It is a fact that we have a fair amount of funerals in our parish each year. The priests here are acutely aware of our need to help comfort families and to provide the necessary spiritual guidance at this most difficult time.
This being said, there are a few trends that seem to be all too frequent today that I think need to be addressed. First, the norm for a Catholic funeral is at Mass. It is important that we focus on the saving action of Christ by His Passion, Death and Resurrection. The Mass itself is the most perfect prayer and sacrifice that can be offered for our loved ones. It is a re-presentation of Christ’s Salvific Act. The funeral rite contains such rich symbolism reminding us of our connection to Baptism. We have the opportunity to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus to strengthen us.
Sometimes those who are not familiar with the proper Catholic protocol might encourage having just a funeral service in the funeral home. While the service may bring some comfort to the family, theologically it is never the same as having a Mass offered for that person.
Second, it specifically stated in the funeral ritual that “there is never to be a eulogy” during the funeral Mass (Order of Christian Funerals, General Introduction #27). Over time this practice has found its way into our liturgies and become a somewhat “acceptable” practice. However, the funeral liturgy should be more about the saving action of Christ than a tribute to a deceased person. The proper place for such a eulogy is either at the funeral home, graveside (weather permitting) or at the meal usually served after the funeral.
Personally, I have had some bad experiences with eulogies. These range from a minister of another denomination beginning to “preach” at the funeral Mass and to contradict Catholic teaching to people being so emotionally distraught that they could not finish what they wanted to say to someone actually using biblical references to Christ and applying them to the deceased person. The bishops, priests or deacons are the only ones “ordained” to speak on behalf of the Church from the pulpit. We have a duty to bring people to Christ and to worship and adore Him. The liturgy in not about “praising” and “canonizing” the deceased no matter how good the person was.
I know some people may not like or agree with what I have said. I can just hear it: “Father N. allows eulogies at Mass at his parish.” “They have always done them here in the past.” “I’m calling the bishop!” Yet, all I have done is 1) state the Church’s official teaching, 2) encourage funerals at a Mass while 3) trying to focus on the saving actions of Christ more than the deceased person.
It’s not easy being a pastor.
Fr. Ed Namiotka
(P.S. With all that was said, we will continue to be pastorally sensitive to families and try to work with them and their requests in their time of loss.)