Perhaps you saw the various reports on the Archbishop of Melbourne, Dennis Hart, forbidding secular songs at funerals. No more “romantic ballads, pop or rock music, political songs, football club songs.” The funeral is a Mass of Christian Burial (also known as a Requiem Mass), not merely a “celebration of the life of the deceased.” The guidelines can be found here.
NCR’s Eugene Kennedy won’t have any of it. “The real problem may be that archbishops don’t have enough to do,” he sneers. “It may be that Hart just had a bad day. He sounds as if he were finally venting long pent up irritation…” Kennedy spots the real motive behind this plot. But of course: the Archbishop is turning back the clock, and wants black vestments and a congregation in passive silence as the priest says Mass by himself as if it’s a matter between him and God.
Except that none of this is found in the guidelines. It’s all from Kennedy’s imagination. His fears of the Bad Old Days are so strong, apparently, that he sees evidence of it where there is none.
Kennedy is a good psychologist. He has some good points, to be sure. The “secular” is good (think “secular priests”), “play” is an integral part of human life, indeed, sacred. Play and contemplation go together. God is present also in secular love ballads and football songs. All very true. But that doesn’t mean that all these are appropriate for the liturgy. Lots of things in this world are really great and holy and sacred – having sex, for example – but that doesn’t mean they’re appropriate to do in the liturgy.
As I read it, Archbishop Hart is promoting the reformed Rite of Christian Burial and fostering a worthy celebration of the funeral Mass in accord with the nature and purpose of the reformed rites. He’s not out to be a killjoy. He’s out to promote music that fits the rite and celebrates the fullness of the Paschal Mystery. Note that he promotes active participation, singing of the important elements (eg. the Responsorial Psalm of the reformed lectionary), and sensitivity to all who are present, including non-Catholics.
Of course it’s a great media story whenever an Archbishops makes rules and tells people what they can’t do. The media are good at quoting the prohibitions – and leaving out all the uninteresting things like the Paschal Mystery and the Communion of the Saints. I suppose one could quibble with some of the Archbishop’s language, eg. that not all rock music is un-Christian. Maybe some of the language could be softened a bit. But I’m not sure this would do much good for those out to put spin on the story.
Eugene Kennedy is a wise commentator, and I read with great interest his weekly commentaries on human life, Christian life, and things Catholic. He has been an asute commentator on the abuse crisis. But this time, I think he dropped the ball. Maybe he should stay away from the topic of liturgy. Or maybe he should actually read the funeral guidelines from Melbourne before commenting on them.