Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The inappropriateness of a eulogy at a Catholic Funeral Mass

CNN is reporting that President Obama will deliver a eulogy at Ted Kennedy's funeral. Problem: the funeral is supposed to be held at a Catholic Church, and eulogies are supposed to be forbidden at Catholic funerals. First, the news report:
Services for Sen. Edward Kennedy will be Saturday morning at a Boston church before his burial in Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington, his office announced Wednesday.

President Obama, who called Kennedy an "extraordinary leader," will deliver a eulogy at the funeral, according to several sources.

Before the funeral, Kennedy's body will lie in repose Thursday afternoon and Friday in the Smith Center at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, said the source, who once worked closely with Kennedy's office. A memorial service will be held Friday evening at the Smith Center, the source said.

The funeral will be held at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica in Boston's Mission Hill section. The church is commonly known as the Mission Church. It is a short distance away from the Kennedy library.
Now, as to eulogies: according to this article, "The revised Order of Christian Funerals issued in 1989, however, allows for a "remembrance of the deceased before the final commendation" by a family member or friend." But the final commendation can take place either at the church itself following the Mass or at the graveside, according to some other sources I checked; further, several priests and even some bishops have expressed a strong preference that nothing even approaching a eulogy should be voiced in the church itself--the time for such remarks should be at the vigil service the night before the funeral, or at the graveside, but not at any time during the Funeral Mass. The homily is not to be a eulogy, and no lay person--no, not even the president of the United States--should offer remarks at any time other than just before the final commendation.

There are many reasons why Catholic funerals aren't supposed to have eulogies. One of the chief ones, to me, is that a eulogy leads to the false idea that the deceased is definitely and surely already in heaven. We don't know that he or she is--we can't know that about any human person. Our duty at the funeral is twofold: to pray earnestly for the repose of the soul of the one whose body we are about to commit to the earth, and to pray with equal fervor for our own eternal salvation, which we should ponder in hope, but never in presumption.

Of course, another reason we shouldn't have eulogies is that they are not fitting for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Just as it would be extremely unsuitable for a bride and groom to spend a few minutes after the homily telling the congregation why they love each other and what they hope to gain from their marriages, so is it unsuitable during the Funeral Mass to take the focus off of Christ, our Hope, and place it on the personality of the deceased. It's bad enough when the deceased was really the kind, good, just, patient, holy sort of man we are usually assured he was; it's infinitely worse if the deceased was ornery, cantankerous, selfish, rude, impatient, and scandalous in his behavior toward others, because then in addition to being unsuitable the eulogy becomes an occasion for grave hypocrisy.

So President Obama should not be giving anything even remotely approaching a eulogy at any time during Ted Kennedy's Funeral Mass. The fact that they are or were both liberal Democrats has nothing to do with my objection to this, which is not partisan--I would be cringing just as much if some Catholic Republican were to be eulogized by a fellow Catholic Republican. This should not happen, because it is not seemly behavior for Catholics, not because the people involved are pro-abort Democrats.

In fact, it is an insult to the Church for the Kennedys or anyone else to insist on having things added to a Funeral Mass which do not belong there. God is not impressed by people's family connections, after all. The rites of the Church are her own business, and nobody should interfere with them for any purpose whatsoever, whether that purpose is the out-of-control personality of a pastor who likes to be "creative" or the assumption on the part of a wealthy and well-connected group of people than since all their friends' faith traditions permit eulogies, they ought to be accommodated in their desire to have them, too.

Granted, a lot of less-wealthy, less influential Catholics have had eulogies, too, owing to the deplorable lack of liturgical conformity or obedience which has characterized our sacred rites in this country since the Second Vatican Council. But the tide has begun to turn, and some diocesan bishops have begun to remind people that eulogies really aren't appropriate for a Catholic Funeral Mass. There's the possibility, then, that people who were told "no eulogy" for a funeral for one of their relatives will see the President's eulogy for Ted Kennedy as proof that there are different rules for wealthy and influential people, which is not really the best lesson to be teaching people.

I wish that I could hope that Cardinal O'Malley of the Boston Archdiocese would step in here and remind everyone concerned that there is not to be a eulogy during the Mass, and that any words honoring Senator Kennedy must be spoken at either the vigil or at the graveside. Let's just say that I'll be pleasantly astonished if any such thing were actually to happen. It is more than likely, although I hate to be so cynical, that once again Catholics will be scandalized by the complete lack of adherence to church norms when we're dealing with the rich and famous.


Christopher said...

Norms and Instructions didn't prevent Obama from being awarded honors at Notre Dame, they're certainly not going to prevent him from "saying a few words appropriate to the occasion"...

Deirdre Mundy said...

Seriously Erin--- I mean, the Sacrifice of the Mass is all about that Jesus-guy, right? And he's sort of God's co-equal partener, right? And Obama is God's partener (at least in matters of life, death, and healthcare) so why SHOULDN'T he get equal billing? I mean, Christ was never ELECTED.....

(rolls eyes and sighs.)

I've just stopped being suprised when BO deliberately stomps all over the Church. If I was a paranoid type, I'd say he was doing it on purpose because he's got a Pharaoh complex and wants to be the God-king of America. (hence the slaughter of babies?)

As it is, I think it's just plain old hubris, and that he's setting himself up for a fall of Oedipal proportions......

WV- papicali -- The good popes?

Carolyn said...

It is appaliing that Vatican imposed "Church Law" be twisted to overide the message of Jesus Christ when He spoke The Sermon on the Mount" and extolled those who mourn. Sometimes I am embarassed to say I am a Catholic. However underneath it all, I know the true "Body of Christ" is made up off people of faith and not petty legalize.

Red Cardigan said...

Carolyn, if you are a Catholic, then you believe that the Church speaks for Christ, no?

What if the Kennedys wanted pop music at the funeral? Would that be fine, because mourners should get whatever they want, regardless of Church law?

What if they insisted that Obama be allowed to receive Communion? Would that also be fine?

I'm serious, here. If there's some big difference between Jesus' Sermon on the Mount and what the Church requires for a Funeral Mass, why have Funeral Masses at all? What on earth could a Funeral Mass be for?

If you can answer that question correctly, I think you can answer the other ones I've asked here. But somehow I have a feeling you'll say that a Funeral Mass is for the healing and comfort of the family...

eulogos said...

Somehow I have a feeling that she will think it would be fine for Obama to receive communion.
Anyone want to start a betting pool on whether he does or not?

Susan Peterson

Charlotte said...

Except, Erin, I have NEVER been to a Catholic mass without a eulogy. Ever. In fact, I gave one last summer.

In my saying this, it doesn't make it right. (And when I gave the eulogy, I didn't know the rules, not that anyone at the parish it was at mentioned that....) All I'm saying is that when you have decades upon decades of eulogies at masses for all the common people, it's kind of a hard argument to make to not have one for this funeral.

Again, not that it makes it right.

Baron Korf said...

I'm sure this is a singularly wrong-headed way to view this but...

It's it kinda appropriate that the patriarch of the quintessential "American Catholic" family will likely have an "American Catholic" funeral filled with all sorts of 'well-meant' disobedience and liturgical abuse? For starters, the fact that he is even having a public funeral mass.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Charlotte--- Really? I've never been to one WITH a Eulogy! I mean, sometimes the priest will say a few words abiout the importance of the deceased faith or something as part of the homily, but usually no eulogy!

(We were ASKED if we wanted one when my mom died, but we said no... noone wanted to give one-- as the family, we just wanted the luxury of grieving without having to put on a show for other people...)

Margaret said...

"when you have decades upon decades of eulogies at masses for all the common people, it's kind of a hard argument to make to not have one for this funeral."

I'm pretty sure that it has only been a couple of decades, most likely in the United States where eulogies are commonly given at Catholic funerals. It's a longstanding protestant tradition.

hysperia said...

The Church has open windows. The world, and the Church, changes. I understand the tradition that did not include much by way of eulogy at funeral masses but it often struck me as cold and distant. I was happy to see that the Catholic Church, which sometimes takes centuries to respond to its people, now recognizes the need and indeed, the sacred comfort and solace, that eulogies offer to families and congregations. It is part of Christian witness to speak of the life of the deceased after the funeral Mass. I do believe Jesus spoke of people and not just of himself and his Father. There is nothing in the record of his life that would suggest that he wouldn't have accepted the stories of the people as part of the story of Christianity.

Anonymous said...

Make your catholic faith what you want it.

I was shocked to see the eulogy during mass. I am Canadian, and have been to many, many funerals in my life (need to check the public record on Pierre Trudeau's Canadian state funeral to see if the same scandal was practised), and the eulogies are held, but not at mass. There is a point for that, already described in the comments above mine.

It would have been a little less scandalous to have done the eulogizing after mass was completed, and the celebrants had vacated the alter. That is my opinion.

But considering the late Senator was granted an anulment after 24 years of marriage and grown up children, I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

Anonymous said...

Well, I guess I should have checked. 2 minutes after posting, I go to youtube and indeed see a eulogy at Pierre Trudeau's mass at Notre Dame Basillica in Montreal.

I guess when you are a VIP, you get your rewards.

I had had the no eulogy theology burned into me, especially when our high school principal, a religious priest, and a really inspiring community leader was killed in a car accident. We had a debate in our religion class on why there would be no eulogy at the mass.

In any case, Pierre Trudeau had his "non-catholic" ways as well, so I guess it is no surprise.

Anonymous said...

I had no idea that eulogies were to be condemned at funerals, or that members of the parish would consider it an insult in the Celebration of Life. I truly try to stay away from funerals, so doubt that I attended more than one or two in the last 50 years, and am no judge of what would 'seem' right, fitting, or missing for someone who attends these Masses regularly.

It was a source of great comfort in later years to look over the order of the Mass that our sisters as members of a religious community helped to prepare with special reading selections as well as presentations by brothers and sisters in our sister's memory.

Thanks to Fr. Giebel for not informing (reminding) Mom and Dad there was a dictum forbidding the occasion of my brothers facing the congregation to express our family's unity in the tragedy, and to speak to her past and future.

I am disheartened, more than from suggestion of sinister connotations associated with President Obama's kind words, at the bleakness in the heart of the sanctimonious.


Anonymous said...

And this is probably one of the reasons that people are leaving the Catholic Church - really when there is a funeral there are several people there - do you think they are all catholics - no they are not so did you ever think that they might not understand what is going on at the mass - a euolgy of some kinds words from one person is acceptable as far as I am concerned.

Patholgical Pandemic Lies said...

Few Americans realize that Sen. Edward Kennedy, “lion of the Senate,” was also advocate for the hidden yet powerful pedophile lobby in Washington. Rev. Ted Pike
the “Kennedy legacy” of passing an unprecedented amount of liberal legislation. Being raised Catholic myself and dispite priests being accused of child sexual abuse. I find it sick to think anyone would do any eulogy for a man whose entire lifestyle is built in Moral Sin and his final destination is hell.