8/24/09

Final (rites) Score: 40-4

I posted my initial comments on Eunice Shriver's funeral service, having only seen part of it, live, on television. After having a chance to review a video of the whole liturgy, I prepared a second lengthier critique but before I published it, a reader happened to write suggesting I continue the discussion on Catholic funerals apart from the particulars of the Shriver funeral. I thought there was a good deal of wisdom in that suggestion so I cut the pending post in half, leaving out the Shriver details, and posted on Catholic funeral rites in general.

The results have been telling.

The first post brought in 40 responses before I closed the combox.

I cut off comments because even though the post included an update linking readers to the more recent post, folks were still reacting to the first post and raising questions answered in second.

The second post has elicited only 4 responses.

I'm tempted to post the material which I held back containing further detail and critique of the Shriver funeral - but I've decided not to do that. I had hoped that discussion of the celebrity funeral might offer a teachable moment but it seems that many were more interested in the celebrity nature of the discussion rather than in the heart of the matter.

I offer for your consideration my observation that this dynamic mirrors real life. As a parish minister I know that often those who don't get what they want simply walk away disgruntled, with little patience for listening and learning how and why the Church prays, celebrates and acts as it does.

Those still hoping to learn more about Catholic funeral rites are certainly welcome to engage the questions raised in my more recent post.

-ConcordPastor Kennedy-Shriver Funerals

26 comments:

anne said...

It's unfortunate that many people don't understand (when preparing for a funeral)that the guidelines in the OCF are to help us unite ourselves with Christ, his death, his suffering and rising. Because of the Paschal Mystery, our lives have meaning as God's holy people.
I do believe that often the misconceptions which result in poor planning are due to poor catechesis regarding the reformed rite and not only for those who are grieving, but for priests as well. I also think that the attitude about death in this country adds to the problem. Yes, it is a sad time for families but the church gave us a liturgy that should help comfort us. People don't want to think or talk about death in this country. It's hard to criticize those in grief when they were not taught long before the death of a loved one. Maybe we need to take a serious look at how we are teaching about death and perhaps we should begin with a better understanding of our Baptism and make the connection with our death and the paschal Mystery.

anne said...

Wow...I just reread my original post. lots of rambling going on. Sorry...just trying to say that the church is in great need of catechesis and reviews of the funeral liturgy at all levels, clergy and laity.

Anonymous said...

Dear CP-
I participated in the posting re: the Shriver funeral. I followed all the various responses. As a result, I learned a lot on many levels. I read and noted your promised and appreciated second posting regarding Catholic funerals.

I stepped back to think about a response to the second posting and prepare a response.

Today I logged on to read what's new and then respond to the Catholic funerals posting. Wow, the tone of this latest post implying that those of of us who did not respond immediately to your Funeral Liturgy commentary are somehow celebrity groupies, disgruntled and/or not open to learning is unfortunate.

Your "huffy" comments are the reason why I won't be posting my reflections as planned.

I have long appreciated the content and amount of blogging you do at this site. Personally, I like to step back and return to the site after reflection to post a comment. Life being life it does not always allow me time to return to the site daily/several times a day to respond before the next topic is posted. I have frequently returned to the site and found the posting I wish to respond to pushed down on the list by new entries.

I am just saying, please be patient with us before chastising us.

Gentian said...

Yes, catechesis is needed. Every November in our parish I speak at least once concerning the planning of Funeral Liturgies at the homily time. We also have put together a detailed booklet with a sample "eulogy", suggestions for music, a brief overview of the Christian approach to escatology, and a form for families to write down their selections.
I do find however, that folks who are "in the pews" on a regular basis "get it," (for the most part) and the problem is with folks who have little or no association with the Church and its liturgy. So it seems the catechesis does educate those who participate. Problem is when someone with little or no attachment comes in and may be looking for yet another reason to be angry at the Church. It's really difficult to deal with these situations because they can point out all kinds of "exceptions made to the guidelines" for high profile funerals.
I also have great frustration with the leadership of the diocese when it comes to following the OCF. I've written a couple of times to the Office for Worship asking them to please clarify the official word on this matter. I don't think those at "headquarters" have a clue about how difficult this can be for us.
So often I feel like a voice crying out in the desert with no support from leadership. I especially get frustrated when I see our leadership bending or breaking the rules at funerals that are receiving a lot of media attention ... like the Kennedys ... Joe Moakley ... fallen heroes, etc. I feel like throwing my hands in the air and saying "have as many eulogies as you want" when I've been trying to explain to folks why there should be only one eulogy when the leadership of the diocese is part of a multi eulogy funeral Mass.

RP Burke said...

Having just been through the planning and execution of my mother-in-law's funeral -- a peripheral voice in the planning, a lector at the Mass -- I have another observation that applies also to weddings.

Families, who see weddings and funerals as their events rather than the church's, want to introduce elements they've seen at others' services without the slightest idea that they are foreign to Catholic worship.

At the funerals I served in the old days, nothing whatsoever was said in English, and certainly not by a lay person. The priest didn't preach, and everything was in Latin or Greek. The only lay voice was that of the organist/cantor, who sang the chant from the Graduale Simplex. (Most of our funerals were solemn Masses where the deacon and subdeacon gave the spoken responses that we servers normally gave.) At the funeral home, there was only the rosary. Eulogizing in formal worship is not part of our tradition. Indeed the very idea was dismissed as something from heretical sects.

Now ideas like eulogies are not used by "heretics" but by our separated brothers and sisters. Rather like the holding of hands during the Lord's Prayer at Mass, these elements from foreign sources (as Abp. Weakland once described them) don't have a place in our worship, but all too often there's no telling a family that they can't have them. In fact, the new ritual for funerals concedes to this pressure by allowing spoken remembrances by family and friends. That said, it's not in the way that people want: one brief presentation at the Mass if necessary, otherwise only at the newly created Vigil -- a jarring change to those who attend funerals only rarely. Then there's another problem common to weddings of "the song he loved," which was frequently secular or irreligious.

Families demand the opportunity to eulogize, and, for good or ill, many priests find that "pastoral reasons" require them to permit these things to prevent the disgruntlement that Fr. Austin speaks of here.

It would be easier to say, "The rules don't permit what you want, and all the music is prescribed." But that would be like calling all the fouls in a basketball or football game: pretty soon no one would come.

I wish I had a magic answer to this dilemma of (1) do it wrong or (2) tick off the families. But I don't.

ConcordPastor said...

I regret that "anonymous" has decided not to share his/her reflections. Those who read the 40 responses on the first post know that they run the gamut so my critical comment in the last post was certainly not directed at all.

Since so many folks comment as "anonymous" and because I have no way of knowing if "anonymous" comments come from 1, 2 or 10 persons, it's not easy to know on my end who's saying what.

Oh, if folks would only adopt a screen name! (Hope that wasn't too huffy a wish on my part!) :-)

Anonymous said...

I get the Church's policy on liturgical events and I get the need for families to be more involved in these events. I do NOT get the different standard used when someone is a celebrity, politician, church leader, etc. If the standard was used for all, I do not think people would be so disguntled.

Anonymous said...

I think we as Catholics need to look less at "the letter of the law" and focus more/ be asking what is "the spirit of the law" (or the funeral guidelines in this case).

I also think, CP, that you are misreading why some people are not posting in response to your second post (and now this one).

ConcordPastor said...

More than willing am I to stand accused of being "huffy" and "misreading."

Now, let's discuss the issues in the terms presented.

Should the Church, "in the spirit of the law" lay aside the major spiritual purpose and intent of its funeral rites to satisfy a family's personal requests to the degree that the funeral becomes "a tribute" to the deceased rather than a celebration of the Paschal Mystery?

Anonymous said...

CP,

Can you give us your thoughts on where the line is crossed between a funeral Mass being a "celebration of paschal mystery" and when it becomes a "tribute" with the guidelines not being followed?

Does this have to do with the length of reflection/or numberof people giving it, the selection of songs, the number of participants/family members others in the Mass?

Is there anything in the guidelines that speaks to the need for sensitivity in pastoral care and situations where allowances might be made, say for a longer reflection or for more family members involvement in the Mass.

What about guidelines on the death of a Pope, or world dignitaries?

The question "What would Jesus do?" seems very relevant to me. How would he respond to this discussion? In today's gospel reading (Tuesday) Jesus talked about what's most important being what's in people's hearts.

I have to ask you and others who are responding as liturgists, are the guidelines rules, or are they guidelines?

If the guidelines aren't followed precisely, isn't God's spirit still there, moving healing people! If you read through the comments of others after your posting on Eunice Shriver's funeral, people talked about the beauty of the Mass, the example of her faith filled life... a group of women wondered if they might one day participate more fully in their faith seeing the example of family member's full involvement.

In spite of the Mass possibly not following the guidelines I believe the message got out there and the Catholic funeral Mass being televised allowed Eunice's life to witness once again to the world God's love for each of us. I believe God used her example of a life so well lived to bring others to Him and for His glory.

Anonymous said...

This controvery is about to begin again with the upcoming funeral of Senator Kennedy. With that being said, I so much admired this man for what he contributed to Massachusetts and the country and for working diligently for the poor/underdog. He is resting in peace

Anne said...

No, it should not change...i believe there is enough give to families, at least at my parish. The evening before, at the funeral home is where the tribute is done. "Clearly, it’s the mind of the Church that the family have the opportunity to be personally involved in preparing the funeral liturgy. And that’s just how it should be: nothing less than this - not too much more than this, either." of this I couldn't agree more.

But as long as special favors are granted to some because of public status this will continue to be an issue. One I don't think will change, especially in this world of entitlement!

Remaining humble, trusting God when I don't get my way is not easy but that is my goal. In the end it allows me to love my church even more!

Anne

Charivari Rob said...

CP said - "Should the Church, "in the spirit of the law" lay aside the major spiritual purpose and intent of its funeral rites to satisfy a family's personal requests to the degree that the funeral becomes "a tribute" to the deceased rather than a celebration of the Paschal Mystery?"

No. It shouldn't.

I'll try to expand upon that a little later, when I have more time.

Senator Kennedy passed away last night. Considering how this topic first developed, it will be interesting to see what transpires.

Gentian said...

One of the Anonymouses above wondered about Ted Kennedy's funeral and what that will be like. If it's held in the Washington DC Diocese, perhaps the bishop there will assure that the integrity of the Catholic Funeral Rite is maintained. If it is not, then I think we just have to throw our hands in the air and just cry out "WHATEVER!" Because, if his funeral becomes a liturgical circus, this will become THE TEMPLATE for Catholic funerals in this country for the next 50 years! And then, we who work with families planning the liturgy will hear "If my last name were Kennedy, you'd say okay to the 5 eulogies," whenever a disagreement arises.

anne said...

Perhaps a solution is for the diocese to be the "enforcer" of the guidelines and rules and not the pastor. Parish priests could request that the diocese publish some kind of brochure or literature explaining our Catholic funeral rites and the reasons for following the liturgy the church has given us. Have the diocese take on the responsibility. Doing so would take the problem of unreasonable requests out of the hands of the pastors who would have to follow diocesan guidelines. Also, a mailing could go out (maybe in November) to everyone on the parish census both active and nonactive members (celebrities as well who are on the list). The diocesan info could also encourage people to preplan funerals when possible, give them a list of readings and songs that are appropriate etc. Call the pastor with questions.
Just a thought...it may help but of course being pastoral at all times with the bereaved is most important. Never say "no" without a kind explanation and another appropriate choice.

from anne with a lower case "a".

agnes said...

I, for one, was grateful for the simplicity and directness of purpose of my father's funeral (at which you officiated.) His life and works (significant) were beside the point at the intimate family Mass, but were joyously remembered at a later, larger and more appropriate event. The Mass was a solemn moment commending a beloved soul to the Kingdom of Heaven.
MDR

Anonymous said...

President Obama delivering the eulogy at Sen. Kennedy's funeral. I doubt they will give him the "2 to 5-minutes" time enforcement.
Gentian and anne are correct. You can't have a double standard and expect everyone else to "follow the rules".

Michael said...

My mom passed away last fall. After she died all of our dealings were through the funeral home. We never spoke with the priest. The funeral director had a list of choices for the music, the prayer card, etc. It was so impersonal; it felt like we were ordering Chinese food off a take out menu.

We wanted to have a eulogy for my mom. The funeral director informed us that it had to be 3-5 minutes long and the pastor would have to approve it in advance. Like good Catholics, we abided by the rules. The priest said a beautiful Mass, but there was really no specific connection to my mom. It was very generic. “(Insert name here) was a beautiful soul, who today is with (his/her) creator in paradise.”

When a loved one dies, the family is looking for comfort, caring, recognition of their personal grief because mom is gone. The pascal mystery is not top in their mind. Their personal loss is. There must be some middle ground between "an all out tribute" to the deceased and a generic, impersonal celebration of the Paschal Mystery”

I am disappointed by some of the comments from the priests. (i.e. This is such a burden on the pastors. The exceptions at Eunice Shriver’s funeral has made the pastor’s job so hard.) How hard do you think it is on the family? Shouldn’t comforting them be a higher priority than “playing by the rules”? Would Jesus comfort the family or have a stop watch in his hand, timing the “personal remembrance”?

In a prior post, Gential said, “I get annoyed with my fellow pastors who make these exceptions because it makes me look like the grouchy old pastor when I play according to the rules. When someone asked me a month ago if "Danny Boy" could be sung at a funeral Mass, I responded that I'd allow it if the opening hymn would be Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust."

He should be ashamed of himself for even saying that, much less putting that comment in writing. His comments must have been a great comfort to the bereaved family. What harm is done if Danny Boy is played after the completion of the liturgy, as the deceased is removed from the church?

Finally, I do recognize that parish priests are out there on their own with this, and many other issues. They don't get much support from the leaders of their diocese. I understand that they do have a challenging job.

Anonymous said...

President Obama might well be giving a eulogy in a Catholic Church in Boston--
I can hardly wait to read your blog after this takes place----

Anonymous said...

When family/friends make a liturgical "error" does this have an impact on the soul of the deceased? I realize the answer is hopefully "no". Therefore the ritual is a thing of this earth.

Thank you Michael for sharing your experience and feelings. My family has had nearly identical experiences.

If a high profile Catholic Mass is televised/broadcast and the general public views adherence to the faith's tradition/rituals as well as a compassionate tribute to the deceased it serves the Church well in light of all the negative publicity it has garnered in recent times.

badsede said...

I think that another perspective on funerals might be useful.

Many people ask if it would not be more "Christlike" to accede to the wishes of the family rather than sticking to the rules. I think that this shows a rather low view of the liturgy of the Church. I think acceding to the wishes of the family rather than being true to the rubrics are the equivalent of giving a medication to numb the pain instead of healing the wound. The rites of the Church are about placing the death of the loved-one in the context of the resurrection and eternal life that is won by Christ. It has been crafted and fine-tuned over millennia. No favorite song, no extra or prolonged eulogy, no celebratory dance number, no dedicatory spectacle, nothing can compare to this, and they all only distract from it.

It would be more Christlike to raise the deceased to new life, it is more Christian to put the focus on Christ and eternal life.

Also, I think that it is worth noting that the funeral may help the family in its grief, but the funeral is for the deceased, not their family. I think that the attempt to steer the ceremony toward the needs of the family and away from the rites for the deceased who is the true subject of the funeral reflects a deeper theme in our culture.

The wake is for the family, and a much more appropriate place for loving stories, remembrances, dancing and drinking.

And I think the impersonalness of the priest's remarks at many funerals is a symptom of something else as well. I think it says quite a bit when it is so common to die without a priest who knows the deceased well enough to say some things about them from personal experience. (There are lots of good reasons it could happen, but no good reason for it to be so common.)


To this day, I have not attended or seen a funeral more powerful than my grandfather's requiem mass. In a plain pine box, a mass according to all the rubrics presided by a priest who knew him personally, a homily by his deacon son-in-law focused on the eternal life to be found in Christ, a brief eulogy by his grandson, and a wake afterward. Anything that we might have done otherwise to make it more "personal" would have only lessened it.

ConcordPastor said...

(Here are some responses to the comments above. Because of the length of my response, I will need to publish it as two comments.)

Can you give us your thoughts on where the line is crossed between a funeral Mass being a "celebration of paschal mystery" and when it becomes a "tribute" with the guidelines not being followed? Does this have to do with the length of reflection/or number of people giving it, the selection of songs, the number of participants/family members others in the Mass?

Is there anything in the guidelines that speaks to the need for sensitivity in pastoral care and situations where allowances might be made, say for a longer reflection or for more family members involvement in the Mass.


No, there is no magic number of poor choices that adds up to “personal tribute” as opposed to “celebration of the paschal mystery.”

The introduction to the funeral rite is very strong on pastoral sensitivity to the family and friends of the deceased and invites, as I have already noted, the participation of survivors in making choices with regard to scripture and music and liturgical ministers.

The Church has no need to apologize for its liturgical rites. Are we really surprised that the Church does not invite the family of the deceased to rewrite the funeral liturgy or to shape their own rite?

The funeral rite is the prayer of the Church in which we pray for the soul of a departed brother or sister, we remember the salvation that is ours in Christ, we give thanks for the ways in which the deceased was a faithful disciple and we comfort those who are grieving.


What about guidelines on the death of a Pope, or world dignitaries?

Some of the prayers are different (just as there are special prayers for a deceased child, parent, spouse) but by and large the ritual is the same. A papal funeral takes place in St. Peter’s in Rome with literally hundreds of clergy and of course that is different than the usual funeral liturgy. The funeral rite does not make exceptions or changes for world dignitaries.

The question "What would Jesus do?" seems very relevant to me. How would he respond to this discussion?

Over the past 50 years or so, the phrase “pastoral sensitivity” has often come to mean, “We’ll forget what the Church teaches or how it prays so that some folks will feel better.” There are few pastoral premises weaker than that one.

The question, “What would Jesus do?” is often used in the same way. It’s often based on the assumption that Jesus is an iconoclast and would break any rule rather than bruise the feelings of another.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. “ (Mt 5)

ConcordPastor said...

(Part II of my response)

I have to ask you and others who are responding as liturgists, are the guidelines rules, or are they guidelines?

They are neither. The are the instructions (directions) which are found in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and the Introduction to the Rite of Funerals. There are places where the instructions are more general, suggesting options and places where the instructions are quite specific.

Perhaps a solution is for the diocese to be the "enforcer" of the guidelines and rules and not the pastor. Parish priests could request that the diocese publish some kind of brochure or literature explaining our Catholic funeral rites and the reasons for following the liturgy the church has given us.

In the Archdiocese of Boston there is, in addition to the instructions in the Roman Missal and the Rite of funerals, a
diocesan policy based on those very instructions. This is true in many if not all dioceses. Greater dissemination of those materials is a good suggestion. The policy falls apart when the local pastor ignores the instructions.


My mom passed away last fall. After she died all of our dealings were through the funeral home. We never spoke with the priest. The funeral director had a list of choices for the music, the prayer card, etc. It was so impersonal; it felt like we were ordering Chinese food off a take out menu.

There is no excuse for poor pastoral ministry but neither is poor pastoral ministry an excuse for reshaping the funeral rite. The funeral rite calls for a parish minister to meet with the family of the deceased to prepare the funeral liturgy and, if the deceased is not known to the priest, to gather information helpful for precisely the personal connections that mourners look for.

Also, I think that it is worth noting that the funeral may help the family in its grief, but the funeral is for the deceased, not their family… The wake is for the family, and a much more appropriate place for loving stories, remembrances…

The funeral rite is for both the deceased and those who mourn. The vigil (wake) service is also for both the one who has died and those who survive.

There are many times and places for telling stories about the person who has died. This happens at the visitation, in gatherings of family and friends at the time of death and at the collation which often follows the committal service at the cemetery.



I do not know if President Obama will be sufficiently brief for your taste (at the funeral of Senator Kennedy) but I have no doubt that he will be spiritually and morally inspiring and that he will invite us to follow in the path of justice and peace and concern for the needs of the poor. I cannot imagine anyone else to whom I would rather listen.

It’s not a matter of my personal taste. It’s a matter of how the Church prays at the time of death.

(On what IS a matter of personal taste: I can easily imagine others to whom I would rather listen.)

Anonymous said...

I am very pleased that President Obama will speak at Senator Kennedy's funeral. I am interested to hear what he has to say. Perhaps there will be nothing that we haven't heard before, but perhaps there will be. From his speech at Notre Dame, which shed light on his connections to Cardinal Bernadin and Father Hesburgh, I learned much that I had not known.

Rosemary

anne said...

Thinking about the question someone asked...WWJD? What would Jesus do to help those who are in mourning over the loss of a loved one? At Christian funerals, it's not "What would he do; it's all about what he is "doing". He is present and celebrating among us at every liturgy. He celebrates with us and he weeps with us at funeral liturgies. He is with us every inch of the way. The Church teaches that. Catholics should know that before they overstep what is appropriate. Believing that Christ is present during these difficult times is very comforting. What more could we ask?!

ConcordPastor said...

That's an excellent insight, anne!