Fr. Jonathan Robinson, founder of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in Canada, writes in his book, The Mass and Modernity: Walking to Heaven Backwards (Ignatius Press, 2005), "It seems to me obvious in light of what I have written that wearing white vestments for funerals ought to be the exception and not the norm. Funerals are about, and for, the person who has died. The comfort of the bereaved and all the other important community aspects of death must be recognized, but they must not determine the rite of Christian burial" (p. 115).
Who doesn't love black vestments? We think it pertinent to explore the reasons Fr. Robinson provides for his conclusion cited above. Fr. Robinson argues that David Hume's philosophy, specifically his work on miracles, has touched the Christian mind in such a way that it has adversely affected Christian funeral rites. Hume says of miracles that they are a violation of the laws of nature. Everyone, even Christians, concede this point. He then states that the laws of nature have been formed by "a firm and unalterable experience." Again, everyone accepts this premise. Thus, Hume reaches the conclusion that any argument against miracles has as much force as any argument from experience that can be imagined. Very brilliant. What does this have to do with Christian funeral rites?
Fr. Robinson asserts that this philosophy has crept into theology and has led many scholars to assert that the Resurrection of Christ was not an actual, historial event, but rather a spiritual one experienced by His earliest disciples. While this belief is not taken up explicitly by Catholic theologians, Fr. Robinson writes, it has exercised a profound influence on Catholic worship. He writes, "What I am objecting to is the all too common conviction that funerals are a sort of instant canonization of the dead person in the interests of the community left behind; or, as an even stronger version of this goes, 'funerals have nothing to do with the dead person'" (p. 110). Fr. Robinson goes on to explain the important of the infallable doctrine of purgatory and the importance of praying for departed souls. Hume is difficult and Fr. Robinson's book is worth a read to see more clearly the logical connections between Hume and current practice. At any rate, here is a defense of black in a nutshell. We affirm and approve it.