Yeshiva girl goes to a traditional Catholic funeral edition



Before your start reading I need to tell you that I am a child of Vatican II who grew up on the milk of ecumenism.   My father was close to many of the other clergy in Quincy. I grew up attending masses. When ever we traveled we would check out churches to see  what they looked like. I watched every Kennedy funeral mass on TV.  So the vernacular of the church is familiar to me.


Today when I attended Sixto’s funeral at St. Anthony’s of Padua in Greenpoint I had an entirely new understanding of Catholicism.

I am used to the form of a Jewish funeral. The family of the deceased is in a small room inside the synagogue or funeral home. Visitors greet the family ( read embrace and weep) and go to their seats in the chapel. When the family of the deceased walks into the chapel everyone rises.

At Sixto’s funeral we gathered on the sidewalk in front of the church. At the appointed moment the hearse doors were opened and Sixto’s family carried the coffin up the church steps and into the church followed by the priest with smoke and incense, a cross bearer and then a procession of all of the mourners.


I then understood that this is the reverse of the wedding march. We were part of a religious procession. The organ played, a singer’s voice wafted down on us , the smoke and smell of the incense surrounded us and we processed behind Sixto  to the front of the  church.  I had never understood before how Catholicism is full on religious theatre.


Walking to my seat I simultaneously  understood about  the causes of the  Reformation and why traditional Jews act like walking into a church is to be avoided at all costs. The theatre is fabulous.


The stained glass windows in the church were spectacular and really seem like a visual rendition of the divine. The service was entirely in Spanish so I understood nothing. I could just watch and listen passively.


My mother once said to me “ A Catholic funeral mass is just the BEST.  You can just see that soul being sucked out of the coffin and up to heaven before your eyes.”


It isn’t the way we Jews bury our dead, in a much more austere way, much more connected to the raw emotions and anguish of death. A Jewish funeral is something else entirely.


I have attended other masses where that ‘peace be to you’ moment of greeting felt all hippy dippy creepy. But sitting with my neighbors, all of us there to mourn Sixto it was a real moment of connection between us an acknowledgement of our connection to one another and to Sixto and his family. It was truly moving.


We stood, we sat. Music rained down on our heads. We stood , we sat. Smoke and incense filled the church. We stood and we sat.



Communion is derived from kiddush and motzi that we say to mark any holy day like Shabbat or a holiday. If you put kiddish and motzi on a theatrical scale it would come out at a 2.1 in my house ( perhaps only a 1.8). I would guess that in a high church reform synagogue it might hit a 3.7. In this church the whole wine and bread thing probably hit 8.2. I’m giving it such a low score because I assume that on say Easter Sunday in the Vatican it reaches an entirely higher level that I can’t even begin to fathom.



We stood, we sat.We processed out of the church with more smoke and incense and music.

It was a glorious send off  for a quiet man.


  1. Dear Sarah, thank you for that lovely post. As a lapsed Catholic I always thought the Jewish people had the right idea. Bury in a simple pine box before Sundown and go to the family sitting Shiva and bring something of your remembrances of the deceased and a gift of food or sweets. Jews and Catholics have so much in common anyway, it was nice to read your impressions. Nancy from Long Island

  2. Clearly, I'm used to Jewish funerals so of course they feel right to me. The last funeral mass I had attended was for a baby who had died suddenly. In that case, I found the funeral mass to be deeply upsetting. The mass seemed to demand a level of faith and acceptance of the death that was truly dissonant to the moment.

    Sixto, was not all that old when he died. But he knew he was dying and planned most of the elements of the end of his life. This funeral was what he wanted.

    I drove to the funeral and the cemetery with our super who grew up in an Irish village. Much of what he described ( Village ladies washing and preparing the body and then making the post funeral meal) felt very familiar.

    But it's important to remember that the familiar is not the only way to do things.


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