The Importance of Stan Musial’s Funeral Mass

stan-musial_card

Stan Musial passed away on January 19, 2013 at 92 years of age.  His wife of nearly 72 years died the previous year.  Thousands of friends filed through the Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis during the six-hour public visitation.  The funeral Mass for the man who played 22 years in a Cardinal uniform was presided over by a Cardinal of a different sort, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, along with St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson and Bishop Stika.  Hundreds filled the Basilica for the two-hour funeral Mass, while many stood outside.  All came to honor an exceptional human being and to pray for the repose of his soul.

Since we all spend most of our existence in eternity, the funeral Mass is of critical importance as a ritual whose purpose is to usher us into a blessed and eternal union with God.  Musial’s funeral is a salutary event for everyone especially at a time when, in our increasingly secularized society, the importance of the afterlife is commonly de-emphasized.  Testimonials to his untarnished life on and off the field are also important in an era in which it has become more and more difficult to believe that a great athlete can also be a great human being.  Broadcaster Bob Costas, his voice crackling with emotion during the eulogy, said that Stan Musial’s achievement was “more than two decades of sustained excellence as a baseball player and more than nine decades as a thoroughly decent human being.”

Andrew Edwards, one of the Musials’ eleven grandchildren, remembered him as the unassuming grandpa, the son of a Polish immigrant, who bought McDonald’s meals for the family every Sunday.  He recalled a fan telling him, “Your grandpa’s best attribute is he made nobodies feel like somebodies.”  The even-tempered Stan the Man had 1,815 hits on the road during his long career and exactly the same number at home.  He had two hits in his first game on September 17, 1941 at age 20, and two hits in his final game on September 29, 1963 at age 42.

stan-musialThe funeral Mass is our finest and best ritualized declaration of hope for a soul’s passage into heaven.  It is often accompanied by tears, but, as in the case of Musial, is essentially a joyful occasion.  “The world is peopled,” as St. Francis de Sales once wrote, “to people heaven.”

In January, earlier this month, I attended what most, if not all the people present regarded as a joyful funeral Mass.  It took place in a small Polish parish where the church and its adjacent elementary school and cemetery form the spiritual center of parish life.  The proximity of these concrete images of life, death, and resurrection provide parishioners with an unmistakable down-to-earth realism.

The deceased passed away just shy of his 88th birthday.  In one sense, he was a simple man who earned his bread by cleaning hallway floors in various institutions.  More significantly, he was lighting corridors through which his children and grandchildren would pass to discover more enterprising endeavors.  The pathfinder is no less important than those who benefit from the path he blazes.  Death, of course, is the great leveler, making equal the high and the low, the rich and the poor, the celebrated and the hidden.  How we live in the eyes of God, needless to say, is the only thing that really counts.

But the lowly in the eyes of the world can be capable of extraordinary virtue.  It was said of the deceased that he never had a bad word to say about anyone.  Appropriately, the following words of St. Faustyna were inscribed on his obituary card:

Help me, O Lord, that my tongue
may be merciful, so that I should
never speak negatively of my
neighbor, but have a word of
comfort and forgiveness for all.

He once lost a chess game to his brother, an event that proved very disappointing to his daughter.  Though a man of few words, he had an important lesson he wanted to give her.  “There is no dishonor in losing to a worthy opponent,” he said.  Then, so that his daughter would not regard him as a “loser,” he added:  “If one can rejoice over his brother’s victory, he cannot be said to be a loser.”  Here is some wisdom that could be most beneficial, especially, these days, to sports celebrities.

While he served in World War II he always felt that he was under God’s special protection.  At one time, he came perilously close to death.  A Russian soldier was about to assassinate him when fate (or Providence) intervened.  At the very last second, the Russian was dispatched by another soldier.  I looked at two of his darling little grand-daughters with new appreciation, realizing how close they came to never being.  We are all beneficiaries of Divine Providence, much more than we can possibly realize.

Abundantly evident at the funeral Mass was the love of the family, the faith of the community, and the loyalty of friends.  Afterwards, there was the festivity of good food and sparkling fellowship.  The experience altogether was, indeed, joyful, though there was a note of expressed sadness.

At the close of the Mass, the celebrant commented on how sad it is that funeral Masses are becoming less common.  Why is it that even Catholics seem less enthused about eternal life?  Is this symptomatic of a general anti-life attitude that has infected what that great Polish Pontiff, Blessed John Paul II called, “The Culture of Death”?

It is exquisitely ironic that the funeral Mass for the dead can be an effective catalyst in reviving our appreciation for life.  The afterlife is more enduring than the one we live in the present.  The funeral Mass can inspire us to live better lives so that our eternity is blessed.  Catholic novelist Anthony Burgess has made the remark that, “Wedged as we are between two eternities of idleness, there is no excuse for being idle now.”

When I learned of the passing of Stan Musial, the Legend, I emailed a friend of mine in St. Louis expressing my condolences.  His reply was both respectful and humorous: “Yes, it is a great loss for St. Louis. On the other hand, the signed baseball I have has now doubled in value.”  We pray that Musial’s joy has been increased a hundredfold.

Donald DeMarco

By

Donald DeMarco, Ph.D., is a Senior Fellow of Human Life International who writes for the St. Austin Review and the Truth and Charity Forum. He is Professor Emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario and adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, CT.

  • Terry Carroll

    Whatever happened to the very Catholic idea of praying FOR the dead? It seems almost unheard of today except in traditional Catholic settings. For example, a priest’s father died recently and he asked for prayers for his grieving mother, not his deceased father. Another Catholic man whose adult son died in an automobile accident simply declared that his son was now enjoying the beatific vision.

    One of the spiritual works of mercy is to pray for the dead because, in simple charity, we ought never to assume that someone is in Heaven until after they have been canonized by the Church. The proper place for sharing memories and celebrating a person’s life is at a traditional wake, not at a funeral Mass. I have no doubt that Stan Musial, as Bob Costas eulogized, was a “thoroughly decent human being” but he was also a Catholic in need of our prayers. It is astonishing to me how, today, we almost consider it impolite to suggest that the deceased might actually need our prayers.

    Yes, remember Stan Musial for all his achievements and his goodness, but out of simple love for the man, give him the benefit of his celebrity and invite people to pray for him and have Masses said for the repose of his soul. Stan Musial MAY have been a Saint, but it is the height of presumption, and spectacularly uncharitable, to forget to pray FOR him at his funeral Mass.

  • Jay Boyd, Ph.D.

    I agree wholeheartedly with Terry. I seldom attend funeral Masses because they seem to be nothing but canonization ceremonies. There always seems to be a eulogy, which is forbidden by the rubrics, and it seems we are always assured that the deceased is in Heaven. There is no talk of purgatory, let alone hell.
    Dr. DeMarco says, “The funeral Mass can inspire us to live better lives so that our eternity is blessed.” I would say the funeral Mass is SUPPOSED to do that. It is supposed to make us aware of the fragilityof our human existence, of our own sinfulness, and of God’s great mercy in offering us salvation through His Son. And as Terry says, we are supposed to pray FOR the deceased, who is most likely suffering in purgatory, no matter how exemplary his life seems to us looking in on it.
    We are often called “judgmental” is we make assumptions about the motives behind a person’s not-so-very-nice behaviors. But, in a sense, it is also “judgmental” to assume that holy motives underly a person’s good behaviors; that is, we cannot know what lies in the person’s heart. And if we ASSUME that the person is “already in Heaven”, we will neglect prayers for his soul, and he may spend a great deal more time in purgatory because of it.
    Re-learning the significance and purpose of the funeral Mass could lead to a new appreciation of the reality of hell and purgatory, as well as a renewal of the understanding and appreciation of indulgences.

  • John O’Neill

    re the American Catholic funeral mass; I noticed at the last few funerals i attended a less optimistic and sacred aura in the liturgy. The people in the pews have no idea how to react to the prayers for the dead. I am also disturbed by the absence of a sacred sung liturgy; I always was moved by the intonation of the “In paradisum” at the conclusion of the requiem mass. The most beautiful piece of sacred music has to be Faure”s In Paradisum which is hardly ever heard anymore. I am afraid our ritual and liturgy for the dead has suffered severely from the Vatican II mentality.

    • Wilson

      Most United States “catholics” are not Catholics, based on my experiences with them. I would be grateful for prayers FOR my soul, and a Mass for the Dead said by a priest wearing BLACK vestments.

  • Bill Russell

    There should be NO eulogies at a funeral Mass. The tradition permits a “panegyric” at a later Mass – usually a Month’s Mind. In many instances, the Mass has become something perfunctory as a lead-up to eulogies – most of which are vulgar, and consist in nervous whistling pass the graveyard. – And God save us from bishops who grandstand and try to cheer up the folks with lame jokes. Stan the Man was grand and if he doesn’t make it to Paradise, I don’t have a chance – but the modern funerology which betrays an embarrassing lack of faith in the Last Judgment, is beneath the dignity of men such as he.

    • dbw

      I agree. It’s just more evidence of the secular culture creeping into the very heart of the Church. I won’t even mention the big send off for T.Kennedy, which causes me much consternation, still. Americans in general, both protestant and Catholic, used to be more modest and understated, in their dress, their humor, their rituals, et al. I’m finding the whole star treatment utterly abhorrent.

  • Dick Bobnick

    Many of my Catholic friends do not agree with me and several pastors of one of the Church’ that our family attends also does not agree with me on this next point. Tell me if you agree or disagree. I contend that many if not most young Catholics and family middle aged people do not know much about their Faith, in fact, I have discovered over the years that most are almost totally ignorant of their Faith. It is manifested in attendance at Mass where genuflection is almost never seen, chewing gum occurs often, improper dress is rampant and attendance at confession has almost disappeared among the young. I suggested to my priest, in confession, these problems are getting worse and that he, as pastor, should use his sermon to teach about our Faith, admonish those who are negligent on the afore mentioned issues, instead of telling about his vacations, his golf outings, reunions etc. His response to me: “It is not my job to teach Catholicism to the congregation, only to comment on the scriptural reading of the day.” Until parish priests develop some cajones their congregations will continue to slack off until our revered customs will be unrecognizable.

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