Memorial Service and Funeral Mass for Kennedy

Penny post card of Mission Church where Senator Kennedy's funeral Mass will be celebrated (image

It's been just two weeks since I began what became a series of posts on the funeral of Eunice Shriver and what I thought would be its impact on pastoral ministry:
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.
Bearing that in mind it will be interesting to see what a review of tomorrow's funeral Mass for Senator Edward Kennedy will bring.

The funeral will be celebrated at Mission Church in Roxbury. Cardinal Sean O'Malley will preside as archbishop and conduct the Final Commendation at the end of the Mass. Boston College Chancellor Donald Monan, SJ will be the principal celebrant of the Mass and Rev. Mark Hession, pastor of Our Lady of Victories Parish in Centerville, on Cape Cod, will be the homilist.

Among the music ministers will be cellist Yo-Yo Ma, tenor Placido Domingo, members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and a soloist from the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

President Barack Obama is scheduled to deliver "the eulogy."

(Update: more details on the funeral Mass here)

As I've posted, there is no place for a eulogy at a Catholic funeral Mass. I'll be pleased to be wrong about this but I suspect it's unlikely that POTUS will limit himself to the local church policy of speaking for "five minutes in remembrance of the deceased." This is especially unfortunate since tonight (Friday, August 28) there's to be a "Celebration of Life Memorial Service" at the JFK Presidential Library at which a number of speakers will step to the microphone to offer a good word about the late senator. (Note: the word eulogy comes from two Greek words meaning a good word.) One can hardly imagine a better venue for the president's remarks than such a service.

For the record: Obama should certainly not be taken to task for something he was probably invited to do by the family and with the approval of the clergy involved in preparing the liturgy. The nation's chief executive may have made many mistakes but for this one he bears no blame.

-ConcordPastor Kennedy-Shriver Funerals


  1. Oh, Concord Pastor--again you show your wisdom--You have given us the information---it saves so much space in yur bog from those of us who would have said--and--and--and-
    So we are prepared for the break from the guidelines-but it does not make it any easier for you when you receive requests for a funeral which does NOT follow the church's guidelines---

  2. So much food for thought -- it reminds me of how celebrity ANYTHING sets expectations and standards (weight, weddings, beauty, success).

    Newsworthy opportunities for the Church to "walk the walk" (Kennedy/Shiver funerals, the Notre Dame commencement) are prime "teachable moments", yet they are predictably undermined by well intentioned compromise.

    If our own leaders don't stand by their well stated principles, how can they legitimately expect the ordinary person to aspire to (or take seriously) any Catholic rules and regulations?

    I applaud your consistency and faithfulness - tempered by humor and graciousness...but never compromised!

  3. Cardinal O'Malley will be present at the funeral. This, it seems to me, will add to the confusion. Some Catholics will now say..."Well the Cardinal didn't object to..., so why should my pastor?"

  4. If I understand what you are saying, there is never a place in a Catholic Burial Mass for an account of the life of the deceased. If that is so, can you please comment on the homily given by then Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, as is found at:http://www.zenit.org/article-12695?l=english

    I have written to you on several occasions about this and to date you have made no reference to it. Does your lack of notice indicate that there are double standards but it is more convenient to ignore them?

    Personally I do not have a problem with double standards. As I recall Jesus resurrected his friend Lazarus from the dead, a favor he did only once before for a little girl. The extravagant gesture at the Marriage Feast of Cana was accomplished at the special request of his mother who had not spelled out details of the solution, only identified the problem. It is a shame that the institution which has evolved from the command of Jesus has seemingly lost the arts of flexibility and creativity and imagination. There is a good book that has been recommended to me by a Jewish friend called "The Wisdom of Crowds". (It does not refer to mob psychology, but crowds composed of those with diversity of opinion, independence, decentralization, and a method of aggregation.) The crowds at the JFK library are in large part a recognition of Senator Kennedy's ability to facilitate the exception and inclusion for the poor and powerless. If the ecclesial institution frowns on exceptions, it really does not matter. People have already voted with their feet and that can be interpreted in ever so many ways.

  5. Like the postcard of Mission Church (Our Lady of Perpetual Help.) I watched the Celebration of Life Memorial Service last night and thought the tributes (each and every one) were absolutely wonderful. Am very much looking forward to watching the funeral mass very shortly.

    I just read the comments that accompanied Michael Paulson's post. The vitriol displayed in the vast majority of them is absolutely disgraceful.


  6. "Anonymous":

    I do not follow up on every link I receive and I do not respond to every comment I receive.

    If you've read what I've posted and followed the links I've offered, you have seen that indeed the life of the deceased is to be part of the homily and a remembrance of it may be offered at the Vigil or at the end of the funeral Mass. I have referenced these points a number of times.

    If by "an account of the life of the deceased" you intend a kind of biographical statement - then you're correct: no place is made for such an address in the context of a Catholic funeral Mass. At the wake? No problem! At the gathering after the interment? No problem!

    If you think I'm trying to protect a system of double standards here than you have ENTIRELY missed the point of all these posts! It's precisely the double standard that I find problematic, whether it's applied for a pope or a politician.

    A reading of the material I've offered here from the Order of Christian Funerals shows opportunity for creativity, flexibility and imagination.

  7. I am a pastor in a Boston suburban parish.

    The Kennedy family has suffered much (as do most families). Ted Kennedy was in my mind the most vocal elected champion for the little guy and the marginalized in my lifetime. He deserved the best that The Church can give at his funeral. He didn't get it though. The Mass was in many ways a backdrop for a lot of egos. And I can tell you that the funeral liturgy at our parish is so much better done than was the liturgy this morning as I watched it (and still am as I write this) on the TV.

    The Archbishop of Boston who was present at the funeral did not "walk the walk" when it came to the Order of Christian Funerals. And I knew that he wouldn't. We have such weak leadership in this diocese. I know it's easy to take pop shots at him on an anonymous blog, but ... for crying out loud Sean!

    There was but one "eulogy" given by the president, but others were allowed to get up and give "tributes." At this point, I'm tired of shoveling mud against the tide. If the Archbishop doesn't enforce his own rules, neither will I.

    From now on, when more than one person wants to speak at a funeral Mass, we will no longer call them Eulogies or "words of remembrance." We will call them "tributes" and if 22 people want to give tributes at the end of the Funeral Mass, so be it.

    This particular issue causes me more angst than most, because I've been trying to enforce a rule which I totally agree with ... even though most people who know me might call me an anarchist! ... with people who are emotionally raw at the time of the death of a loved one. I've been told I'm unfair, unbending, insensitive, etc. It will feel so good when I stop banging my head against the wall.

    And if I get any flack from chancery I will refer them to this morning's Mass for Senator Kennedy where the word "tribute" was substituted for "eulogy" and several "tributes" were given.

  8. Gentian: don't give up! To keep the words of rembrance to "one person/five minutes" is the thing to do not just because it's a directive but because it works to preserve the integrity of the whole rite.

  9. Boy do I get Genetian's point. I also understand several of the posts about the double standard. I watched the funeral mass this morning and thought it was very inspiratinal. Part of me is angry that the double standard was used (AGAIN!); the other part of me rejoiced at the the "bending of the rules" it exhibited. Maybe I am being irrervant but SO WHAT!! Sometimes the church gets too detailed in the letter of the law and not the spirit. Maybe the people who wrote these laws think they are "spiritual" but maybe a lot of others don't agree. And the 3-5 minute "tribute" sounds a lot like the nuns saying "Well if you kiss for 2 minutes it's a venial sin; if you kiss for 3 it's a mortal sin"! (bad example but you get the point!) Maybe I'm too much of a free spirit to belong to this church. I just can't believe God gets as carried away with all of this as we do.

  10. Isn't this issue of funerals tributes/eulogies etc. an issue that can be discussed at diocesan meetings of pastors? Or has it been already?
    I was at a local funeral mass just last week at which there were 3 people who spoke, one for about 10 minutes. I don't get it.

  11. Gentian: I agree with ConcordPastor when he said to you, "don't give up!"

    I can see how you would be tired of this and want to just give in (and I don't blame you), but please don't. Not knowing you at all, but just from your words I can tell that you are dedicated and believe strongly in what is good and right...

    ( ...it seems it's a lot easier to say certain things to others than to do those same things ourselves... )

  12. I got a few emails, a phone call and a couple of text messages during and after the funeral. Every one of them commented on the music, the tributes and eulogy. Not a one mentioned the wonderful homily given by Rev. Mark Hession. I truly believe that most Catholics just don't understand what the Order of Christian funerals is all about. I'm willing to bet there are many people who do not understand the significance of meeting the deceased and family at the door of the church, or what placing the pall over the casket means etc. What can we do about it?

  13. anne: As is generally true of the liturgy, the best instruction is the experience of liturgy reverently and gracefully celebrated, with full signs.

    At my church, the altar is in the middle of the assembly and across from it is the baptismal font. At funerals, we greet the body and family at the door and all process in.

    At the font, by the light of the Easter candle, I recall the baptism of the deceased the promise of eternal life which baptism brings. I then bless the casket generously with a frond of arbor vitae dipped in the waters of the font. Then, recalling the white garment of baptism, I invite family/friends to dress the casket with the pall.

    From then on the baptismal references in the prayers of the funeral Mass and any reference I want to make in my homily have a recent experience from which those present can draw.

    That's just one example.

    And you can compare that to what happens in too many places: a brass sprinkler in a brass bucket with a quick dousing, followed by funeral directors placing the pall. That still happens in far too many places.

  14. CP, I do not address you in the comments I am about to make. You are addressing liturgy. I have been disillusioned by vitriolic comments about Sen. Kennedy and his funeral by those who I believe would designate themselves good Catholics, and who seem to claim a prerogative I thought was the Lord's - the ability to identify sinners and decide whom to forgive or condemn. I have NEVER designated myself a "good Catholic" but was always a proud one.

  15. Celtic Crone: I understand. I have taken great care not to comment on the persons of either Eunice Shriver or Ted Kennedy. That's not my issue here. My concern is what happens on the parish level when celebrity funerals cross so many lines of liturgical sobriety. For sure, neither Eunice nor Ted are to blame for what happened after their death!

    As to the vitriolic commentary - I'm with you!

  16. This will be my last post on this subject! lol. My experience of the Catholic Funeral Rite is that when the guidelines in the OCF are followed, when good liturgical music is used, when competent leaders of song are employed, when the presider has prepared his homily weaving in the personality of the deceased and how his/her works and life reflected gospel values(and not plugged in a canned one), when the "words of remembrance" summarize in 4-6 minutes the importance of this person's life and their relationship to their faith (it's in church for crying out loud ... you're allowed to talk about faith! lol)and the family has been invited to choose readings, competent readers and the liturgical music, then the rite is both Catholic and personal.

    Again, I have to say, LEADERSHIP is missing in this area. A good leader leads by example and not by mandate. Unfortunately, our diocesan leaders did not give us good leadership as the Kennedy funeral was crafted. Never mind the multiplication of eulogies or tributes, the basic rule of good liturgy ... the major parts of the Mass being sung and the song being used has something to do with the liturgical action going on at the moment...was ignored. The liturgical leader of the diocese was there and de facto put his imprimatur on yesterday's funeral liturgy.

    I can only hope that the Archbishop or one of his assistants reads Fr. Fleming's blog. I have written to the bishop and the director of the Office for Worship begging for better leadership and it just seems to fall on deaf ears.

    I once heard at a pastoral leadership conference that if a pastor wants to build a strong parish to "spend all your time on preaching and all you money on a good music program." Of course it's hyperbole, you can't spend all your time on preaching and all the money on music, but the point is there. Have GOOD liturgy and GOOD preaching, and the community will grow and blossom.

    I don't like being judgmental, because God knows there's lots I can be judged for, but... Senator Kennedy's funeral was not good liturgy.

    And it will be the template that Catholics use when planning funeral liturgies for a long time to come.

    Our leadership had a golden opportunity to give good leadership and good instruction. I wish they had used it. They didn't.

  17. Like many others here, I have mixed feelings about this discussion. Yes, we must follow the law--for me, those are the laws/principles that make good liturgy. But, in light of today's Gospel, when we liturgists make following these laws the goal, rather than what will best enable this unique, particular assembly to fully participate in the ritual, then I think we've begun to make idols of the very necessary, integral-to-good-liturgy principles we want to uphold.

    Perhaps I'm paraphrasing today's Gospel too far...What people saw at Ted Kennedy's very public funeral and the liturgical laws broken at them will not harm people's faith. But I think the way we liturgical leaders speak and react to the breaking of these laws may.

    Yes, it was bad liturgy by good liturgical principle standards. But did it cause the diverse assembly of people who were there to give praise to God through Christ for the faith of this man? Yes. Did it draw people closer to a sense of things eternal--of life enduring and triumphing, of the Paschal Mystery--rather than leave them despairing in the earthly darkness of death? Yes. Did it show care for the family, reverence toward the deceased, and comfort to the mourning? Yes.

    Of course, we must at every opportunity advocate for following the liturgical laws, because they are the best ways we know that will help enable good liturgy. We cannot stray from this vision. But the reason for good liturgy is so those gathered may praise God as best they are able and be sanctified by their worship to go and live more like Christ in the world. I believe the former was badly lacking at many levels; but the latter, thanks be to God alone, was greatly accomplished.

  18. Diana: Pleased to have you on board in this discussion.

    You wrote: "...when we liturgists make following these laws the goal, rather than what will best enable this unique, particular assembly to fully participate in the ritual..."

    I'd find it helpful if you'd indicate where or how it appears that I've championed following liturgical laws as a goal more important than the assembly's participation.

    What I've tried to put forth here is that the ritual directs, ensures, protects and encourages the assembly's participation in what the ritual is trying to accomplish.

    In your third paragraph you ask three questions and answer them correctly. The problem I find is that any number of different Christian memorial services might have accomplished the same ends. Our ministry, however, is a particular one among many others and is, I'm sure you agree, rich in history, gesture, belief, prayer, word, song and sacrament. My efforts here have been to protect such a rich source from becoming one of many others.

    I'm not sure how to balance what you say in your first paragraph with what you assert in your last.

    From the outset here, I've been concerned with the impact of these celebrity funerals on the efforts of parish ministers trying to assist their people in preparing funeral rites that will both be faithful to how the church prays and serve the needs of the bereaved, especially with regard to the question of "eulogies."

    At the Kennedy funeral the total time of the two "tributes" and the eulogy was 37 minutes - 4 minutes longer than the entire liturgy of the Word. I'd say that's an imbalance and not good practice. And I believe that poor example (and there were many others in the senator's funeral)will make the work of parish ministers more difficult.

  19. OK, I'll bring it up. I have waited all day hoping someone else would but alas...
    Many people were already aware that the late Sen. Kennedy had a personal letter hand-delivered to the Pope by President Obama earlier this summer. As with most things in life, some people have access and others do not. That being said, I found myself un-nerved by the public reading of this private correspondence to/from the Pope at the burial service.
    I have been tracking and posting to all threads related to the funeral liturgy starting with the Eunice Kennedy post. For the most part I have been, and continue to be, in favor of a less-rigid liturgy for all. However, this graveside letter reading by the Emeritus Cardinal of D.C. felt almost akin to a priest revealing a confession. I know they are not similar, yet it somehow felt like a breach of confidence.
    The letters where shared with the Cardinal but he should have drawn the line.


  20. RE: The correspondence with the pope.

    Thanks for bringing this comment into play. I actually came to the blog tonight hoping to see commentary from CP on this topic.

    Full disclosure, I was not a fan of Mr. Kennedy, in either his personal or professional decisions. But even with that said, I was taken aback that anyone of any stripe could be so bold as to consider himself worthy of asking for prayers from the pope. He then went further and asked for tacit approval of his "making up for human weaknesses" earlier in his life. Many words come to mind, but I will just leave it with "self important". If he had not crossed a line yet, he then went so far at to make that correspondence public, in a way that seeks to validate his own perception of forgiveness and relativism. It seems at best tacky and at worst, truly manipulative.

    I for one still struggle to ask forgiveness of the Concord Pastor. The idea of personally writing the pope for prayer and forgiveness for my life failings seems just incomprehensible to me. I guess you can only do that if you are a Kennedy.

  21. "The idea of personally writing the pope for prayer and forgiveness for my life failings seems just incomprehensible to me. I guess you can only do that if you are a Kennedy."

    Sorry you feel that way because that is not how we Catholics believe in regards to forgiveness and reconciliation. It's true that Ted Kennedy had an advantage that we the not so famous have. Why should that matter? He was seriously ill and had time over the past year to reflect on his life, just as any one of us would do. With this reflective time comes contrition. He was, according to a priest friend of his,"ready for the journey". He was reconciled with his God, the same God who forgives all of us when we return to him. What does the story of the Prodigal Son" mean? It means we have something to celebrate when any of us repent of our wrong doing. In Ted's case, I imagine his sins were no worse than our own. Who are we to judge? I thought his letter, read publicly,and the response from the Vatican was very much an assurance that God's love is ever present and God is always waiting for us and ready to forgive.

  22. Do we know that Sen. Kennedy knew that the letter was going to be read at his burial service or that he asked for this? And couldn't any Catholic ask for prayers from the Pope?
    I didn't understand, by the way, that the Pope was being asked for approval of Sen. Kennedy's life actions.

  23. Anyone can write to the pope. Kennedy had an advantage in that the POTUS was his letter carrier!

    Two things to note:

    The response is not directly from the pope. The wording goes something like, "Dear Senator Kennedy, the Holy Father wishes to convey..." It was written and signed by an underling.

    Neither the whole of Kennedy's letter nor the whole of the Vatican's response was made public. My guess is that much of the substance of the exchange was not divulged.

  24. Anne,

    I understand your point completely. I would just offer that most of us would be satisfied to have that dialog with our parish priest, the clergy closest to most of us. In his case, perhaps he would take advantage of a Bishop, or even a Cardinal with a close relationship to him. I guess dropping a line to The Pope, and having it hand delivered no less, continues to feel strange to me. Oh well, to each his own I guess.


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