I had an eye-opening conversation with a priest recently during which I was lectured about the official policy of the Catholic Church regarding funerals. It appears that any of the funerals since 2000 (I have also seen 1989 thrown about too so I am not certain which is correct), where eulogies given in the church, were allowed because of rogue parish priests. I learned that “at funeral Masses there should usually be a short Homily, but to the exclusion of a funeral eulogy of any kind.” Furthermore, secular songs or readings are also prohibited. So I don’t know how Queen or Celine Dion music was allowed, but I am in love with the compassionate priests who allowed these songs to be played.
The purpose of the funeral mass, “contrary to common assumption, is not to celebrate the life of the deceased but to offer worship to God for Christ’s victory over death, to comfort the mourners with prayers, and to pray for the soul of the deceased. Relatives or friends who wish to speak of the deceased’s character and accomplishments can do so at a prayer service to be held in a home or funeral home or at the graveside following the rite of committal.” That is what I read and what I was told by the priest.
I truly never knew this, particularly since I have been to numerous Catholic funerals where words of comfort and perhaps a favorite song were part of the service, which helped me get through a loss of a loved one. Having gone to just two where this was not done, I saw a difference. The impersonal nature of what is the official Catholic way did not help relieve my sorrow. I left feeling empty and did not understand why it must be this way. Why did a father have to leave his daughter’s funeral upset rather than comforted because he was told a eulogy would not be permitted? I do not understand.
I was told that no one but a priest can stand at the “ambo” (pulpit), which confused me because I am positive I have witnessed non-priests standing there to give readings or make announcements such as telling me to remember to get my ashes or that the church was collecting for the bishop’s annual appeal next week. But according to the conversation I had with the priest that is incorrect.
This particular man of God was quite adamant that the homily be only about the reading and how the life of the deceased’s followed the scripture readings, and that is it. I asked if a brief eulogy could be given after “the mass is ended, go in peace,” and I was told in no uncertain terms that it could not. Yet I also read that “the priest may allow a relative or a friend to say a few words about the deceased during the concluding rite.” (He never mentioned this.)
Under no circumstances “can the deceased person be referred to as being in heaven.” (I read this on catholic.com, and that is what the priest told me because the deceased is “not in heaven but in purgatory.”)
He suggested that the eulogy be done either at the funeral home, at the “meal of mercy” as we call it in our family, or at the gravesite.
I think we should move to the parish of Father Joe Mullan of Dublin, who said, “to forbid someone speaking seems unnecessary to me, harsh even; why not allow one of the community to speak about the deceased and the way in which their life was God’s gift to the world.? We need to move to Ireland then. But I guess if we have a President Trump, then that may be a good idea. Or I can find a rogue priest or a new religion! I have a lot of thinking to do.