“Give Me the Works, Father”
by James G. McCarthy
I recently attended the funeral Mass of a dear Catholic lady. It was a sad occasion. In the last weeks of her life, I had tried to share the good news of Jesus Christ with her. I told her of God’s free offer of eternal life and encouraged her to read the Gospel of John, supplying her with a Bible. She said she believed in Christ, but I had my doubts. When she was asked about salvation, her reply was always a confused mixture of Christ and self, faith and works, grace and merit. The Bible I had given her was never opened. Nevertheless, when a person is dying, one hopes for the best, knowing God to be gracious and merciful.
What little confidence I had that she might personally know Christ evaporated at her funeral. Father Harry, her parish priest, told the congregation of his last visit to see her. He was struck by how she had boldly faced death. As he entered her room, she looked him straight in the eye, saying, “I know I am dying. I have only a short time to live.” She then made her last request, saying, “Give me the works, Father.”
Father Harry knew exactly what she meant: confession, communion, and the anointing of the sick. The trilogy of sacraments known as the Last Rites. “The works,” as she put it.
Sadly, in Father Harry’s report of their conversation, there was no mention of the Worker, the Lord Jesus who gave His life for us on the cross. There was no reference to His finished work or of God’s free offer of salvation. No, the priest gave her what she requested, “the works,” and she died peacefully a few days later, thinking she was right with God. As with so many Catholics, the sacraments of the Church had lulled her into a false confidence, and she quietly slipped into the next life and the judgment that awaits.
Her funeral clearly presented Rome’s false gospel, as does every Catholic funeral Mass. Even the Scripture readings used in the rite can be misleading.
I remember my mother’s funeral. My family asked if I would be willing to read the Scriptures. It was a kind, well-intentioned gesture, my family being fully aware of my rejection of the Roman Catholic faith. I wanted to honor my mother and please my family, but not willing to participate in a Catholic Mass, I had to decline.
Some were angered, but I held my ground. I could not take part in a Catholic Mass even by reading the Scriptures. The unbiblical worship of bread and wine and the alleged sacrifice of Christ for the sins of the living and the dead that take place at every Mass precluded my participation.
My mother’s funeral confirmed that I had made the right decision. There I learned that the “Scriptures” I had been asked to read weren’t Scriptures at all. They were the Catholic Apocrypha, having been selected from the Book of Wisdom. The passage heralded Rome’s false gospel that good people go to heaven:
But the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and the torment of death shall not touch them. In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die: and their departure was taken from misery: And their going away from us, for utter destruction: but they are in peace. And though in the sight of men they suffer torments, their hope is full of immortality. Afflicted in a few things, in many they shall be well rewarded: because God hath tried them, and found them worthy of himself. (Wisdom 3:1-5)
The inspired Scriptures speak to the contrary: No one is personally worthy of God (Romans 3:10-12). It is only in Christ that one can stand blameless before a holy God and be accepted (Ephesians 1:3-8; Jude 24).
I thank God that despite the false gospel proclaimed at my mother’s Catholic funeral, she died with a true knowledge of both her own sinfulness and God’s perfect solution. In the weeks preceding her death, she had put her faith in Christ who died for her, taking her punishment (Mark 10:45). Shortly before my mother died, she carefully wrote out a sinner’s prayer. Her hope was that her family would clearly know where the hope of salvation lay. It read:
Lord Jesus! I need you. Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive you as my Savior and Lord. Thank you for forgiving my sins. Take control of my life. Make me the kind of person you want me to be.
That this is not the Roman Catholic gospel can be clearly seen in the Church’s funeral liturgy. There eternal salvation is presented as a merited reward to be received by worthy people. Consider, for example, the selection of prayers provided by the Catholic Church to tailor the funeral rite to the particular circumstances of the deceased. If the person (we will call him John) had been a Catholic priest, the liturgy instructs the minister conducting the funeral to pray:
Lord God, you chose our brother John to serve your people as a priest and to share the joys and burdens of their lives. Look with mercy on him and give him the reward of his labors, the fullness of life promised to those who preach your holy Gospel. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
This prayer asks God to give the deceased priest what he deserves, “the reward of his labors, the fullness of life.”
Should the deceased be even more deserving, a bishop, for example, the liturgy instructs the minister to pray:
Almighty and merciful God, eternal Shepherd of your people, listen to our prayers and grant that your servant, John, our bishop, to whom you entrusted the care of this Church, may enter the joy of his eternal Master, there to receive the rich reward of his labors. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
This is another give-him-what-he-deserves prayer, asking God to allow the bishop to “. . . enter the joy of his eternal Master, there to receive the rich reward of his labors.” The same kind of prayer is found in the funeral rite of a pope:
O God, from whom the just receive an unfailing reward, grant that your servant John, our Pope, whom you made vicar of Peter and shepherd of your Church, may rejoice forever in the vision of your glory, for he was a faithful steward here on earth of the mysteries of your forgiveness and grace. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
This prayer asks God to grant the deceased pope the reward of rejoicing forever “in the vision of your glory.” The pope should receive this privilege not because he trusted the blood of Christ to save him, but because the deceased pope “was a faithful steward.”
One might wonder what the writers of the liturgy would do if called upon to compose a prayer for the funeral of a genuine, poor lost sinner with no merits of his own. Ironically, the funeral liturgy provides one such prayer. It is for a person who has ended his life by his own hand. Suicide is generally considered to be a mortal sin. The prayer reads:
God, lover of souls, you hold dear what you have made and spare all things, for they are yours. Look gently on your servant John, and by the blood of the cross forgive his sins and failings.
This prayer drops all pretense of the sinner deserving heaven. It pleads the biblical basis for forgiveness: the blood of Christ (Revelation 1:5). Tragically, however, the message is too late for the deceased. After death comes judgment (Hebrew 9:27). And even “the works” won’t get a Catholic into heaven who hasn’t trusted Christ in this life, renouncing dependence for salvation upon the Catholic Church, the sacraments, good works, and personal righteousness.