Funeral regulations in Meath — what Bishop Smith wrote
Following a discussion at the last meeting of the Council of Priests, I agreed to write to priests in the late summer on our diocesan practice in relation to panegyrics and eulogies at funeral Masses. I would like to express my own personal thanks and appreciation to all for upholding the dignity and intent of the funeral liturgy, often in difficult circumstances.
In a book entitled ‘Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life’ by the then Cardinal Ratzinger (a book well worth reading – published by the Catholic University of America Press) he quotes, with approval, a phrase of the theologian Joseph Pieper who summed up the modern approach to death as ‘the materialistic trivialization of death’. Card. Ratzinger, in this context, goes on to write ‘Death is to be deprived of its character as a place where the metaphysical breaks through. Death is rendered banal so as to quell the unsettling questions that arise from it’.
The funeral liturgy in its prayers and readings has a very clear and intended focus. It is a prayer of petition for the deceased, a prayer commending the deceased to God’s tender mercy and compassion, a prayer rooted in the hope engendered by the Death and Resurrection of Christ. In the directives for the funeral Mass it is stated ‘A brief homily, based on the readings, should always be given at the funeral liturgy, but never any kind of eulogy. The homilist should dwell on God’s compassionate love and on the paschal mystery of the Lord proclaimed in the Scripture readings’.
All priests are asked to uphold the integrity of the Funeral Mass and Funeral Rites. A dumbing down of their integrity does no service to the faith. If family members or others wish to speak about the deceased this can be done at the graveside or when the family and friends gather after the burial.
The following regulations are to be followed at all funerals:
- Appreciations or eulogies by family members or friends of the deceased should not take place in the Church but may take place after the Rite of Committal in the cemetery or when the family and friends gather.
- The ambo is for the proclamation of the Word of God.
- Readings at the Funeral Liturgy should be taken from the Lectionary.
- Secular songs, poems and texts devoid of a Christian content are out of place in the Funeral Liturgy.
- A post-Communion reflection of a prayerful nature can be given after Communion but this should be agreed beforehand with the Celebrant and should not be used as a cloak for a eulogy.
- As is clear from the directives on the Funeral Rite, the deceased should not be canonized in the homily.
- If a visiting priest is officiating at the Funeral Mass he should be informed of these regulations and asked to abide by them.
- It is important that undertakers in your area are aware of these regulations. It is also important that clear arrangements are in place on the signing of books of condolence. Some priests expressed the view that they should not be allowed in the Church.
- Clear arrangements, allowing people the opportunity to offer sympathy to the family of the deceased, should be put in place in each parish.
- In some places it seems that the ‘funeral planner’ has made an appearance. Priests should only engage with the family in relation to the Funeral Rite.
Oh dear, let’s bury parishioner number 427 without saying too much about him (or her) in the church where they prayed to the Lord over many years. It will be better that way.
Would it not have been better to open up a discussion re Guidelines for Funeral Masses instead of delivering a Fait Accomplit as usual. If tributes by family members are banned how was the practice allowed to take place up to now. I have attended many Funerals where tributes were paid by a Family Member at the end of the Mass , most take about three or four minutes and mean a great deal to the bereaved family. From a practical point of view the Church is the most convenient place to deliver those few words as everyone is present. At the graveside there may not be a public address system, it could be raining heavily, etc. And most important of all I am sure that God doesn’t mind.
There is an excellent piece in today’s Irish Times by Noel Whelan which I hope Bishop Smith has read.
Isn’t it all about flexibility, compromise, listening to the bereaved, listening to the celebrant, working out what is best to honour God, to honour the deceased and to comfort the bereaved? Compassion trumps rules every time. Isn’t that how the Nazarene operated? Whose lead are we following?? We could go on ad infinitum about what is “correct” and what is not. A wee bit of common sense and a wee bit of compromise and a wee bit of compassion would go a long way to resolving difficulties.
“As is clear from the directives on the Funeral Rite, the deceased should not be canonized in the homily.”
…. Do these guidelines apply to funerals of children and babies? Are these guidelines to be seen as a criticism by the Church of the efforts we have made in recent years to honour our loved ones at their funeral Mass? Should we be ashamed that we have spoken of a person’s goodness?
Can we be assured by Bishop Smith that when the next ‘very important person’ in his diocese dies, and he is asked to preside at the funeral mass, that he will refrain from any eulogising? I find it difficult to remember a funeral liturgy of a ‘person of note’ – be it politician, artist, business person or moral leader – who has not been eulogised. Or, once again, is there one law for the powerful and another for the poor?