Dina Rudick/Boston Globe Staff
(For those who think I'm too strong on these issues, check this priest's take on the funeral over at the Deacon's Bench.)
I spent a part of the afternoon watching the video of Ted Kennedy's funeral Mass. Regular readers know that funeral rites have been the topic of a series of posts here over the past couple of weeks.
From the beginning, my concern has been the impact of celebrity funerals on parish personnel. As I wrote in the first post on this topic:
It's unfortunate and a burden for local pastors when the funeral rites of celebrities place before millions a ritual that departs in many ways from what the Church intends. Such events set a false standard which makes assisting grieving families in preparing a funeral liturgy for their loved ones an even more difficult task.It's one thing when a family says to their pastor, "But Fr. Smith over at St. Mary's lets more than one person speak after Communion." It's another thing when the family asks, "How come the Kennedy's get to do what they want?" Well, they got to do what they want because the clergy helping them prepare the funeral liturgy let them.
The comments on these posts have covered a broad range. There are some who believe that whatever the family wants is what they should be able to do. My response is that such an approach fails to understand what the liturgy is, what it offers and what how it's intended to function in the life of the Church. Wanting to discuss the matters in those terms elicits the charge that the Church is unfeeling, cold, legalistic and impersonal.
One has only to look at the liturgical books to know that this is not the way the Church wants to minister or be perceived. The failure is much more in the hands of individual clergy than in the liturgical directives. Some priests fail to understand the rites, some priests may understand them but celebrate them carelessly and others adopt a "do whatever you want" attitude when asked for exceptions to be made. Of course, many priests understand the rites, celebrate them reverently and work with family towards understanding how the Church prays and why.
In the Archdiocese of Boston there is a policy regarding family members or friends speaking at funeral Masses. The policy is based in the directives found in the liturgical books indicating that there is never to be a eulogy at a funeral Mass. What is permitted is for one person to speak no more than five minutes after the post-Communion prayer and before the Final Commendation. At the Kennedy funeral, three people spoke for a total of 38 minutes and that was about 5 minutes longer than the entire Liturgy of the Word -- which included 10 family members offering Intercessions all based on the writing and speeches of the late Senator.
(For those who are to young to remember and for those who have forgotten: before the liturgical reforms of Vatican Council II, there was not even a homily at a funeral Mass.)
Funerals should, of course, comfort the bereaved but that is only one of the reasons the Church so solemnly and sacramentally marks the passing of a brother or sister. Folks I've heard from generally found the Kennedy funeral Mass to be warm, moving, evocative and wonderful. I wouldn't for a moment quarrel with them and say that their feelings are wrong. What you feel is what you feel. And how you make ritual is how, what and why you pray - and hand that prayer down from generation to generation.
A good deal of poor liturgical example (beyond the eulogy issue) was set in this celebration. At least in Boston, pastors will be working with the fallout from this for quite some time.
-ConcordPastor Kennedy-Shriver Funerals