Catholic parishes generally have their fair number of funerals each year. The priests are acutely aware of our need to help comfort families and to provide the necessary spiritual guidance at this most difficult time.
There are a few trends in society, however, that seem to be all too frequent today and I think they 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. Nothing is more efficacious. 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 also can 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. Please think of the eternal soul of the deceased and have their funeral rites take place during a Mass. It is also important to pray and to have Masses offered for the soul of the deceased. While flowers are a nice gesture, a Mass offered for the deceased is much more beneficial spiritually.
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 recommended place for such a eulogy is either at the funeral home, graveside (weather permitting) or at the meal usually served after the funeral. (At a family’s request, I have reluctantly permitted someone to say a few words prior to Mass so that it was not actually part of the liturgy itself.)
Personally, I have had some bad experiences with eulogies over the years. 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 using biblical references to Jesus Christ and applying them directly 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.
Third, the choice of music should always be religious in nature and appropriate for a church funeral. Secular music (popular or sentimental) is never appropriate during Mass.
Finally, since there are more and more cremations taking place these days, I remind those who choose this option what the Catholic funeral rite tells us about the proper placement of the ashes or cremains:
The cremated remains of a body should be treated with the same respect given to the human body from which they come. This includes the use of a worthy vessel to contain the ashes, the manner in which they are carried, and the care and attention to appropriate placement and transport, and the final disposition. The cremated remains should be buried in a grave or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium. The practice of scattering cremated remains on the sea, from the air, or on the ground, or keeping cremated remains in the home of a relative or friend of the deceased are not the reverent disposition that the Church requires. (Order of Christian Funerals, #417)
Bishop Sullivan reminded me at my installation Mass of my role as the “chief teacher” of the parish. I hope that I am being faithful to this task and pastorally sensitive as well.
Fr. Ed Namiotka