For some reason, the subject of music at (or for) the funerals of musicians has recently been percolating up with some frequency in my life, and I don’t think it’s merely the fact that my contemporaries and I are all continuing to scale Mount Chronos.

The first memory I have of a liturgical musician specifying funeral music is when my first organ teacher/choir director told me she wanted the Fauré Requiem sung at her funeral. This was in the late 1960s, so a new order for the funeral Mass was not yet firmly established, and the Requiem would still have been, in her sensibility as a church musician, a viable option. When I was called upon to provide the music for her funeral in 2010, we did do the “Pie Jesu” from that Requiem, but the rest of the playlist had changed

I am fascinated by the music lists that my liturgical music pals come up with for their own funerals. Often they are very, very specific. Most of these same folks are surprised when I say that my instructions are “Do whatever music helps you remember, grieve, and celebrate.” This is sometimes seen as a manifestation of my own laziness and/or passive-aggressive tendencies. That may partly be the case, not entirely.

One reason for my directive is this: I do not think the music at my funeral (or any funeral, for that matter) is for the purpose of enshrining my personal preferences, tastes, or understandings about liturgical music selection. This goes against the current grain of many funerals, which do turn into enshrinements (of musical tastes, tastes in food, personality traits, hobbies, etc.), if not outright canonizations*. While I realize that I could come up with a musical list that would help avoid that, I’m convinced that the music at that time really should tend to those who are bodily present, and not some sort of attempt to hear my “voice” from beyond the grave.

The primary reason, however, that my instruction is pretty much “Do what you need to” is because—even though I have no concrete, factual knowledge of exactly what will happen upon my death—I firmly believe that whatever my post-mortem destination may be, I will definitely be in a place where I will not be occupied by the music happening at my memorial. Should the Spirit send the chorus angelorum to lead me to realms celestial, I’ll be much more involved in the playlist of heaven. Maybe to make me feel more at home there will be some of what has already given me glimpses past the pearly portals, but I’m hoping for far more on the iParadisum list: music with which I’m not at all familiar, that my too-limited mortal life was not able to encounter or appreciate.

Above all, I hope that iParadisum playlist contains a whole bunch of musical selections to which I currently have an aversion, or those I have treated uncharitably with disdain.

This would mean that the Spirit, at long last, had bent my stubborn heart and will, had melted my frozen being, or at least warmed my chilliness, as I have requested so often in praying the Pentecost Sequence. What will heaven sound like? I have no idea—but I keep trying to listen for it here and now.

*At the 2019 gathering of the Liturgical Composers’ Forum in St. Louis, we were reviewing new/recent pieces by member composers, and there was one funeral piece that addressed the deceased: “Now that you are home in heaven.” (Or some such.) It came as a surprise to many that the funeral rite never overtly expresses any sentiment like this. The rite’s confidence and hope in the Resurrection is a different matter. Our ultimate destiny—no matter what the greeting card industry may want us to believe—is in the hands of God.


  1. Alan – nice turn of phrase – *scaling Mount Chronos*

    Slight other take – had significant heart surgery 3 years ago and my wife/kids asked that I put together a funeral liturgy (just in case). So, that liturgy has now been filed away. So, it is current (for how long?) and tried to capture not only my personal whims but the family, friends, etc.

    – gathering before welcoming – Adagio for Strings (Barber)
    – responsorial psalm – one of Rory Cooney’s (he was a college classmate) – favorite psalm picked by my wife and daughter (who sang in the high school choir led by Kathy Leos)
    – preparation – psalm setting from another classmate, Robert Klimek (again, used in some other family funerals)
    – communion procession – one of Rory’s (again, favorite of wife/daugher)
    – final grave site – Ave Maria – traditional hymn sung by Vincentians (once in that community)

    And a request to try to have classmates gather to play at the funeral and a classmate to preside.

  2. Thank you for your thoughts, Alan. They made me realize that although I long ago settled on the texts for my own funeral liturgy, I have never gotten beyond “let there be lots of singing” for the music. Maybe that is how it should be.
    I love your idea, by the way, that the heavenly harmonies will be different and richer and more diverse than anything we cherish here. I would add that they will also encompass more voices and sounds, including those of sun and moon and stars, than we can ever hear or imagine here.

  3. I have been struck in recent times by how often homilists and eulogists address the dead person (at a recent priest’s funeral the bishop-homilist did it consistently). Is this, as I suspect, foreign to the spirit of the funeral liturgy? Or do you think it acceptable? The only exception I can think of in the liturgical texts is the antiphon “In Paradisum deducant te angeli”.

    1. I suspect it is an expression of reassurance to those who mourn. It’s not foreign to the spirit of pastoral care. I hope they don’t do it for me, but I have no control over that

    2. We believe that those who died in the hope of rising again have everlasting life. What could possibly prevent us from addressing them during funeral rites?

      1. Thank you – why the fear around celebrating the life of a person of faith? It is a sign of the community, of grace, recognizing the action of Christ in another’s life. Yes, it can be overdone (e.g. addressing the dead person or canonizing them) but when done right, it is a communal sign of faith. To all but ignore the one who has died makes no sense; to overfocus on sin, purgatory, etc. rejects that we try to be fully human. And some miss the reality that the family, spouse, etc. have asked for help with a liturgy (even before death) – some find that process to be overwhelming.

      2. To clarify: I wasn’t focused on addressing or not addressing the departed by name during the rite (though the prescribed texts don’t really do this, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we can’t). The point was that the rite doesn’t state “We know that N. is now in heaven” – though it expresses hope & confidence, it never outright claims certain knowledge of the final disposition of the soul of the departed. I think plenty of pastoral care can be exercised without taking over the role of the Almighty.

    3. The late Cardinal Basil Hume did this at a requiem for Princess Diana in Westminster Cathedral, broadcast on BBC Radio 3 a few days after her death. He addressed her as ‘Diana.’


  4. This is a wonderful observation, Alan! The “canonization” of the deceased and the lengthy eulogies by family telling how the decease’s life impacted ME, ME, ME, rankles me. I am going to reevaluate my “funeral list”. (yup, I’ve got one!)
    In the meantime, I say that I love it when the family of the deceased (usually faithful members of the weekly assembly) says, “I trust you to choose the appropriate music”. (which is tomorrow’s funeral!)

  5. Is there a link to the iParadisum playlist? Also, is there a reason why it is not titled inParadisum? Thank you!

  6. Alan – totally agree with your statement. But, saying that does not mean we have to short circuit or abbreviate the life of the individual. Suggest a *both/and* approach rather than either/or.

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