XV. OBSEQUIAL DAYS
The funeral obsequies were not limited to the day of the funeral. The family group, relatives and neighbours took part in certain religious celebrations during the mourning period. Those obsequies included the novena that followed the funeral, during which honour masses were held in some locations. At the end of the mourning period, which lasted at least a year, the anniversary mass was held that was a repetition of the funeral mass.
The novena, bederatziurrena, which began in the church on the day following the funeral, was until recently an integral part of the obsequies and was reported as being held throughout the Basque Country. In the past, those masses which the members of the family and the closest neighbours attended were as solemn as the funeral. The members of the household went to the church for nine days, dressed in mourning and in a ritual procession.
A rite inherent to this novena was the response that the priest said or chanted before the tomb or family burial sites every day at the end of mass.
The old custom of the novena lasted in general until the 1970s, even though it had gradually lost in solemnity and was limited to three days in some cases. It is currently reduced to a mass that is held on the Sunday following the funeral and which is popularly called the “departure mass”.
Those funeral rites celebrated for the deceased in the restricted family circle are called funeral honours, ondrak in Basque, in the surveyed area. Therefore, it can be inferred that there was an obligation for the relatives to attend those funeral honours. The first neighbour or the closest neighbours had the same status as the relatives at those ceremonies in the same way as in other funeral rites.
On the other hand, the funeral honours were performed with certain solemnity; the honour mass was sung and usually proceed by the saying of a part of the Office for the Dead.
The mass to mark the year from the death had all the solemnity and ritual characteristics of the funeral in the past. It was held on a working day, with a requiem mass being said, usually diaconate and preceded by the Evening chant; the catafalque or túmbano was placed in the church; the lights were switched on at the family burial site and alms were offered for the responses. In the same way as on the day of the burial, the family of the deceased offered their relatives a meal or a snack on this occasions. The marking of the anniversary usually ended the period of offerings at the grave and the most direct relatives would move from heavy mourning to half and then light mourning.
This anniversary appears as “the year-end mass”, or urteburuko meza, in the parish records of the deceased and also in the wills.
The commemoration of the anniversary with the family, relatives and friends of the deceased is still usually marked. In the majority of places surveyed, it is held on Sunday, during one of the masses held in the parish and is usually announced by the priest on the previous Sunday; some parishes publish a death notice on the church door for that purpose.
During the religious service, the deceased is named and the relatives sit at the front of the church; no funeral prayer or rite is said.
The anniversaries of two or more deceased sometime coincide and are marked in the same mass.
A show of solidary with the family of the deceased consists of making a donation of money to be used for masses to be said in suffrage for his or her soul. This act is popularly known as “mass stipends”, or meza-sariak.
The money for masses is donated on a reciprocal basis, so that a correlation network is formed between the families of a neighbourhood or a town. The money for the masses was often handed over at the home of the deceased when going to the wake; in other cases, the money was given to a women of the deceased’s family or to a neighbour with links to the home of the deceased. In various locations, the practice was mentioning of setting up a table in the church porch during the obsequies, where the money would be handed over and a list would be made with the names of the donors and the amounts offered. This list or, as applicable, the one prepared by the family, was read on the Sunday following in the parish mass or it was published on the church doors.