The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench


Should Catholic funerals have eulogies?

posted by jmcgee

hummert625july25.jpgA priest who has a unique perspective on the question offers his own answer over at U.S. Catholic:

I was spending a leisurely minute planning my funeral the other day-not a savory task, but a prudent one since I have pancreatic cancer.

A friend gave me advice, sharing her plans. One car per person; she wants to tie up traffic. Lots of tears. Everyone wears black. No gladiolas, just expensive tropical gingers and flamboyant birds of paradise. Lots of speeches about how endearing and unforgettable she was. Not helpful. Especially the speeches part.

Like all priests, I’ve squirmed through enough dreadful funeral orations to be very cautious about my own planning. One speaker will be enough. In my case, it’s a dear friend at whose wedding I presided two decades ago; she has become my guide and my health care proxy on this journey of cancer. She is a parishioner, a member of my extended family now, and she’ll be able to speak from the heart, get a laugh or two out of everyone, say something about my faith journey, and sit down again.

It won’t be a eulogy, just some words about my faith journey after communion. In four minutes. Of course, the night before, at the vigil or wake, there will be a more raucous opportunity for general sharing on the topic of my life. I expect lots of tears, and an unseemly dose of laughter. That may take more than a few minutes to unfold.

The commonplace “eulogy” is not part of our Catholic tradition, and it doesn’t belong in a Catholic funeral Mass. Eulogy is Greek for “word of praise,” and we come to bury Caesar and not to praise the wretch, as Shakespeare says, because the only one we praise in liturgy is Christ.

A local undertaker recently adopted a new obituary style, writing that “A Mass in honor of Bootsie will be celebrated at Holy Martyrs Church tomorrow.” No, Bootsie will just have to be patient with us, since we celebrate Mass in honor of Christ.

You’ll want to read the rest.

Speaking for myself, I can appreciate his point of view. But I think a few moments of personal reflection at the end of mass can be a comfort to people — especially since, very often, the celebrant doesn’t know the deceased.

I have to say, though: the best funeral homilies often contain elements of a traditional eulogy, offering personal remembrances, along with thoughts on the Catholic understanding of death.

But those homilies are few and far between.

It’s worth noting, though, that the liturgical guidelines for funerals are both explicit — and ambiguous.  “A brief homily based on the readings should always be given at the funeral liturgy, but never any kind of eulogy,” the directives note. 

However, near the end of the mass, “The Order of Christian Funerals” notes: “A member or a friend of the family may speak in remembrance of the deceased before the final commendation begins,” which suggests that some comments (if it’s not a eulogy, then what is it?) are permitted — just not in place of a homily.

One thing I really dislike, though: multiple eulogies.  One is plenty, thank you.



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Ruth Ann

posted August 4, 2010 at 9:52 pm


I say, NO to having eulogies at Catholic funerals. Definitely none for me.



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cathyf

posted August 4, 2010 at 10:29 pm


In February, my grandmother died a few months shy of her 95th birthday. The offered us the opportunity for a few words of remembrance after communion. We found a mid-60’s recording of my grandmother singing Ave Maria, and that seemed like a pretty appropriate few words…



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cathyf

posted August 4, 2010 at 10:36 pm


Also, I put a picture of my grandmother dancing at my wedding on the back of the Order of Worship for the funeral. Next to it I put a short obituary, noting such important things as her encyclopedic knowledge of our family’s genealogy and that she played a mean harmonica.



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Gerard Nadal

posted August 4, 2010 at 10:46 pm


The liturgically appropriate time for parish bulletin announcements comes between the prayer after Communion and the final blessing. So if we can sit for a few moments on Sunday and listen to such mundane matters as the new parking lot resurfacing, times and dates for the upcoming Chinese auction, modified Bingo schedule, etc…, then I’m sure that a few appropriate words about the deceased aren’t altogether out of order before the final commendation.
The trick is to get the eulogist to keep it to a FEW APPROPRIATE words.



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BobRN

posted August 5, 2010 at 12:02 am


Last year I put together plans for my funeral, hoping that it will be a few years before anyone needs to make use of them. I just thought it would be a good gift to my family – one less thing and all that. While I’m not philosophically opposed to the idea of eulogies, I made it clear that there was to be no eulogy at my funeral Mass, and that the homily was to focus on the redemptive action of Christ. The purpose of my funeral Mass is to pray for the repose of my soul. It is prayers I will need, not praise. Too many eulogies turn into canonizations. Those who know and love me best will need no convincing regarding my virtues, nor be persuaded otherwise regarding my vices. Best just to offer me the prayers I will certainly need for as short a stint as possible at Hotel Purgatory!



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Deacon Norb

posted August 5, 2010 at 4:20 am


Most of the comments I read in this blog are right in line with current practice in our area of the Midwest.
We have a team of lay-folk in our parish assigned to visit the bereaved family and plan out both the funeral home vigil (if that is requested) and the funeral proper. A lot of what this team worries about are the songs and scriptural readings.
If the setting is the funeral home, either at the vigil/visitation or the funeral itself, we are pretty tolerant about eulogies. The most I have ever had in that setting is four. If it is in the church with a formal funeral Mass, then — as the rubrics state — one is the maximum.
The homily does act very much like a eulogy and I pay very close attention to the suggestions of the family written up by our visiting contact. BUT, in any funeral that I have to preach at, I also attend the funeral visitation for at least an hour simply to listen in on the conversations. I cannot possibly do an effective funeral homily without getting a snapshot of how the friends and family remember the gifts of the deceased.
My comment to BobRN: Funerals are for the LIVING: Most of the prayers we use speak out to the spiritual and emotional renewal of the the family and friends of the deceased. When I plan my own funeral, it will be with the songs and readings that touched my own life and thus it captures my own hope that those same readings and songs (and prayers) will touch the people I care about. A LOT of conversions and re-connections with the church occur at funerals.
Your soul’s repose is God’s responsibility and that moment occurred long before your funeral proper. God is quite competent to make that decision and — while he does want us to pray — I have my doubts whether his decision about your repose is influenced by the funeral. Your own life as a person of prayer has a lot more influence here than you seem to believe.



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Jared

posted August 5, 2010 at 4:49 am


@Deacon Norb:
The Church teaches that our prayers for the dead are efficacious. To say that funerals are simply for the living is a denial of reality. The funeral Mass is offered for the soul of the deceased. The problem of today is that few pray for the dead anymore. There is a reason why eulogies are forbidden within the context of the Mass — the Mass is in honor of Christ but also offered for the atonement of the sins of the deceased.



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Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

posted August 5, 2010 at 6:54 am


Thanks for this post. As someone who has done a lot of funeral/bereavement ministry and is also a liturgist, I have given this a lot of thought over the years.
Let me say something about homilies… I have experienced some real doozies where the presider, with all due respect, does not know the deceased and makes little effort to find anything out about them. One funeral in the Bronx in the early 90’s gives me a memory that makes my skin crawl. It was so awful for the family and friends present to hear the callous (even if well intended) remarks of the priest.
In any case, I did a lot of liturgical funeral ministry at my worship parish when I was unemployed and am involved in the process at my work parish now. Both of these priests are very, very good at finding out about the person, even if they did not know them and then offering beautiful homilies that direct us towards Christ. It is so edifying and enriching to be a part of such ministry and liturgy.
The funeral liturgy is such an important place of mourning, a glimpse of healing and of course, evangelizing. Peoples’ lives are changed by what happens there – transformed.
As for the eulogy, a short eulogy is not so bad. My work pastor is very good at working with families to guide this so that it does not get out of hand. For good or ill, most people do not understand – through no fault of their own most of the time – that the liturgy is about Christ first and foremost.
One last word – I have gone beyond good eulogy length with this comment here, haven’t I? OK, to close – it is also important to work with families and if a full mass is not appropriate, then a beautiful Liturgy of the Word funeral might be best. If the deceased had not been practicing the RC faith for some time, if most of the family and attendees are not RC etc. There are reasons but it takes prayer, skill and a good pastoral sense to know this and to work towards it with the family.



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RomCath

posted August 5, 2010 at 7:28 am


I was quite surprised to hear the comment that funerals were for the living especially from a deacon. While it is true that the liturgy includes prayers for the comfort of the mourners, the main focus is praying for the deceased that they may be granted eternal life. Many of the prayers pray for the forgiveness of their sins etc.
Eulogies if allowed should focus on the faith life of the person. Too often they focus on the person’s favorite meal. The person giving it should be a person who can maintain composure so as not to add to the sadness of the moment. Of course, there should be nothing inappropriate and I have heard some pretty off color things in eulogies.
Eulogies would be much better at the wake or at the post burial luncheon.



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Klaire

posted August 5, 2010 at 8:02 am


I’ve instructed my loved ones to offer this one line to all the kind souls who attend my funeral:
“Assume I am at the bottom of purgatory; pray, pray, pray, PLEASE.”
Of course, the greatest disservice we do, after not fully honoring Christ during the mass, is to ‘canonize’ our loved ones. I’ve always had a feeling that the people we thing are most holy, get the least amount of prayers, simply because most incorrectly assume they went “straight up.”
For what it’s worth, the souls in purgagory being one of my special devotions, I’m convinced, short of a baptised child under the age of reason, that almost no one goes straight to heaven. For those who believe the approved apparation of Fatima, the Blessed Mother told the children that their friend would be in puratory until the end of time.
As Father Corpi often says, “Pay now, or pay later.” As the saints and mystics have taught us, MUCH better and easier to make the reparations on THIS side. Bottom line, without repentance/expiation, heaven may be a long way off for most of us. The most beautiful thing we could do for our loved ones is to never stop praying for them. And if you really love them, have Gregorian masses said for their souls. My mom had such a request in her will.



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Jessica

posted August 5, 2010 at 8:28 am


Multiple Eulogies do not completely bother me. Unless everything in my life was very connected (my career, church/ church activities, church family, biological/ married family, outside work/ church friends and such) then yes I might have aspects of my life that are very seperate (though hopefully only seperate only in that they had no assotiations with all/ some of the other aspects of my life, rather being apart from me being Christian). If I died, say in 10 years, I could be a person who made a huge difference at work, but also at church, though not in conjunction with one another. Who would be the best representative of me? What if I volunteered for a Christian organization outside my church as well, and made a significant difference? I might then have at least 2 persons who could talk about me in relation to Christ, but in some sense they could be different (such as in relation to church I could be seen as hospitable/ hospitality, if I worked in the kitchen a lot or whatever) and could be seen as companssionate in relation to my volunteer opportunity). But I wouldn’t want like a bazillion speeches about my life.



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Panthera

posted August 5, 2010 at 10:08 am


There should be no eulogy during the service.
That’s what the wake is for.
Anything else is not cathartic, it is theater.
The many Roman Catholic services I have had the sad duty of attending as my parent’s representative over the last five years in Europe all offered a quiet sense of dignity and respect which is sorely lacking in the three protestant services here in the US during that same time.



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Joe

posted August 5, 2010 at 10:39 am


In the parish where I used to work, we would ask that the eulogy be written/typed out in advance for our review. That way, we were sure that there would be no chants for the local sports teams or other inappropriate comments and that the eulogy would be of an appropriate length.
As to Klaire’s comments about praying for souls in purgatory, I generally concur. However, St Therese planned to bypass purgatory by prayer and suffering and that is my plan too. Still, don’t canonize me, but like Klaire assume I am in the depths of purgatory (even if I’m in HEAVEN!) Any extra prayers can inure to other poor souls.



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RomCath

posted August 5, 2010 at 11:39 am


Many places put a time limit of 3 to 5 minutes with a written prepared text–no ad libbing. When the person gets up they can do pretty much what they want and what can the priest do? Turn off the mike?
I once was at a funeral of a 95 year old woman. Her nephew went on 25 minutes and he was only up to her 50s. The priest had to cut him off because a mass was scheduled in 5 minutes- The nephew wrote a scathing denunciation of this cruel, mean priest. The priest was a kind and gentle man. So much for eulogies.



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Gerard Nadal

posted August 5, 2010 at 1:10 pm


RomCath,
You nailed the great danger with many eulogies that I have winced through. Hopefully when I die my life will have spoken for itself. It’s a tall order, but worth shooting for.



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Panthera

posted August 5, 2010 at 3:08 pm


Gerard,
Your eulogy should be:
This man invested his life in supporting and furthering the health and well being of his disabled child. He thus demonstrated the true meaning of Christian charity.
Full-Stop.



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Fr. Jim

posted August 5, 2010 at 5:34 pm


At our parish, we receive the body and then immediately have the (one, 5 minute) eulogy delivered, then continue with the Mass. We’ve found this has helped to keep the Mass focused on prayer. Also, in the rare occasion that something truly inappropriate has been stated there is an opportunity for the celebrant to engaged in a little (charitable) “damage control.”
I’ve also found that eulogies given at the beginning tend to be less emotionally charged. The person speaking isn’t under the pressure of mentally preparing throughout the Mass for their post-communion delivery and are therefore able to enter into the prayer of the Mass.
Yes, we ask that comments be written out beforehand, mainly to issue that they don’t go on and on and on.
With few exceptions, it seems to work. I just hold my breath if a politician has been chosen to speak! LOL



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wineinthewater

posted August 5, 2010 at 6:29 pm


I think one of the greatest disservices of the eulogy at the mass is the shifting of focus. But this isn’t just the shifting of focus of the mass from Christ to “St. deceased.”
But it also short-shrifts the purpose of the eulogy. How much better to have a wake or vigil? How much better to have a less formal setting to offer remembrances? How much better to have interactions and not just speeches? How much better to be able to hold each other and mill about and make it a communal event?
I think this is a key part of the answer for Catholics. I don’t think we should put our focus on “limiting” the eulogy at the mass, but toward directing it toward where it can do less harm and do far more good. I think we should be facilitating vigils, wakes and receptions where the eulogizing tendencies can be fully expressed.
It’s not just that eulogies are inappropriate for masses, but that masses are inappropriate for eulogies.



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BobRN

posted August 5, 2010 at 10:01 pm


Deacon Norb,
Thank you for your thoughts. I certainly expect that there will be prayers at my funeral Mass for my family, for their comfort and fortitude in faith. But, I must respectfully disagree and say again that the purpose of my funeral Mass is to pray for the repose of my soul. While I’m sure the hope of each of us is for immediate entry into glory, the reality is that, for many of us, Purgatory awaits to perfect us for heaven. I wouldn’t want my family to be presumptuous regarding the results of my particular judgment. Therefore, I want my funeral Mass to be a prayer for the repose of my soul. I am confident that whatever prayers are offered, especially the Eucharist, will be efficacious toward that end.



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Gerard Nadal

posted August 5, 2010 at 10:21 pm


Stay healthy Panthera. I want you as my eulogist. It would take quite a bit to distill all of your many kindnesses to your own disabled relations.
Thank you and God Bless. :-)



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joe Cleary

posted August 6, 2010 at 12:07 am


I have found the pre-mass comments approach mentioned by Father Jim to work well at funeral masses I have attended. Done right it can help set a proper tone the celebration of the mass that follows.
I am not a theologian, but in addition to prayers for the comfort of the family and friends of the deceased and prayers for the deceased, I view a funeral mass a celebration and thanksgiving to God for the life and gift of the deceased in our lives. In fact, the more my heart aches, the more difficult it is for me to focus on the funeral mass as first and foremost a mass of thanksgiving to God. But I do try and maintain this focus.
Of all of the prayers for the repose of a soul, perhaps none have the impact of simply ” Thank you Lord for blessing/enriching my life with the life of _________. ”



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plavo

posted August 6, 2010 at 11:59 am


Klaire; is “pay now or pay later” from Scripture, or is it a Father Corapi-ism?



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Klaire

posted August 6, 2010 at 12:49 pm


Plavo, there are certainly many scriptual references regarding the necessary expiation (atonment) of our personal sins, in both the old and new testaments for the temporal (in time), punishment (necessary in addition to confession, as confession merely forgives the sin, but is not the atonement).
Only God of course can offer the eternal expiation, but via grace, we have the ability to make the temporal reparations, via sacrifices and the church’s treasury of indulgences (FYI, no indulgences can’t be bought). Providing one is in the state of grace, and meets the other requirements, there are countless ways to earn indulgences, such as reading scripture or praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament, and of course fasting. IMO, the easiest way is to start each day offering via the Blessed Mother all of our works, sufferings, and joys. Uniting our sufferings with Christ and the cross brings down much reparation for not only our souls, but for the souls of others. Anyone in the state of grace can earn this reparation.
As for “Pay now or pay later”, Father Corpai said he took it form the Midus commercial, making the point that it was an easy way to explain the scriptual meaning of expiation of sins and temporal punishment.
As one holy priest once said, “Innocence or Penance” is the only way to get into heaven. Once we reach the age of reason, provided we are baptised, every sin we do, even if and in addition to confessing it, must be “repaired.” One example often used is a kid breaking a window with a baseball. In addition to the “I’m sorry, shouldn’t have been playing so close to the house” (confession), the window still needs to be replaced (the reparation part). Sometimes it’s not possible to directly make the reparation if the person we sinned against is dead or the company we took money from is out of business. In those cases, we can just do contrite penance.
Many of the saints and mystics have written on how much easier it is to repair at this end, then in the depths of purgatory. Bottom line, reparations for all of sins will have to be made, here or in purgatory, and are much less painful to do here.
The First Fridays (today), and First Saturdays(tomorrow),devotions (if you are Catholic) are also excellent ways to make reparations, as well of course, as Divine Mercy Sunday each year.
You can also go to the EWTN.com library and find much info on all of the above.



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plavo

posted August 7, 2010 at 11:05 am


Klaire: I wonder if the prodigal son knew all that; anyway, sounds like Pelagianism to me….well, what’s wrong with a little pelagianism…have you ever read st. Paul? romans, galatians, corinthians?



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