XVII. OFFERINGS AND SUFFRAGES AT THE GRAVE. ARGIAK, OLATAK, HILOTOITZAK
The cloth bearing the offerings is placed on the symbolic burial site in the church, in front of the kneelers or chairs where the lady of the house would preside. The burial sites would thus be similar to household funeral altars where it was typical to make offerings of lights, bread and responses; and, in the past, animals, meat or other viands.
The activity during the religious services at each of the household burial sites, particularly at those of the household of the deceased, on the day of the obsequies and during the mourning period, was subordinate to the ceremony at the main altar conducted by the priest. During the mass, this dependency between what was happening at both “altars”, the main and the household one, was clear. As regards the offerings, it is clear at the time of the offertory of the mass when the offerors make their way up to the altar to give the offerings to the priest after kissing the end of the stole or of the maniple. At the household burial site, the representatives of each family light candles to their ancestors, say responses in suffrage of their souls and it was even the place that acted as the tomb for the funerals when the body was not present.
The light offering
A very deep-rooted custom in the Basque Country and which was current until the 1960s —Liturgical Reform after the Second Vatican Council— was to offer lights to the dead. During the funeral rites in the past, there would be rolled tapers and candles burning at the burial site that the household owned in the parish and they would continue to do so for a long time after the funerals.
In principle, the tradition was to keep the lights of the household burial site lit during high mass at the parish church during a year for an indefinite time, even though special attention was given to the burial sites of the homes when there had been a recent death. That was also the case when masses or religious services were held to remember the dead and the main festivities on the liturgical calendar.
Even though the household burial site would usually be in its allocated place in the church, on the day of the obsequies, it would be arranged behind the coffin and the women of the household of the deceased would stand there in order to highlight their site.
The activation of the burial site for the offering of lights would acquire a particular importance when a death occurred. The burial site of the house of the deceased and its neighbouring sites would be lit during the obsequies, the honour masses, novenas and anniversaries. Some of those offerings were what the offeror and other women had carried in the funeral cortege, to which other offerings would be added before the religious services started in the church.
During the obsequies mass, a ritual was carried out consisting that at the time of the offertory, some of the women of the household burial site of the deceased, or the andere serora or the nun sacristan on their behalf, would go up to the altar holding the offering to hand it to the priest and a light in the other hand. The priest would go down the presbytery to meet her and receive offering, letting her kiss the stole or maniple, after which both would return to their respective places.
Money offerings at the burial site
The small alms placed on the burial site or outside the church and which was then handed to the priest to pray for the soul of the deceased was popularly called response. The expression “say responses” was frequently used for that act, which involved alms and prayer.
The priest dressed in a surplice and black stole said a response consisting of a paternoster followed by the sprinkling of the burial site with Holy Water or blessed it with the sign of the cross while saying: Requiem aeternam dona ei Domine (...).Requiescat in pace.
A small stipend was required for each response said so that the number of prayers depended on the money offered. Those money offerings gradually replaced the bread that was previously placed on the burial site for the same purpose.