The Organically Developing Requiem Mass

Attending the memorial Mass of a former parishioner yesterday left me musing about the organic development of the Mass for the dead in the last forty years. Such Masses seem to have developed a few distinctive features that, at least in the States, seem almost universal, without any diktats from on high.

  • Requiem æternam and Lux æterna are out; Amazing Grace, On Eagle’s Wings and How Great Thou Art are in. Indeed, these three songs are so ubiquitous at funeral and memorial Masses (at least two of them have been sung at 90% of the Masses for the dead that I have attended) that they almost seem to constitute a new “proper.”
  • Black or purple vestments are out; white vestments are in.
  • Eulogies after communion are typically in, despite efforts to stamp them out. People expect them today the way they expected the Dies iræ in former times.
  • Bodies are, increasingly, out. It’s been several years since I’ve attended a funeral in my parish that featured a body rather than “cremains” or sometimes just a photo of the deceased.
  • In terms of overall tone (readings chosen, homilies given, etc.), intercession for the deceased is out; celebration of the life of the deceased is in.

These developments all seem to me to be “organic,” in the sense that they are the result not of legislation but of what the pips (people-in-the-pews) are asking for. Of course, their desire for these things is shaped by larger cultural forces, some of which may be benign and other malign. But hasn’t this always been the case with “organic development”?


  1. In the parish where I work, we had 27 funerals from 9/11. It was interesting (and dismaying) to see the evolution of the funeral over the months. Some, when bodies were found, were held in the immediate aftermath. Many others, the family had to decide how long to wait before having the funeral Mass, hoping for remains. Some of these were as late as December.

    The later the Mass was held, the longer it was, as more and more elements were added from the “seen at other funerals” list. And our pastor was loathe to say “no” to pretty much anything, given the emotional tenor of the times. By the end we had elaborate displays and processions, multiple eulogies, including video, extra music, and a strong thread of “God Bless America”-ness.

    So I’ve always preferred funerals to weddings, because the families haven’t had as much time to elaborate. But…. with the increasing prevalence of cremation, with the funeral held afterwards, I think the time between death and funeral is growing, giving more time for extras to be inserted into the liturgy. (We have so far been singularly unsuccessful in encouraging some of these things to be included in the vigil instead, and that’s frequently eliminated, anyway, in the case of cremation.)

    It will be interesting to see what the combination of longer time to prepare, stronger desire for a “more personal” experience, and growing unfamiliarity with the Church’s liturgy will bring. Where will pastors draw the line? Should it be different in every parish?

  2. Interesting observations. I can only say that at the parish where I work, eulogies, highly but gently discouraged, are 5 minutes or less and happen at the beginning – after the procession but before anything else.

    We still have about 90% bodies where we are, but it was higher 3 years ago when I started, so the change is clear.

    And the songs… I was helping someone about two weeks ago and was so happy when they did not include Eagle’s Wings! However, I do understand that people will lean into what is comforting and familiar.

    About 2 weeks ago, I think it was Teresa Berger who recommended a book in a comment thread here… Or was it??? In any case, the book is Accompany Them With Singing. I just got it, have not really got into it yet, but will soon.

  3. Or, to put it more succinctly, Catholic funeral Masses have become very much less Catholic. Rot is also organic.

      1. Is the lower-case ‘c’ supposed to imply “non-Catholic,” or do you mean “universal”? If it’s the latter, could you explain what has become more universal about funeral masses?

  4. When I planned my husband’s funeral (for an Easter Monday some years in the past) I opted for no music at all. No eulogy either.

    I do get that people want a space, somewhere, for someone to speak about the deceased, particularly someone young (as my husband was, or several recent deaths in our parish). Funerals homes often have no space large enough.

    We say no as a church to eulogies at Mass for good reasons, but we don’t recognize the practical and pastoral reality that in many cases this will mean there is no place for personal words to be spoken of the deceased to the gathered mourners. This was the case for my husband, and while I’m fully cognizant of the reasons for it, pastorally I regret I was in no shape to insist we find a spot to do that outside of the liturgy and/or church. It would have been of comfort to his (non-Catholic) parents.

  5. My experience reflects others commenting here with some differences:
    – body almost always present along with evening wake and communal meal after funeral (what seems to be changing is the actual burial for family only)
    – agree with these songs – difference being that How Great Thou Art is found in rural parishes; others in urban parishes
    – yes, white and celebrate life but there are still some focus on the individual and his/her path to God
    – have experienced what, in my opinion, have been significant liturgies for teenage victims (car accidents, drugs, suicide) that do have a focus on the meaning of life

    (BTW – have also grown weary of “On Eagle’s Breath” but it does seem to speak to the PIPS)

  6. I have presided at half a dozen funerals so far in the first call of my rural Protestant (Reformed) parish. Amazing Grace and How Great Thou Art have been in all of them; On Eagles Wings might be absent only because it is not in our hymnals.
    I do use white, which may be odd around here because I do hear folks asking about it. There has only been 1 eulogy offered out of the 6 funerals, that one was less than 5 minutes. All funerals had the body in a closed casket present for the service, expect for one with cremains.

    None of the 6 funerals included communion – something that many Christians in my tradition sadly seem to avoid at all costs.

  7. Fritz’s comments are most interesting. So are Terri’s about the rapid development of new expectations. I believe there is an even larger issue — the loss of popular Christian ritual, especially outside of church itself. Ritual is based on repetition. Everyone knows what to do at a birthday party: you sing “Happy Birthday”. No one ever said, We sang that last year, let’s try something different this time. You never have to search for the book with the words in it. It’s not a terribly good song, and it’s usually sung badly, and the performance is never evaluated, but a birthday is incomplete without it. It’s the common possession of everyone.

    Perhaps my example is a bit banal, but nevertheless I want to ask what are our ritual equivalents for important moments in Christian life? A few generations ago Catholics knew what to do when grandma died: her body was laid out on the dining room table and friends, family and neighbors gathered to say the Rosary (pausing occasionally for a whisky). Of course, that was another time, and we don’t do that any more. But now no-one knows what to do or say. The comfort of ritual has been lost from home and neighborhood, and largely become either inaccessible or professionalized. Once the Rosary was the all-purpose ritual, but that is no longer so. There is little popular ritual for birth or death or marriage or sickness, for joy or sorrow.

    IMHO, we not only need ongoing renewal of the liturgical rites, but we need to find some way — I think it will be a very challenging task — to develop Catholic rituals which belong to ordinary people. For example, we need a Catholic Kaddish.

    It’s no point saying that we have rich resources in this or that book. We’re all aware of that. The very richness of choice is part of the problem. There is too much variety and little chance for anything to develop the familiarity, memorability and repetition which are crucial.

    1. A principal complaint here seems to be that the choice of hymns has become too familiar and repetitious, as if that is a bad thing.

      When my father died, the small congregation included 6 active Catholics, 8 inactive, 5 Muslims, at least that many Jews, and a handful of others I did not know. I cannot imagine a ritual shared by all, even one shared by all in my diversified family.

      Antique Latin hymns would have been out of place, and out of character. We chose some psalm related hymns like on Eagle’s Wings hoping that the biblical imagery might be known across traditions. I can not really see any easy ritual developing as long as there is such diversity.

      1. I actually think it’s great that a semi-familiar repertoire of music for funerals has developed. The actual songs might not be my ideal, but their familiarity counts for a lot in my book.

    2. Ironically, “Happy Birthday” is most definitely not the “common possession of everyone” — it’s still under copyright and requires royalties when it is used in movies or on TV (which is why you often hear “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” or something else instead). 🙂

  8. Disagree on some points:

    1. In Paradisum is regaining popularity; I’ve witnessed it at a variety of funerals in the past decade in very different places.

    2. Violet is gaining ground.

    3. Eulogies at the funeral Mass are in decline.

    4. Agreed.

    5. The celebration of life meme is fading in strength at the funeral Mass. More about testimony/witness to the faith.

  9. What the Hell is the matter with all of you?
    So what if they want a eulogy, so what if they want “on Eagles Wings”, so what if they want the other things listed? People who have lost a love one and who want to personalize the funeral service are not in an emotional state to be concerned about liturgical purity. Anything listed by Fritz not allowed? Nope, it’s all allowed so it’s time for some to get off their pharisaical “pure liturgy” high horse and have concern for the person and not worried about parts of the liturgy that one may not agree with.
    And with all due respect, saying no to a grieving person for a eulogy? Are you kidding? If a priest told me that I couldn’t give a eulogy I would tell him to stick it where the light didn’t shine and then find another church that actually cared parishoners.

    Mark 2:24…27: The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”And Jesus said :“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

      1. Stephen, is your comment about me or what Jesus Christ said? Somehow I think you meant it for both of us.

    1. Dale, surely there is a line somewhere. Prayers to Baal, that’d be out right? So somewhere between prayers to Baal and mandating that every funeral be strictly by the book, take the most conservative options and use the music from the Graduale Romanum. So in reality you have to draw the line somewhere, which means discussing where to draw the line.

      1. OH, COME ON Sam, when was the last time a grieving parishoner requested a “prayer to Baal”????

        We are discussing the comments that Fritz listed above.

        We are talking about grieving parishoners who have turned to the church for help.

        Good Lord, we should be grateful that they turn to the church in time of need instead of turning away from the Church completely as many are indeed doing.
        This is a time that the Church can SHINE and do what it does best. So what do we give them? As Christ once commented does a father give His child a stone when he asks for an egg? So what will the church give them? A lecture on rubrics and what the church wants or what the grieving parishoner needs? Do we drive them away?

        Fritz’s points above are about requests that are reasonable so quit the hyperbole.

      2. It’s not hyperbole Dale. I didn’t compare Deacon Fritz’s list to worshipping Baal. I’m trying to make the point that there must be a line drawn somewhere about what is appropriate at funerals. Therefore discussing where to draw that line. (Which is what you condemn when you write, “What the Hell is the matter with all of you?”) is required for pastoral care of the faithful.

      3. Since when are you concerned about the “pastoral care of the parishoner”. I don’t see it anywhere in anything you’ve posted.

    2. Really Dr. Rodriquez, don’t you think it would be better for the mourners to be reminded that the deceased might at that very moment be facing judgment prior to being consigned for eternity to the burning flames of Hell? At the very least, shouldn’t the mourners take their proper place to be catechized by professionals?

      (And just in case I’m too subtle with the above sarcasm, may I add that I wish we had more voices like yours! Bravo indeed!)

      1. Thanks Brigid!
        I deal with sick people and yes hurting people all day long.

        There is NOTHING that grates me more than uncompassionate people who want to influence and thus make suffering worse. They don’t know what they are talking about.

  10. PIPS? People-in-the-Pews? PIPS – sounds condescending. But I guess with our liturgical training and knowledge we do know so much more than PIPS about what should be done at the funeral of their loved one. We should be planning all the music and readings and then the PIPS can just sit in the pew and observe. No matter that they are grieving and no matter what might bring them comfort – we don’t like On Eagle’s Wings, How Great Thou Art, Amazing Grace and a whole list of other music that the PIPS have been singing for the last 40 years, so they should be banished. We know what’s best (and yes, this is definitely sarcastic).

    I’m not saying that I totally disagree with everything here, but I disagree with the idea that the time of the death of a loved one is the time to teach a liturgy lesson to a person who is grieving.

    What ever happened to ministry and service? No wonder people are leaving the church.

    BTW, I remember when we referred to the people in the pews as POGS People-of-God.

    1. Deb, I agree.

      I guess PIPS show just pray, obey and pay, makes us PIP POPS!

      Normally, most who post here are compassionate people but this particular time I am surprised especially when commenting about people in an emotionally vulnerable state.
      Must be the increased sun storm activity and aurora borealis!

  11. While we’re on this morbid note, wouldn’t it be a bit more decorous to have a catafalque (symbolic funeral platform or bier) at a funeral Mass for a cremated person? Here are images of catafalques for the EF requiems (courtesy New Liturgical Movement). Of course, catafalques need not be this elaborate or even black (in the case of the OF).

    Is the catafalque still permitted according to the rubrics of the OF? Could the crematory urn be placed within the catafalque for the requiem? The EF Requiem absolutely requires a casket or catafalque. I also suspect that a good number of EF adherents shun cremation, but that is only tangentially relevant.

    I’ve never been to a funeral with just the crematory urn and not a casket present. All of my family have been buried, and the same will be true with my parents. It would seem odd to me just have the urn present. Maybe in some places that’s an common practice.

    1. Jordan, do you know if cremation is discouraged before the funeral? I was under the understanding that a funeral with the body present was preferred with the cremation taking place after the funeral?

    2. re: Dr. Dale Rodriguez on January 29, 2012 – 9:43 pm

      From what I understand, you are right. The rubrics for funerals still dictate that the body and casket are present for the funeral, with the cremation to follow. Nevertheless, I have heard from at least one priest who has performed the dismissal rites with a crematory urn alone and not a casket or symbolic stand-in.

      I only propose the catafalque as a halfway approach between the traditional casket and the presence of a crematory urn. While the former is the traditional custom, some cannot afford to provide even for a temporary placement of the deceased person’s body in a casket. I would hope that the Vatican would revise the rubrics so that other options would be licit.

      Even if the crematory urn alone is present, I would think this to be preferable to a photo of the deceased.

      1. In the US, there is an indult from the 1990s that allows funerals in the presence of cremated remains.

    3. I’m not sure why this would be a good idea. Would you have the urn sitting on top of the catafalque? Inside it somehow? Would you have the catafalque instead of the urn, thereby preferring not to have the remains present at all just because the urn is “odd?” I guess I don’t see the point, except for esthetics, and even then the confusion (“Hey, I thought they had her cremated? Who’s in the casket?”) or duplication of symbols would more than seem to offset any esthetic gain.

      1. re: Emily Kloster on January 30, 2012 – 1:18 am

        As Fr. Jack Feehily strongly emphasizes in his pastoral practice, the presence of the body is very important for the Catholic funeral in profound ways. The USCCB’s explanation for the preference of the presence of the body at the funeral details the link between baptismal imagery and the mystery of Christian death. The interlace of baptismal imagery in the liturgy is further symbolized by the funeral pall. (Archdiocese of Brisbane, the Liturgical Commission).

        Indeed, the rite of committal and its very rich symbolism cannot be celebrated without the body of the deceased (GIRM 2010, 384). The Church maintains the rubric undoubtedly because of the theological and liturgical import of corporal presence at the funeral Mass. What to do about the deceased who, for whatever reason, are cremated before the funeral Mass? Should the bereaved be denied the sure hope that the deceased will be accompanied by angels and martyrs to Jerusalem, into eternal life (in paradisum)?

        In the Extraordinary Form, the catafalque is used as a stand-in for a casket for All Souls’ Day and commemorations of the dead, among other uses. The catafalque is no longer used in the Ordinary Form. As the EF website Sancta Missa notes, Tridentine commemorative requiems permitted an abbreviated Rite of Committal, even in the absence of the deceased person’s body.

        Given the EF precedent, I wonder if the OF funeral form could permit the presence of a catafalque, with or without cremains inside, for the committal. Given that cremains are not the body in the Catholic tradition, certain prayers might be omitted. Still, it is better than withholding the rite of committal entirely.

      2. Should the bereaved be denied the sure hope that the deceased will be accompanied by angels and martyrs to Jerusalem, into eternal life (in paradisum)?

        I didn’t realize “Extraordinary Form” groupies were so big on instant canonization. Thanks for setting me straight.

        On the other hand, you didn’t begin to respond to my points: what is the conceivable benefit here, except to satisfy your esthetic preferences? I understand that you like the look of the catafalque, and that you disapprove of cremation and would like to pretend that it is not happening, but other than that I just don’t see the point of your proposal.

      3. re: Emily Kloster on January 30, 2012 – 8:36 pm

        In paradisum deducant te Angeli; in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres, et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Ierusalem. Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, et cum Lazaro quondam paupere æternam habeas requiem.

        May the angels lead you into paradise. The martyrs shall accept you at your arrival and [shall] guide you into the holy city Jerusalem. A chorus of angels shall greet you. May you have eternal rest with Lazarus once poor.

        All of the verbs in in paradisum are present subjunctive (present tense, but with doubt of completion). The salvation of the soul is still at the mercy of God. The prayers of the bereaved blend with this hopeful hymn. in paradisum is far from instant canonization.

        As Karl Liam Saur has noted, there now exists a rite of burial for cremains. The new rite for cremains cancels the need for a catafalque for a commendation to take place.

        In response to your sarcasm: my personal convictions align with Stephen Manning: we Latins have kowtowed to the therapeutic culture. Nowhere is this more visible than the requiem. The mystery of death and the vigor of hopeful prayer have been replaced with platitudes and eulogy. Then again, the exaltation of the self over the eschaton has brewed since the early modern period. Sooner or later the Roman Church would have been dragged away in the therapeutic undertoe despite its struggle against the prevailing secular ideologies and philosophies.

  12. Thanks Jordan.
    I hope that other options would be offered.
    A lot has changed over the years, I remember when cremations weren’t even allowed except for unusual circumstances. I think all that changed in the U.S. back in the ’70’s.

  13. What I want from the rare funerals I have attended: the sense that it is about the person who died and not an anonymous liturgy that could have been about just anybody.

    I will always remember the care shown during the funerals during which the pastor and ministers made an effort to be attentive to the needs of the various people present (including the one who just died).

    I will always remember the lack of care shown during some funeral that was minimally done, without the priest even taking the time to prepare for the funeral by reading in advance a few paragraphs telling him about the life of the deceased – arriving at the last minute, completely unprepared and totally unfamiliar with the person who had died, and leaving immediately afterwards. Even though the priest was at the time the lone pastor of 7 rural parishes, it was still not right.

    It is at those critical times in life that we get to see what our local church is really like – a live community, or mere zombies.

  14. My funeral: black vestments, ad orientem, Latin (EF or OF), No Hand Communion, Requiem High, Dies Irae, prayers for my soul. Absolutely no celebration of my life whatsoever. This is organic anti-development. We pray for souls, not celebrate their lives. The last thing I want is my funeral about me.

    1. To me, white vestments at a funeral indicate that the most prominent reality to be contemplated is Jesus and his resurrection, whereas violet or black ones indicate that the most prominent reality to be contemplated is the sins of the deceased (that is to say, the funeral is very much about me—exactly what I thought you didn’t want).

      1. Paul, that is my opinion too.

        . Rev 7:14
        And he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them WHITE in the blood of the Lamb.

        But, to each his own…..

    2. You cannot ban hand communion in an OF anymore than banning latin in an EF. I suggest you have an EF funeral.

      1. You cannot ban hand communion in an OF anymore than banning latin in an EF … especially once you’re dead!

    3. I somewhat agree with Kim Rodgers above – if you want an OF funeral with all the options chosen to make it look and feel like an EF funeral, then you are probably better off requesting an EF funeral unless you belong to a parish with a long history of traditionally-done OF Masses.

      I’ve made it clear that when I die I want the EF (either low or high). I’ve also positioned myself at a parish where such a request would be freely accepted. The EF has all the things one would have to fight tooth and nail to get in the OF. I don’t want my family to be burdened with having to justify the more traditional options available in the OF to an unsympathetic priest or music director.

  15. The more funerals I do the more I realize the wisdom of bending over backwards to accomodate the mourners. This does not mean I make no effort to offer suggestions and alternatives to some of the more peculiar requests, but when push comes to shove I simply do my best to comply with people’s wishes. Yes, I suggest eulogizers should keep it to no more than five minutes but that’s no guarantee they will do that.

    I make a strong case to all who request cremation to delay it until after the funeral mass, and get almost 100% compliance. Sometimes this means working with a local funeral director to ensure the cost of doing that is affordable. I’ve even assisted families with the extra cost involved.

    I wear white vestments almost always, but in the case of suicides I have chosen purple. I have no idea why anyone would select black under any circumstances. Yes, its true that was once the only color used at funerals, but those were also the days when we thought that watching the priest offer the Mass for us was our only option.

      1. Why is embalming considered more respectful than cremation? I have never quite grasped the concept.

      2. re: Jim McKay on January 30, 2012 – 12:19 am

        I agree, Jim. I don’t think that embalming is more respectful than cremation. In fact, I find the mortuary process quite perverse. The application of cosmetics to a corpse in order to simulate life is quite grotesque. Cremation respects the natural state of death. There is no attempt to deny the reality of death when a body is incinerated rather than made-up.

        I thanked Fr. Jack because I do think that there is merit in the Catholic custom of celebrating the funeral Mass in the presence of the body. While I don’t believe that the act of cremation is necessarily a theological denial of the bodily resurrection, I do think that the presence of the body at the funeral Mass is a strong symbolic witness to a central truth of Christian death.

    1. Fr Jack:
      We need more like you!
      Thank you for placing grieving parishoners first when they have turned to the church (and you) in their hour of greatest need.
      This is exactly what I am talking about.
      God Bless You!

  16. In my parish, we select the music for the family based on the readings selected by the family, using the appointed antiphons and psalms offered in the OCF. In a time of mourning, the last thing a family should have to worry about is selecting liturgical music, a job better left to the trained professionals. I can’t tell you how many times family members have asked for copies of texts of the appointed antiphons/psalms to take home with them. A well-trained liturgist/musician is in a better place to help a mourning family by selecting appropriate, comforting and prayerful repertoire, than the family itself. If more families were exposed to the beautiful scriptural antiphons/psalms in the OCF, “On Eagles Wings,” etc. would be a distant memory. The challenge of course is finding musical settings of the OCF antiphons/psalms or being creative with psalm tones, etc. to create your own settings.

    1. re: John Gaffney on January 30, 2012 – 2:34 am

      I would earnestly ask that musical professionals offer the gradual and missal chants of the requiem (or English adaptations if available) as the first option. Is not the funeral an important time to pray the Mass with the musical heritage of the Church? Should we not be buried to the plainsong of centuries of our forebears?

      I must say that the decision to permit multiple options and permissions in the reformed funeral rites has not been successful. The proper and ordinary chants should be obligatory, with the dies irae still optional. Our Byzantine brothers and sisters have never substituted their funeral chants with recent compositions. We should have heeded their wisdom.

      Mr. Gaffney, I respect you and your profession. I do not wish to cause offense. Perhaps I say this because my “chrismation clock” has moved forward a number of minutes to midnight in the past year. Perhaps if I cannot accept the changes in the Roman Church on the requiem and other services, I should leave.

      1. “Should we not be buried to the plainsong of centuries of our forebears?”

        Mr. Zarembo, while the tradition of plainsong is indeed centuries old, I sincerely doubt that any on my forebears, most of who lived in stone huts in the West of Ireland, were buried to the sound of plainsong!

      2. re: Brigid Rauch on January 30, 2012 – 11:35 am

        You are entirely right. I have the greatest respect for the Irish who preserved the apostolic faith under the Penal Laws. Although the Irish were not able to raise their voices to God in the funeral Mass for centuries, I would say that the strong Irish devotional life supplied what could not be expressed liturgically. Would the Irish have chanted the requiem if they were not persecuted? I would not be surprised if the English and Irish seminarians who trained in the north of France during the English recusancy and Irish penal period sang in requiem scholas and assisted the celebrant as subdeacons and deacons.

        Now North Americans have the freedom and opportunity to sing the Mass according to the plainsong that the Church has carefully crafted for us. The funeral homily offers opportunities to comfort the deceased. The interlace of propers and setting elevates our minds to contemplate the mystery of death and the hope of resurrection. Why, then, should we substitute modern hymns which are disconnected from or only tangentially related to the mystery of death?

      3. Perhaps if I cannot accept the changes in the Roman Church on the requiem and other services, I should leave.

        That’s certainly one way to promote Benedict’s “smaller, purer” Church — deport yourself! If your opinions about the music used at funeral masses is, through some bizarre process, making you doubt the validity of your Confirmation and want to get it repeated elsewhere (a sacrilegious attempted sacrament, but oh well), then … buh-bye!

    2. I like your approach, but my fear is that it can have the opposite effect. For my mother’s funeral, I was given a list of permissible musical options, all of which were trite and inappropriate. I chose the least offensive (some Lucien Diess) only to find out that some unnamed liturgical “expert” had substituted, without my prior knowledge or consent, “Be Not Afraid” and “Eagles’ Wings”, two selections that I had explicitly rejected. The priest wore a glittery white vestment. I didn’t dare ask for violet or black and risk the condescending scowl that often accompanies such requests. There was no incensation of the body and the Mass was as pro-forma as possible. What should have been a source of hope and comfort instead left me angry. I insisted that the brief eulogy take place after the committal ceremony so that it would be free of any ecclesiastical interference. I will be having a requiem (yes, requiem, not “celebration of life”, not “let’s remember all the good times”, not “death-denying feel-goodism”) Mass for both my parents to make up for what neither got, and you can bet it will solemn and traditional (that is to say, liturgically counter-cultural). I’m getting the black frontal ready. Oh, and to the person who commented about not understanding black – it’s still the color of mourning. Yes, mourning – something our modern funeral practices seem to want to minimize and even avoid all together. Queen Elizabeth II: “Grief is the price we pray for love.” And let us not forget that Our Lord wept at the death of Lazarus, even though Lazarus’ resurrection was at hand.

  17. This is a most important topic.

    People at funerals almost always include relatives and friends who are not familiar with the Catholic liturgy – or with Christian hope in the resurrection – or even with faith of any kind. What have we to say to them as they grieve their loss?

    IMHO, the best time for a eulogy is at the beginning:
    • It shows the importance of a personal, sensitive, caring respect for the deceased and those who have come to mourn him/her. Jesus wept for his friend Lazarus and with his family.
    • It enables a thankful tribute to the deceased’s life – a backward look, so to speak – to be given first, before the present ritual and the future hope are treated in the liturgy. This aspect of thanksgiving – which is all that many people expect of a funeral – is therefore given its due place. Participants who find Catholic churches daunting and Catholic ritual strange will appreciate it.
    • Those whose acquaintance with the deceased is limited or minimal (e.g. parishioners who might not have known him/her at all) will be informed about whom they are praying for at the beginning of the liturgy, which will help their prayer.
    • This important aspect of grieving is attended to at the beginning, so that the Gospel message of Christian hope can build on ‘where we go from here’. Participants will have been bettered prepared to receive it.

    1. As I noted above, I find eulogies at the funeral Mass are in decline, but that’s perhaps in part because in my area the more widespread awareness of the rubrics on this point started with the funeral of a celebrated politician whose funeral Mass would have descended into a St Patrick’s Day roast if they had not been.

      Another reason is that the allowance for it created an expectation/duty on the part of close family members that was a huge burden not always welcomed, in fact sometimes dreaded (to the point of nausea) – all the more in the more formal, distant space of a church sanctuary (in comparison to the more intimate scale of a funeral home or post-burial collation site). If anything, people need to be empowered to resist the sense that a eulogy is in anyway a duty for them.

      Also, the advent of media technology means that people are finding much more expressive ways to pay tribute to their dead than the form of a speech. Again, wakes and collations are much more congenial contexts for these tributes.

      Finally, wakes appear to be better tended than funerals – while close family can get bereavement leave to go to a morning funeral, the days when there was always a homemaker who was free to go to the funeral are long gone.

  18. As to pips, I trust them as much as I trust bics (bishops in chanceries) and pics (prelates in the curia). It seems to me organic development requires far more time than the last 40 years of
    liturgical lunacy in so many quarters provides. And I for one will take the Dies irae any day over the maudlin trash
    that I hear sung at funerals today and, especially, over the narcissitic eulogizing that further mars Catholic funerals today. Anyone care to discuss the organic development of Catholic weddings?

  19. Having had a long day yesterday…..I am late to weigh in on the Fritz-List!

    Here in little Rhody, Fritz’ comment about color of vestment rang a familiar bell as I recall one of the more “colorful” pastor’s of the diocese, now emeritus living right next door to a bishop emeritus, who’s 25th anniversary as a priest was noted in a celebratory booklet entitled “25 Years – 25 Assignments.” Ah the days of the giants!

    Anyway, this pastor had a unique method of choosing vestments for funerals…

    If a person was a good parishioner, gave heavy, always there and generous….it was white vestments….

    If a person was of the Christmas-Easter variety with a token for Catholic Charities….it was violet vestments….

    If a person never saw the inside of the church since the day of their Baptism, First Communion and Confirmation… guessed it…..JET BLACK.

    It was always a special experience knowing at the get-go as he walked out of the sacristy exactly where the deceased stood (actually laid)…..took all the guess work out of it!

    A real piece of work, now enjoying his french toast torn, not cut!

    1. I hope you are joking. If this is true, I find it reprehensible. Would he approve of color-coding a priest’s funeral according to his preaching ability, pastoral generosity, liturgical excellence and perceived sanctity?

  20. As a priest of nearly 30 years with a good reputation for presiding and preaching at funerals, I think it is important to remember that while any given funeral might be our umpteenth, it is the only funeral that matters for the bereaved.

    If we really want to open a can of worms, we can talk about funeral preaching. I spent a year (2009) preparing a workshop on funeral preaching after buying a collection of funeral “homilies” by a well-known Catholic priest only to discover they were eulogies instead.

  21. Only comments with a full name will be approved.

    Paul Wharton :

    As a priest of nearly 30 years with a good reputation for presiding and preaching at funerals, I think it is important to remember that while any given funeral might be our umpteenth, it is the only funeral that matters for the bereaved.
    If we really want to open a can of worms, we can talk about funeral preaching. I spent a year (2009) preparing a workshop on funeral preaching after buying a collection of funeral “homilies” by a well-known Catholic priest only to discover they were eulogies instead.

    How very true!

  22. I am a pastoral musician and have been playing and singing for funerals for 30 years. Over this span of time, I have seen a progression from families asking for ridiculous secular songs (most notable, the Notre Dame fight song….among others just as egregious!) to families asking for the three titles named (and, by some, maligned) above, and “I Am The Bread of Life” and “Shepherd Me, O God” and “Ave Maria” (which is sometimes the only piece they recognize as church music)
    While the funeral offers prayers for the deceased, it also ministers to the living, fortifying their hope in the Resurrection and comforting them in their loss. These mourning people find comfort in this music, so who am I to suggest that something more “liturgically highbrow” might serve them better. What they have chosen might be the piece that serves to get someone back to church. I may get tired of singing the same songs, but the funeral is not about me! My eyes are on the assembly of mourners, asking, “How is this serving them?”

      1. Which reminds me:

        American Catholics don’t go to funerals in the frequency they once did – for one thing, people live a lot longer, so people often don’t experience them in their formative years as they once did.

        Consequently, rather than having expectations molded by repeated actual experience, expectations now are largely molded by movies. (Weddings likewise.) Everyone now imagines themselves as an auteur director and producer of An Event.

        And I don’t believe the movies of our culture have tremendous value as a molder of expectations: the messages of our movies overall are designed to mold the appetites of consumption. They don’t genuinely console; because, if we were genuinely consoled, we wouldn’t be buying as much stuff….. Rather, they provide an illusion of consolation, while aggravating the appetites.

    1. “families asking for ridiculous secular songs (most notable, the Notre Dame fight song….among others just as egregious!) ”

      Obviously, this was some sort of mistake. It should have been the Alma Mater. 😉

  23. My experience is similar with what the original post highlights, although cremations haven’t quite yet eclipsed the burial of the body. We experience the same trite choices in music but allow it for the procession, offertory and communion. However we have the cantor as a matter of standard procedure chant the official introit for funerals as the remains are sprinkled and the pall placed on the casket. We chant the official offertory before what has been selected by the family is sung and the same for Holy Communion. We only allow three “official” songs of Farewell which use the official texts’ options for this and we only allow “May the Angels lead you into paradise” for the recessional either in Latin or a contemporary English version of it as chosen by the family–the contemporary version has become standard and now requested even before they realize it is mandatory to choose either it or the Latin version. White is the color of choice, but our funeral vestment incorporates in its banding the colors of violet and black. One does not need to sacrifice the official texts of the Mass when it comes to music but can allow for flexibility in the devotional music added to the texts of the Mass such as Eagle Wings and Be Not Afraid, although gratefully in my parish, most people select hymns that most Protestants know since we have a majority of Protestants at our funerals–such as Amazing Grace, How Great Thou Art and other great classical Protestant hymnody. Although white is the default color for funerals our revised form for the selection of music and readings that the family fills out will be revised to allow for the options of white, black or violet (we have black vestments). Time will tell which vestment remains the vestment of choice once we give the options of selection to the family on the form they fill out.

  24. To see the logical result of PIP-influenced trends, look at the Episcopal Church. On issue after issue (women’s ordination, LGBT inclusion, liturgical practices…), the Episcopal Church gives a pretty decent idea (in my opinion) of what the Catholic Church might look like if the laity had their way. (BTW- I THINK that you might agree with that statement whether you think any of those things are good, bad, or indifferent).

    My opinions on gender/sexuality issues are (probably) well known, and not germane here.
    But common (where I live) Episcopal funeral practices are instructive here. (As a warning)

    It’s well known that Americans don’t like death, and so the usual reaction of the grieving family is to avoid having a funeral that feels like one. The handful of Episcopal funerals I have music-directed, the most important directive I got from the family was: “Don’t make it sad.”

    In all cases, there was no body present, not even cremains. How do you do a final commendation without a body?

    Music is requested based on personal preferences. Regardless of whether you think that’s a good or a bad idea (I’m mixed), the danger (seen first hand) is actual fighting within the grieving family about who knew Dad the best, and who has the best sense of what his favorite hymn/song was.

    No body. No (or few) songs expressing grief or praying for the dead. Eulogies praising, instead of sermons meditating on the mystery of death and resurrection. Aside from the crying widows, these things fell nothing like funerals. (At the explicit request of the family: “Don’t make it feel like a funeral.”)

    My first Catholic funeral, I was 6. I suddenly “got” death. By the time someone close to me died (grandfather, 12 gr yr) I had been to more funerals than most people do in a lifetime.

    Americans (even some Catholic ones these days) hide from death.

    How can you understand RESURRECTION, if you don’t understand death? What good is Jesus, if you don’t what he…

    1. “How can you understand RESURRECTION, if you don’t understand death?”

      The best comment on this topic, ever.

    2. Adam, I agree with you wholeheartedly. I don’t think, though, it is simply Episcopal reshaping of funeral rites, but most Protestant denominations and so-called non-denominations. The celebration of life and Protestant competition with one another to keep up with fads or trends has influenced Catholics who are minorities in these communities and who attend quite frequently these so-called celebrations of life. As well a false ecumenism leads some Catholics to think that we must adapt our liturgies to these fads or trends found in Protestant expressions of the Faith as a sign of unity. That has had and will continue to have a deleterious effect on the Liturgy of the Catholic Church (and not just funerals) in order to appease the desire of some in the Church for a false unity based upon a common liturgy but not common doctrines or ecclessiology. We sink to the lowest common denominator to the detriment of right belief or orthodoxy. To change any unfortunate trends in the Catholic liturgy only takes common sense and do the “red” and read the “black” ethos. A theology that imposes the personal preferences of people over the liturgy of the Church and what is prescribed can and should be challenged and quite successfully and all the while still being pastoral.

      1. “A theology that imposes the personal preferences of people over the liturgy of the Church and what is prescribed can and should be challenged and quite successfully and all the while still being pastoral.”

        Agreed! You could start with the “personal preferences” of one Jozef Ratzinger.

      2. “A theology that imposes the personal preferences of people over the liturgy of the Church”

        So tell me how does choosing the readings, choosing the music and delivering a eulogy after the Mass is imposing this new theology?

      3. Dale, choosing readings and music is permissible and it occurs in my parish, the eulogy needs close supervision and needs to be limited to one person who is Catholic if done at Mass or done in a celebration of life type of wake service by anyone either as a part of the Vigil or separate from it the night before or at the party after the funeral.
        Music needs to be closely supervised and texts that are not the official texts for the funeral Mass (such as the official Entrance Chant and offertory and communion antiphons), should at least approximate the words of these chants in modern idioms. I have no problem forbidding some religious songs and secular songs outright. But my parishioners choose music from a list of approved hymns for funerals and they choose their readings from that which is in the lectionary for funerals. And now they can choose either white, black or violet vestments.

      4. Allen, so what exactly were you describing when you stated “A theology that imposes the personal preferences of people over the liturgy of the Church..”

        You do allow parishoners to have a say in the readings, music and a eulogy.

        That is all that most want and those are reasonable requests that are asked for, not some hyperbole about
        a prayer to Baal (see above) or to rewrite the Mass.

    3. So what’s your point?
      Are you saying we should make it as miserable as possible so that they know what death is about?

      Yup, my next patient at 1:30 is actually a catholic priest. I won’t treat him because I want him as miserable as possible so he really knows what good health is all about.

      Give me a break.

    4. So what’s your point Adam?
      Are you saying we should make it as miserable as possible so that they know what death is about?

      Yup, my next patient at 1:30 is actually a catholic priest. I won’t treat him because I want him as miserable as possible so he really knows what good health is all about.

      Give me a break.

      1. Great point Doctor, because the only two possible choices are “not like a funeral at all” and “as miserable as possible.” Doubtless that’s exactly what Adam meant.

      2. I didn’t read Adam’s comment as an ode to misery, nor as a choice between “non-funerary or uber-miserable”. I hope Adam responds and clarifies whatever may have been misread.

      3. Funerals are already miserable. We’re sad- someone we love has died. Hiding the body away doesn’t make us less sad, it only makes us less connected with our sadness. Not praying for the soul of the deceased does not make the deceased less dead- it makes us less connected with him or her. I’m not opposed to comfort, I’m opposed to sugarcoating. If “On Eagle’s Wings” is comforting to people, I don’t have a (big) problem with it. In fact, at the last Episcopal funeral I was the music-director for, the family (quite typically) requested Amazing Grace. We sang it- all 5 verses- unaccompanied. Standing. Sobbing. I’m not suggesting this it the model for Catholic funerals, but that moment- steeped in Protestant/American tradition- singing this particular song- it was more of a comfort than any number of “Don’t make me sad” songs could have been.
        The same pall, the same songs, the same prayers, the same sermon, the same black suits, the same sandwiches in the reception hall, the same sound of sniffling widows, the same uncomfortable-in-a-tie children… These things remind us that every death is connected to every other death, just as each life is connected to every other life. And, as Christians, we know that each death is connected not just in some mysterious web of the universe, but connected specifically to the one death that destroyed all death forever, that each life is connected to the One who gives life to all.

        I’ve prayed the Rosary alone next to dying loved ones. With as many people as could fit in a hospital room, I have sung hymns beside the still-warm bodies of the dead. I have watched American Flags folded and handed to widows. I have carried the weight of a casket on the way to the burial site. Many of you have done these things as well.

        These moments- along with Weddings and Baptisms and staying up all night to redecorate the Church for the Easter Vigil after the austerity of Good Friday… these are the moments that make us who we are.

  25. At the last three American Catholic funerals I took part in, what I saw was –with little exception– the collapse of Catholicism in the triumph of the therapeutic, of the worst of the sentimentality of the surrounding Protestant culture, and at the place –death– where you would expect the Christian rubber to hit the road of real life, the surrender of vivid proclamation from a profoundly sacramental, ancient, and world-creating faith with content and confidence to vague accomodationism and comfortable platitudes, reduced to the horizons of the egos in the room at the time.

    1. “reduced to the horizons of the egos in the room at the time.”

      I think the only ego in that room was yours Stephen.

    2. the collapse of Catholicism in the triumph of the therapeutic,

      Mr. Manning – could you explain or describe this Catholicism that has collapsed?

      and may I point out – that Protestants are former Catholics who ultimately walked out because they did not think the Roman Catholic Church was true to the teachings of Christ. I would suggest that more Catholics walk out today less because of esoteric parsings of transubstantiation than they do because of how someone was treated at the rectory in an hour of need!

  26. As an organist, I have played hundreds of funerals over the past twenty years. For most of that time, my suggested hymns list for the family has included In Paradisum for the recessional, even including a note in italics about being a preferred choice as part of our liturgical heritage. Guess how many people have requested that option— exactly 1. And the son planning that funeral happened to sing in a chant schola at a Tridentine parish out of town. I’m glad to give that option for just such an instance, but only an extreme minority are interested.

    After that funeral, there were a handful of surprised and/or negative comments about that piece, including an older woman who said she had hoped to never hear “that dreadful Latin” again. So musicians, unless you are serving inside a monastery, a “personal parish” or other such exceptional community, don’t believe the argument that if we offer classic chant to the faithful that they will love it.

    1. Bravo Scott, finally a reasonable approach.
      You understood their grief and gave them a choice. Unfortunately, many people want to tell the grieving parishoners what they cannot have. But it’s not about what ‘others” want or like ie the dreadful latin lady but it’s about what the grieving family needs and you involved them and gave them a choice. They’re not looking to rewrite the Mass but to have a say in it. Bravo to you.

    2. Oh, that was my experience too, hearing from a woman that “Just because YOU like that music doesn’t mean it belongs in THIS church” — something I played at the request of the long-time parish music director!!

      Remember that for many current parishioners, to speak of “classic Catholic music” brings to mind the St. Louis Jesuits.

  27. We are not going to be able to remove ourselves from the consumerism (choices in Protestant churches, the media, and various parishes) that shapes our practices. This post demonstrates how they abundantly shape our funerals.

    However we can work with consumer choice. We already have preplanned funeral homes, advanced health care directives, estate planning ,etc. Why not planning your own funeral liturgy?

    Something like a parish retreat meeting once a week for 5 to 10 weeks. People could choose the readings, music, write prayers etc.

    This could be done in many formats. A simple one is What do I want to praise God for? thank God for? be sorry for? pray for?

    Programs should be designed for most adult age groups. Something that people might do every ten years to evaluate where they are in life.

    The music ministers that do funerals should be involved and people should become familiar with many of the music options.

    People who are involved in ministry, especially funerals, bereavement, etc should be encouraged to take part in these retreats. People from the parish should be encouraged to make the retreat and regularly participate in funerals.

    Perhaps the retreat could end with a Mass for the Dead to which all the people who have made the retreat in past years would be invited.

  28. I would agree w/ that reasonable approach Jack but I bristle at the mention of “consumerism”. I personally do not see it as consumerism that we are choosing and purchasing an item like we are refrigerators.
    Rather, a grieving person has just lost a loved one. Usually a mass is the only public forum to remember the deceased and families want to be able to tailor it to reflect the ideals of the deceased. Choosing music, the readings and a brief eulogy does this.
    It’s not about rewriting the Mass or throwing the liturgy in the dumpster as some would have us believe.
    Although you have a good idea I don’t think many would attend however, planning for death is unpleasant and just like making a will everyone tends to put it off for another day.

    1. Consumer and consumerism have not been “dirty words” in my experience. The mentality ill here in the state of Ohio speak of themselves as consumers. When one was asked what he wanted out of the mental health system, he said “ not the most expensive one, nor the one with best practices, but one that I have helped to shape and I know it will be there when I need it.” I think shaping our liturgies and our parishes so they will be there when we need them is good Catholic consumerism, far better than paying money, or fighting about best practices.

      The Vibrant Parish Life Study found that “Support for families who have experienced death” ranked # 8 in importance but only # 17 in being well done among the 39 items. That says to me that creating a parish culture that is supportive of aging, dying, and grieving is particularly important especially since more and more people are going to be in this age group. We also know people become more religious as they age.

      Steve Jobs used death to motivate his work and creativity, surely we can use it far more modestly to motivate some better decisions about how we plan for our future and use our leisure.

      Much of the success of such a retreat would likely come from handling it as a parish project (we are all going to die someday) and creating a parish culture supportive of facing death rather than treating it as an individualistic thing to put off until you have to do it. Give people the opportunity to shape the parish culture around this issue when they have the time, don’t wait until after death or a few weeks or months before death.

  29. What would you think about this suggestion.

    When the priest says:
    The Mass is ended, go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
    The mass is ended at that point.

    Since the mass is ended have the eulogies at that time and any secular (limit the #) that the family may want for a brief interlude and the recessional.

    Only sacred music for the Mass and no eulogy during mass. Only when mass is ended have the eulogies and secular selection. It is my understanding that the Roman Missal doesn’t even provide for a recessional hymn so this could be done.

    1. Dale,

      My experience with my father’s funeral was that everything I wanted to do at the Funeral Mass worked much better as a Vigil Service the evening before. I was able to explain the reasons for my choices of music and readings, the prayers that I had composed, and this was all accompanied by pictures from our families. Far more people came to the Vigil than to the Funeral Mass.

      Like the Wedding industry, I think the Funeral Industry is going to provide many attractive alternatives in the future, especially given cremation and the ability to disentangle services from death and burial. Families are spread around the country, and often attend Mass at their local parish rather than assembling for a funeral Mass. The role of the priest could end up being the blessing of the grave (if there is one).

      So unless parishes begin to think in terms creating a supportive parish culture for the process of dying and grieving then they may well be left behind.

  30. There seems to me a wisdom in the official Catholic restraint as regards eulogies. It is not always easy to meet an expectation that the deceased be praised.

  31. I would not be surprised if the English and Irish seminarians who trained in the north of France during the English recusancy and Irish penal period sang in requiem scholas and assisted the celebrant as subdeacons and deacons.

    Well, it would be nice to think they absorbed something besides Jansenism!

    1. The accusations of Jansenism are often over emphasized: the more proper culprit was the desire of the Irish hierarchy to exploit the Great Hunger to import the ethos of Victorian bourgeois religion dressed up with Catholic devotional disguise.

      1. After all the reports of the Magdelen laundries, the treatment of children in orphanages and reformatories and familial tales, not to mention aspects of the Reform of the Reform, I stand by my comments on Jansenism.

  32. What is the symbolism of purple vestments instead of white for suicides? I’m not criticizing, I’ve just never heard of that before.

  33. I strongly dislike NO funerals, they are such a jarring departure from our liturgical patrimony. What is actually in the books (if one even bothers looking at them) still does maintain things from the traditional Requiem but when’s the last time anyone had the proper Introit said/sung at a NO funeral? When is the last time you’ve seen black which is so much more appropriate for an adult than white is (and violet is penitential, not mourning). A brief overview-

    If one actually believes in the orthodox Catholic teaching of what the Mass is, of Purgatory, sin etc. etc. the way NO funerals are often celebrated flies in the face of what we are supposed to believe. It is a grave disservice to the deceased to assume they are in heaven and not actually pray for them. They *might* be in heaven (and they might be in hell too…) but likely they will have to make a stop off in purgatory. To do a mini-canonization of them at their funeral is a example of severe lack of charity.

    As to people being able to tailor “their” liturgies, this is a ridiculous practice that should have never been allowed to start. People do not choose “On Eagle’s Wings” over the Gregorian propers because they have an informed opinion, they pick the same schmaltzy garbage they’ve heard at other funerals for its emotional association with “funeral”. Also, the very idea that Catholics would disparage the mother tongue in liturgy is truly diabolical. We need truly informed priests and others to steer Catholic funerals back to the Requiem and appeals to the emotional state of the bereaved doesn’t hold water. The proper Requiem enshrines the Catholic belief concerning death, the new way does a lot of things but proclaiming Catholic belief isn’t one of them…

    1. If you don’t like it then go to an EF and leave the rest of us alone.
      Typical. You are upset that catholics “disparage” the mother tongue but you have no problem “disparaging” fellow catholics. Then you talk about “lack of charity”. Christ will use the same yardstick you use on others to judge you.
      ps go back to the NTM, you guys deserve each other.

    2. Actually, violet is a traditional mourning color (for half mourning). And, in the NO, one can see the violet of Advent as taking on the additional connotation of subdued expectation for the coming of Christ – a theme not only related to his Nativity but to the parousia and our own meeting of Christ at the end of our lives.

    3. For my father’s funeral, I chose On Eagles’ Wings because it used the powerful imagery of psalm 91. I hoped that it would speak to the Jews, Muslims, atheists and others who attended. The didactic theologizing of the Dies Irae would have touched no one, and not just because they would not understand Latin, even though I might have liked the music better. (and this, for whoevere asked, is why modern funerals are more catholic and less Catholic) I hope that all in attendance prayed for God to raise my father into His presence as he passed from this world. ( perhaps some of you will pray for him as well? )

      White is the color of baptism, the ritual where we first shared in the death of Christ. It seems right and just to return to that in the last earthly ritual. it proclaims Catholic belief on death and redemption better than black:

      Where, O death, is your victory?
      Where, O death, is your sting?

    4. “the new way does a lot of things but proclaiming Catholic belief isn’t one of them…”

      Do you not count hope in the resurrection and the promise of eternal life among Catholic beliefs?

      I, too, feel we have gone from one extreme (requiem) to the other (typical current practice.) The solution is not to go back to the previous extreme as you describe.

      1. Thank you for bringing this up, I was not clear enough. The hope in the Resurrection, taken alone, is irrelevant as everyone will be resurrected regardless of where they ended up and the concept of “life is changed, not ended” is in both. The NO, by the book, isn’t near as deficient as it is as normally practiced but still, what was so bad about the Dies Irae, the unbleached candles, etc.?

        Basically, the Requiem was not an “extreme” at all. It was the Roman Church’s expression of funerals for centuries and enshrined our beliefs about as perfectly as could be done this side of heaven.

      2. “enshrined our beliefs about as perfectly as could be done this side of heaven”

        That’s begging the question seriously.

      3. @ Andrew: I have some preference for the classic requiem liturgy and its operative theology. Many NO funerals turn into a canonization and there-there-cheer-up-now session. Personally, most funerals I attend leave me wanting for the old rite where our rich beliefs about death were more readily apparent.

        Yet, I realize that for most of the faithful the old requiem carries no memory, little meaning or relevance, and would leave _them_ wanting for something else. I respect where they are in their faith and craft the liturgy accordingly.

        For example, I never scoff at requests for Be Not Afraid, On Eagle’s Wings, Precious Lord, etc. I play and sing these with full attention and devotion, knowing how meaningful these pieces are to the family even if I personally find them lacking.

  34. I think one of the problems is the use of the word eulogy, indicating praise of the departed. Much better if we used the term “words of remembrance“. Here, we are asking for a simple narrative of the life (and therefore the achievements) of the deceased, not a full-blown panegyric.

    I agree with John Ainslie that this is best placed at the beginning, so that those present have a context in which to pray for the deceased.

    Probably the most incongruous piece of music I ever witnessed at a funeral was the dead man being carried out to his favourite song: Tiptoe through the tulips…..

    Having said that, I have been asked to play tomorrow for the funeral of a 93-year old aunt, the last surviving member of my parents’ generation. The music requested for the end of the service is English Country Garden (think Percy Grainger), which was apparently frequently played at the end of school assemblies in my aunt’s far-off youth.

    1. I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to sing at a graveside service, perhaps Carey Landry’s Bloom Where You’re Planted. We’ll put the “fun” back in “funeral!”

    2. An organist at the church where I grew up solemnly assured me that she really had encountered a woman who wanted “Good Night, Irene” at her funeral—complete with the suicide verse, I suppose.

  35. I’m not opposed to comfort, I’m opposed to sugarcoating.

    There are many who think that the promise of a bodily Resurrection is the ultimate sugarcoating. I know my mother has passed on and I miss her every day. It’s been just over a year, and I still catch myself wanting to share a book or article with her. I don’t need any reminder that it is unlikely that I will see her again before my own death. But I will see her again! Isn’t that a worthy message to be conveyed at a funeral liturgy? I’m not saying it’s the only message, but to me it is the message closest to the Word.

  36. A related topic may be devoted to Catholic cemeteries. One family here moved their father’s remains to a secular cemetery. The reason? They had purchased a tombstone featuring a laser cut picture of their father on his fishing boat. The priest in charge told them the tomb stone wasn’t acceptable because it would disturb visitors to other graves and wasn’t an appropriate Christian symbol.

    A fishing boat unworthy of display in a Catholic cemetery. I wonder what St. Peter, Andrew James and John have to say about this!

  37. Fritz,

    As an attorney who is a scrivener of the wills of many Catholics, I have had many requests for the following in the liturgy:
    1.) In Paradisum

    2. Black vestments

    3.) Dies Irae

    4.) Psalm 129.

    5.) The old six black candlesticks with unbleached candles.

    I cannot say this is an accurate reflection of the Diocese of Buffalo, this is just people from about 6-8 parishes. All of them are baby boomers who seem to have some nostalgia for the funeral masses they recall from their childhood — and none of these people are traddies!

    James Ignatius McAuley

    1. And, of course, those clauses in those wills don’t bind the people celebrating the funeral Mass, but are ultimately precatory in nature unless such people are beneficiaries and there’s an in terrorem clause, et cet.

    2. On the other hand, if the funeral style you described was the preferred style, we’d have no organic development of funeral styles to discuss!

  38. Thanks to Paul Inwood for making the distinction between “eulogy” and “words of remembrance”. I think some of the comments here are missing a certain pastoral awareness.

    My father died this past August; it was unexpected. In order of what Fritz discusses:

    1) The only song I remember from the funeral mass was the responsorial psalm, Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want”). The cantor chose the songs; it’s not something we would have been able to deal with at the time. They all seemed appropriate; there was nothing in Latin.

    2) I don’t remember the color of the priest’s vestments–probably white, but maybe purple.

    3) No eulogy, but there were “words of remembrance” after Communion 🙂 I think I’d have been pretty upset if there weren’t, because it would have made the funeral seem even less personal. And as I said, my Dad’s death was unexpected. None of the family were up to doing this; we asked a friend and former co-worker of his–I’m exceedingly grateful that she agreed to do so. She and my Dad had originally been planning to have lunch on the day of the funeral. As I said, it was unexpected.

    4) My Dad’s body was present for the funeral mass, which was before we went to the cemetery. But if people are having funeral masses without the body due to financial reasons, I am totally sympathetic to that. My intial reaction at the funeral home was along the lines of, “How much?!” My parents had pre-paid for their plot, so that was one less thing for us to pay at the time. That said, I did appreciate the roasted turkey we got from the funeral home afterwards.

    5) No real recollection of what the readings were. Do you know how busy it can get after someone dies? The phone would not stop ringing! Picking the readings from the booklet we were given (so many options!) was not something we were up to. I think we just defaulted to the first option for each category. What was their overall tone? No clue whatsoever.

  39. The proper Requiem enshrines the Catholic belief concerning death,

    Enshrines is the right word. As long as the Requiem is in Latin, it does not proclaim the faith. Anyone who understands the Latin has already heard the message in their native tongue. The Catholic faith is bundled up inside the box of Latin, and held so that it cannot be touched by anyone or touch them. Enshrined is not a good thing.

    The Dies Irae has almost nothing of the Catholic teaching on death. Where does it tell us that we died with Christ in Baptism? Death is unconquered in it, a constant pitiful refrain that mangles the few glimpses of hope. It reinforces 13th century social structures, using the serf alienated from his feudal lord as the primary image. Consequently, there is almost no sense of the dignity bestowed by Christ in baptism, only a cringing clinging to a barely discernible Christ. images of overflowing mercy are twisted into miserly acts of an avenging God.

    Perhaps this is a good thing, preparing for the light of the Gospel by plunging people into darkness. I barely remember the old funeral rite, and it is hard for me to read the Dies Irae. day of wrath just does not seem like thankful language, preoccupied with meager sin to the detriment of abundant grace.

  40. @ Scott

    I hear you, and even agree to a point. Had I gotten ordained for a diocese, even I would have tolerated (and well, without any obvious disdain) all of that which I find schmaltzy and non-Catholic because I know what is currently allowed, where people are at and that considering all of this, a funeral is not the place to restore all at once what we’ve lost. One can certainly suggest better alternatives to those who are willing to listen, and really, I see that people are more open to suggestion than some think. Then again, some are not.

    A classical marble statue can be shattered to bits in a few seconds, to rebuild it well will take maybe years and it still will never be the same. One is tempted to revisit the same heartless absolutism as was visited upon us before, but that simply is not Christian either. Virtue is found in the median, and we cannot be forever shackled to emotionalism. At some point, prudently, we need to fix this but it will take much patience.

  41. Proclamation is not merely a matter of exchanging a notion in current language. A post it note saying you are going to the store is not a “proclamation”. The language, the chant, the message speak-and speak together. It is a truly universal statement, not just from now but from our fathers in the faith, from centuries before our own time; from peasants, princes and popes. Sure, you could translate the whole thing, but you definitely lose something and not just an accidental of no consequence. You must think of “enshrining” as ossified, but that is not the case. I don’t know about you, but every time I hear the Dies Irae, I’m touched.

    As to the issue of having almost nothing of Catholic teaching on death, you must mean post-Conciliar theologizing on death. Four Last Things? I do not see how something could be an integral part of the liturgy for better than a half of a millennium could have gotten it so wrong. Good thing us moderns came along to tell everyone (Saints and doctors and all) how much they screwed everything up and now we are going to fix it. Baptism is great and wonderful, but go and squander that and go before the Just Judge and what should have been a glorious mantle will be a badge of shame. The resurrection? Again, a beautiful thing but, alas, everyone is getting resurrected. There is no point in “hoping” for it, it is going to happen regardless.

    Also, the Requiem as it has been for that last half of a millennium or better needs to be taken as a whole. I suppose if one took the Dies Irae as the complete and only view of death, it wouldn’t tell the whole picture but look at all the prayers, readings and yes, that gorgeous sequence and put them together. God is not some fluffy sky sugar daddy who could care less what we do. We need to recognize the terrible glory of God and Who exactly we are dealing with before we can really accept God’s true love and how truly glorious this is.

    1. re: Andrew Czarnick on February 1, 2012 – 1:09 am

      Andrew, I realize your frustration over the current funeral rite. This frustration could be viewed through the anomie of the current age.

      As Jim McKay notes previously in the thread, the literary and metaphorical treasures of the medieval rites are locked within a language and societal construct which very few today understand. I disagree with his assessment of the dies irae. I view the sequence as a necessary counterbalance to the expectant joy of in paradisum. The hope of the particular judgment must be tempered with an awareness of sin. I do however agree with Jim that the requiem sequence’s social and societal implications are quite incomprehensible for our postmodern society.

      Then there is the question of sin itself in a postmodern context. Humanae Vitae has indeed been an existential breaking point for many Catholics. The willing cost and loving labor of raising children in our society often requires prudent planning. Is responsible parenting in the context of current society a sin in itself? Many grapple with this question.

      This one example of current existential doubt might color what you perceive as a certain doctrinal and theological laxity in many celebrations of the revised funeral rite. In what way could the rigor of the medieval rite be explained not only to the grieving but also the unknowing and wary? Can any rite assuage grief and acknowledge sin within death? It is human nature to doubt the existence of sin. Yet this doubt is expressed differently through time. Perhaps the “white requiems” you and I disdain are just as fearful of sin as requiems of old.

  42. “It’s been several years since I’ve attended a funeral in my parish that featured a body rather than ‘cremains’ or sometimes just a photo of the deceased.”

    Wow, really? I knew cremation was on the increase, but I didn’t know it was to that extent. All funerals I have attended in recent years have had bodies, although that wasn’t very many (and was mostly members of my own family).

  43. “They had purchased a tombstone featuring a laser cut picture of their father on his fishing boat.”

    In my opinion, all gravestones should be close to identical and secular personal touches should be absolutely forbidden. Any personal touches that are allowed should be religious in nature – e.g., an engraving or small sculpture of a saint or Biblical scene that was meaningful to the deceased. Sorry to your friend, but any secular picture strikes me as ridiculous at best and offensive at worst.

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