Beliefnet
When Johanna Suehnholz died last week at age 105, her relatives planned to read touching tributes at her funeral Mass.

But they didn't know that the Newark archbishop had banned those eulogies in his churches. So the grieving family ended up sitting silent -- and upset -- in the pews.

"She was a vibrant woman who walked to Mass up to the age of 97," said her granddaughter, Mary Jo Dervos of Glen Rock. "She had been attending her church in Wood-Ridge for over 70 years."

In a decree sent to priests last week, Archbishop John J. Myers warned of "growing abuse associated with eulogies at funerals." He said the tributes to the deceased by families and friends should be read before or after the Mass, preferably in a side chapel, or at graveside, and should be delivered by one person.

A spokesman for Myers, as well as some priests, said Tuesday that eulogies are getting out of hand, with several people sometimes wanting to speak. The tributes, they said, can create a distraction from the true purpose of the Mass -- preaching the Gospel and taking the sacrament of the bread and wine.

"We have been getting more and more requests for eulogies," said Jim Goodness, a spokesman for the archdiocese, which covers Catholic churches in Bergen, Hudson, Essex, and Union counties. "And this is not something that has been traditionally a part of Catholic funeral rites."

Under the decree -- passed on to many parishioners Sunday -- the priest celebrating the funeral Mass can still talk about the deceased in his homily. But Myers has also stipulated that the homily "should be more than a mere eulogy," and should focus on the message of Jesus.

The arrangement has left Suehnholz's family feeling empty and angry. They said the priest suggested they read their eulogies at the wake - a suggestion they dismissed because people would be coming and going.

"We felt it really wasn't asking a lot for family members to speak," Dervos said. "My grandmother was so devoted to the church. She was in the rosary society for 50 years. We believed the Mass was the most appropriate place."

When first told of the new policy, Dervos said, her relatives promised the priest they would limit the eulogy to five minutes.

But the answer was still no, she said.

A priest did speak briefly about Suehnholz during the Mass, said Monday at Assumption of Our Blessed Lady in Wood-Ridge.

But Dervos said family members could have added a more personal touch had they been allowed to speak.

In the end, they read their tributes at a luncheon after the funeral.

Meanwhile, a few priests in the Archdiocese of Newark said they can't imagine enforcing the new policy. "How can you tell someone who has just lost a loved one that they can't speak?" said one priest, who requested anonymity.

One pastor in Ridgefield said he was more hopeful. "This may enable a more extended representation of the deceased, when the eulogy takes place somewhere rather than at Mass," said the Rev. Donald Sheehan of St. Matthew's Church.

In the Morris County community of Mendham, the Rev. Kenneth Lasch said he has worked out a new compromise on eulogies. He meets with the family, speaks of the deceased in his homily, and has one relative open the Mass with a three- to five-minute reflection.

This allows everyone to "listen to the word of God," said Lasch, who works in the Diocese of Paterson, which doesn't prohibit eulogies. "And it works. It really sets a nice tone."

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