny as the children of God, and the reason why – when Christmas does arrive – the long-awaited anointed savior came to us.

In this Advent light, we can circle around and look at one very important part of our spiritual tradition. We can stress the importance of the Catholic Funeral Mass.

Such an emphasis is needed today since the Catholic Funeral Mass has suffered widescale negligence or misunderstanding by many believers in recent times. Many families pass on even having a Funeral Mass offered, or they want to change its purpose and refashion it as a “celebration of life.”

The Funeral Mass, however, is meant as a supplication and offering for a deceased person’s soul. It lies at the very heart of all our beliefs on the afterlife, from judgment, heaven, hell, purgatory, and our union with others beyond death. The Funeral Mass is celebrated in the hope that is given to us by the Paschal Mystery, namely, the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Funeral Mass shows our union with the Risen Christ and our ardent hope for eternal life in him.

Some time ago, a funeral director was frustrated with me because I would not adjust the liturgy to his wishes, and he said to me, “Well, Father, the funeral is for the living.” I waited, and then responded, “No, the Catholic Funeral Mass is principally for the dead.”

The Funeral Mass is for the consolation of the dead. It has been given to us in order to offer supplication and intercession for our loved ones.

For the believer, the Funeral Mass is not an option. It must be offered. To fail to have a Funeral Mass offered is to deprive our loved ones of the graces of the Eucharistic Sacrifice at a time when their soul is most in need of those very graces.

The Funeral is not a mere celebration of life. It is worship. It is directing our minds and hearts to God. The Funeral Mass is a solemn, sacred duty of families offered on behalf of their departed loves ones for the peace and repose of their souls.

The Funeral Mass should be taken seriously. It is an act of religion, a sacred duty, and as a privilege of Christians to have the Eucharistic Sacrifice offered for their beloved dead.