“I want Westlife played at my funeral”

Many people outside Ireland still tend to think of Ireland as a Catholic country. However, I think that the days of identifying Irishness with Catholicism are long gone.  I was listening to the radio yesterday morning and a report on a news program brought this home to me once again.

The dignified funeral of England’s Prince Philip was widely watched on television here.  A few days later an Irish radio station sent a reporter to the streets of Dublin to ask people their plans for their own funerals.  You can listen to the series of interviews that took place at the link here.

There is a good variety of opinions.  But nobody advocates what could be described as a traditional Catholic funeral. Unsurprisingly, the interviews give a variety of opinions. At best there is a desire for some hymns.  But most want secular music and many would chose a non-religious funeral.

It would have been extremely rare to find anything approaching the pomp of the British/Anglican state funeral that Prince Philip had here.  But most people would have had a Catholic funeral until quite recently. Many non-practicing families decide to have Catholic funerals and it is a way that the parish can reach out to many who don’t normally attend Mass. While many priests would see themselves as guardians of the funeral tradition, it now seems that the “traditional Irish funeral” has become detached from the Catholic Church’s funeral practices.

The individualism that is common in many Western societies is now as much at home in Ireland as anywhere else. In the interviews one lady said that she wanted a funeral that would be “a great memorial of me.”  Another gentleman answered the question if he would have a religious funeral with “God, no.” There was no mention of the Pascal Mystery (even expressed in the most rudimentary way) or of traditional Catholic prayers and customs. The choice of music was a big element of the discussion.  Some wanted Country, some Pop, some Irish traditional music. But no one wanted the exclusively Christian music that the vast majority of funerals would have had as little as ten years ago.

It is true that only so much can be deduced from a random sample on a radio show.  But I believe that this provided a good example of how religious practice is on the decline here.  Certain solemn events like a Catholic funeral can survive for a few decades after people stop attending church, but it would be naïve of us to think that people will keep coming to us for their funerals indefinitely.

11 comments

  1. View from the pew
    Regarding: Westlife
    – Looked them up on Youtube; can hear why anyone would like there songs played during a funeral service.
    – Based on observations by family or friends of the deceased planning funerals, it seems to them that some churches do not have much leeway in their prescribed funeral service for the family to bring their knowledge of the deceased into a church’s obsequies.
    – The effect being that the gathering of family and friends to wake or otherwise celebrate the person of recent memory is increasingly separated from a church’s funeral service.
    – In the words of one grieving family member — why bother with a church who rejoices that a soul is gone to Jesus but in no real way lets that soul be the person known to those who mourn?

  2. Our priest has been more lenient in what he permits as the coffin is carried in and out of church because our socially distanced, limited numbers funerals have been so difficult for the families. So I have found myself playing the Londonderry Air, You Raise me up and Nimrod from Elgar’s Enigma Variations. And there has been a similar generosity when it comes to eulogies. I wonder if this will remain when life returns to normal.
    As a general aside we church folk seem to have fewer issues when a secular choice is classical than when it is popular/contemporary. We have been playing brides in and out to Wagner and Mendelssohn without a second thought. And nobody raises an eyebrow at Nimrod for a funeral. Is it just snobbishness that dictates what is or isn’t acceptable.

    1. Alan
      thanks for the comment. The issue is not so much that someone wants a contemporary piece of music or two at a funeral. Obviously this is a pastoral decision (and Danny Boy even mentions praying an Ave in the lyrics so it is almost a hymn!!!!).
      The point I was trying to make in the post is that in Ireland, where I am living and ministering, much of society has simply ceased to be a predominantly Christian society.
      For the past 30 years, people who didn’t go to Mass were happy to come to their local parish for the funeral rites. These were more or less by the book funerals, normally with an exclusively Catholic/Christian musical repertoire. But throughout this time, more and more pastoral adaptations have been made to make the liturgy more meaningful for those who do not practice Christianity. Now listening to these interviews, where most give no thought to religion, and those who are “spiritual” espouse explicitly non-Christian beliefs such as reincarnation, I am reaffirmed in my belief that Catholic Ireland is a thing of the past.

      1. I agree.
        And in my experience those families that do opt for a church funeral because of the wishes of the deceased are not at all comfortable in church, and find the hour that a requiem takes to be too long. In the UK a 15 minute slot at the crematorium is often deemed sufficient. The UK is even further down the road of secularisation.
        Another factor seems to be that we have lost our familiarity with death and its rituals. People are reluctant to face their own mortality, and they seem to have lost the sense that a funeral can be a vital part of the mourning process. A good friend (an atheist} had no funeral when his father died as his body had been bequeathed for medical research. I year later he was still in grief, and it wasn’t until he had a small ceremony of planting a tree in his father’s memory that he started to heal.

  3. Alan writes: “And in my experience those families that do opt for a church funeral because of the wishes of the deceased are not at all comfortable in church, and find the hour that a requiem takes to be too long.”
    At the start of the funeral service or Mass, in a brief welcome, I usually say something like this, acknowledging the diversity of those gathered:
    “You are all very welcome here for this funeral service, especially members of the family of N. (name of deceased person) and those of you were close to her/him. All are welcome, whether you are here because you knew N. or because you are a friend of a family member. Welcome to those who are members of another Christian church or of another faith: even though you may not be familiar with the Catholic funeral service, I hope that you will feel you are included and may find some support and encouragement. Welcome also to those who are not familiar with religious services, or may not feel at home or even feel uncomfortable here. It is good that you are here for N. and for her/his family. The service leaflet/booklet is available to help you to take part at whatever level you feel comfortable.”
    It is particularly awkward when there is little or no response to any of the elements of the service, not even to “The Lord be with you.” A service leaflet or booklet has become more and more helpful and necessary over the past twenty years. A meeting members of the family and close friends of the deceased person with the minister or with a few of a funeral team is important, but does not always take place.
    A friend of mine told me of the funeral of her nephew, a young man who had no contact whatever with the church. His family knew that there would be a large crowd of his age group, similarly unfamiliar with anything to do with church. For this reason, his family felt it would be appropriate to have a funeral service in the parish church which did not include Mass. There was strong resistance from the priests of the parish.

  4. It is particularly awkward when there is little or no response to any of the elements of the service, not even to “The Lord be with you.”

    One can’t help thinking that if the response was the human “And also with you” rather than the po-faced “And with your spirit” [you what?!], things might be different.

    1. I hardly think that the latest missal translation is what is keeping the Irish from church and learning the responses there. For over a millennium they managed to have relatively full churches with “Et cum spiritu tuo” being the proper response.

      1. Not sure what your point is, Charles. During that millennium they didn’t actually make any response at all. A server or other minister did that.

        Having said that, I agree that there are many much more significant factors in declining church attendance, not just in Ireland but in many other countries too.

      2. Sure –
        Priest (turning to congregation): Would someone please shut that door at the back.
        Congregation: Et cum spiritu tuo.

    2. This far from recent.
      I recall going to a friends Anglican wedding in London in the 1970s when my now wife and I were the only people who knew the Lord’s Prayer.

    3. Orthodox Christians use “spirit” in our responses too, but I guess we are “po” too, whatever that means. In my use of the English language, I have never said “and also with you” outside of a Catholic church, shouldn’t it be “and with you” or something? I have used “your spirit” a few times.

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