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.