Thursday, January 15, 2009

Requiem Mass for Father Richard John Neuhaus - Some Observations

Father Richard John Neuhaus was received into the presence of his Holy Triune God Thursday, January 8, 2009. A requiem mass was celebrated in his memory at Immaculate Conception Parish on 14th Street in New York City at 10am on Tuesday, January 13th, 2009.
Father Neuhaus was a great man of faith, a great intellect, and a great communicator. He was a prolific writer, most notably as Editor in Chief of First Things, and an astute observer and commentator on culture, society, politics, ethics, morality, and religion.
Because Father Neuhaus was baptized in the Name of the Triune God into Jesus’ death and resurrection and because he thus believed I, perhaps unlike his own brothers and sisters of the Roman Catholic faith, have no doubt or uncertainty about His eternal presence before his Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier in Zion, nor is he in need or want of any further purification for his sins beyond the all-atoning sacrifice of his Lord and Savior Jesus upon the cross.
I attended the requiem mass on Tuesday. The following are some of my observations.
Immaculate Conception Parish holds, I’m guessing, approximately 400-500 people. The church was filled to standing room only, in the back of the church and in the side aisles. Incense permeated the space and was used periodically throughout the service, something I was most thankful for since the space was so crowded and most attendees had their winter coats and scarves on throughout the hour and forty-five minute service. The music was very good – hymns, choral arrangements, strings (I believe), and a fine organ and organist – (unfortunately, I did not acquire a worship bulletin); a few of the pieces I remember include: O Sons and Daughters of the King, Ave Verum Corpus, Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, The Church’s One Foundation. The music in the mass itself I take to be fairly standard Vatican II Roman Catholic arrangements. Many of the propers and the ordinaries were sung responsively as the congregation was led by a female cantor. My overall opinion of the music is that it was good, tasteful, appropriate, better than I expect from Vat II RC, but somewhat less than I had hoped for at the requiem mass of such a man as R. J. Neuhaus.
Turning to the service itself and what was said about Neuhaus I report the following: I was hopeful that given Neuhaus’ Lutheran pedigree (first LCMS, then ELCA) the Gospel would predominate throughout. I am happy to say that the Gospel was often proclaimed strongly, but that also, at times, it was considerably tarnished by the uncertainty and doubt that absolutely all of Father Neuhaus’ sins had been purged away. One of the first prayers, I believe, (please pardon my ignorance of RC Requiem Mass Liturgy and the fact that as I write this I do not have access to my Liturgy), was to the BVM and saints to forgive Father Neuhaus for his remaining sins. The homilist, D’Souza (sp.?) (possibly a contributor to First Things?), gave a fine homily, very strongly Gospel oriented at times, personal, endearing, humorous, etc., however, at least once, particularly at the very beginning, brought up the bugaboo of uncertainty. I believe the first words out of his mouth were something like, “May whatever of Richard’s sins that remain be quickly purified…”. Please do not think that I am criticizing Roman Catholics for being, well, Roman Catholic; it’s simply that, given Neuhaus’ history, and the latent Lutheranism that for no good reason I believe still resided in him, I had hoped for better. I suppose that I imagined that Neuhaus had planned his funeral, what would be sung, said, performed, etc., well in advance of his death; however, I feel that he may have expressed only minimal wishes and simply submitted himself to the liturgy, practices, and doctrines of the church that he had submitted himself to as priest and in the parish in which he had most recently served God’s people. The readings included standard funeral lections: Psalm 23 (sung/chanted responsively; Isaiah 25:6-9; Romans 6:3-11; John 11:21-27. In the homily D’Souza singled out the word “feast” in the Isaiah passage making the point that the lections were from the RSV, as Neuhaus had been most vocal in his opposition to the RC approved New American Bible translation. So, while in the RSV, the word “feast” is used in description of the goings on in the heavenly Zion, the homilist stated that in the Vulgate the word convivium is used. Convivium means something like “sharing life together”. Convivium was a word that Neuhaus liked very much and used particularly to describe the gatherings he would have at his Manhattan apartment with literati, scholars, theologians, etc., and just plain ol’ good friends. These conviviums apparently included the consumption and enjoyment of fine scotch and cigars. I really enjoyed this idea of convivium, translated as feast in most translations, and found myself contemplating this word in regard to the Eucharistic feast and the “sharing life together” that the Christian assembly enjoys as they partake together of He who is Life incarnate. This alone was worth the trip to Manhattan on a Tuesday morning.
The Eucharistic liturgy was permeated with sacrificial language and action. I will make no further comment on this – it was a Roman Catholic mass, what do you expect?
Who was there? It’s always fun to see who’s present at an event like this. Of people I know I saw Rev. David Benke (Atlantic District President – LCMS), Rev. Daniel Grams (we had planned to meet at the church), Rev. Dien Ashley Taylor, Rev. Paul Sauer. People I kind of know, or now know: Rev. Joel Elowsky. People I don’t know, but know of: Rev. John Nunes, Senator (former) Rick Santorum. Edward Cardinal Eagan was at the Vatican and could not attend. A letter from Cardinal Eagan was read near the end of the service. At least four, maybe five, bishops were present and a host of priests. I thought it was interesting that during the consecration all the priests moved their hands toward the bread and the wine and spoke together the words of institution. That’s about it, I’m not much of a gad-about or glad-hander.
Dan and I slipped out right at the end of the service to avoid being trapped in the church for a long time (we were right near the door in the back and both of us had to get back to our parishes for meetings, classes, and such). This proved to be fortuitous in that we were able to witness Father Neuhaus’ casket being borne out of the church on the shoulders of, I believe, eight strong men (I’d never seen a casket carried in that manner), and the impressive procession of bishops, priests, and altar servants (what a host!). The bells rang loudly, releasing the rooftop pigeons into the Manhattan sky (scenes from many movies were flashing through my mind).
And that was it.
All things considered, the funeral was actually quite simple – humble even, considering the man being remembered, the life celebrated. I feel that God was glorified, even if that glory was tainted by human sin and imperfection – but when isn’t it? Ok, you Lutherans who might be offended by my statements – I’m just being honest about my observations and my feelings about them. I’m a pilgrim and a neophyte, even as an undershepherd. I am working out my own salvation with fear and trembling, chewing on the meat and the mystery of our God who is love. I make no pretense of having everything worked out and I can take, and welcome, my brothers and sisters to show me where I am wrong – but speak the truth in love, please. Roman Catholics, I am not suggesting in any way that the disagreements we have in doctrine, and in practice, are insignificant, nor that the blending or tarnishing of the Gospel and the glory that is due only to God are acceptable, however, I am heartened that perhaps much more of the Gospel is proclaimed in the RCC than I may have surmised.
All being said, a very inspiring and courageous man has been taken from the valley in which we dwell, and he will be missed. And I cannot help but believe that he has joined the eternal convivium of saints and angels with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit on Mt. Zion.
Blessed are they that die in the Lord (period).


123 said...

Did you get a look at the rather gaudy, Disney-esque grotto in the back right of the church as you enter? I'd love to see more of that complex. It's just up the street from my parish, and down the Avenue a ways from my apartment on the upper east side. You should have written, we could have gotten coffee.

Sayville Rev said...

Just now read this...nice report. I wanted to attend but thought it might be packed...didn't interest me to stand so close to probably 600-700 people! Looks like it was a fitting ushering into the courts of heaven for a faithful servant of Christ.