The Catholic Faith in Slow Motion (no. 16)
Catholic Funerals: Part 2
A eulogy (sometimes several of them) is a familiar fixture at funerals. In the minds of many, this is exactly what a funeral is for – to recount the life of the deceased person, remembering especially his or her praiseworthy accomplishments, virtues, and good deeds. In fact, the eulogy is an age old genre of public address. It may seem surprising, then, that the Catholic Church (along with some other ecclesial communions) has a somewhat counter-cultural attitude toward eulogies. Of course, the Church does not forbid eulogies as such (how could it?). Love naturally seeks to remember the dead and comfort the grieving with happy memories. However, the Church does insist that in the funeral Mass itself, the eulogy has no place. For example, regarding the funeral homily, the General Instruction on the Order of Christian Funerals says bluntly: “there is never to be a eulogy” (par. 27). Let's think why.
Half the Story . . .
Jennifer (I will call her) sat in the second row of pews in the Catholic Church. She had no strong links to the Christian faith. She was the adult daughter of the deceased, a man much loved in the parish. At the end of the funeral Mass, before the rite of commendation, several rather long and emotion-filled eulogies (complete with funny stories) were given by parish members. They spoke of how he had become a Catholic, about his service to the parish, about the way he had overcome many trials but had “totally” turned his life around. From his seat in the sanctuary, one of the attending priests noticed that Jennifer seemed more and more troubled, her face growing dark and tearful as the eulogizing mounted. Following the Mass the priest sought out Jennifer, expressing his condolences. After a few moments of silence, she said quietly: “Well, I never really knew the man all those people were talking about.”
No, the eulogies were not a pack of lies. But they were, well eulogies. And by definition a eulogy tells only part of the story. It tends to leave out, for example, the parts about a father who, for whatever reason, had not been able, before he died, to seek out reconciliation with a daughter he had long ago abandoned.
The Honesty Born of Forgiveness,
In the funeral liturgy of the Church, we give thanks for the gift of life. We pray that the deceased may be forgiven his or her sins. We profess God's grace upon us sinners in Jesus Christ. We give thanks for the signs of faith in the life of our lost loved one. We remember the baptism that united him or her to Christ. We recall the promises that rest upon that life joined to Christ. We celebrate the Eucharist by which the Church in heaven and the Church on earth are joined in Christian love. We profess our faith and hope that by the love and grace of God, we will be reunited with this brother or sister whose body we now entrust entirely to God. We ask God to renew our faith in the moment of loss and separation. Just so – because of the peace that such a faith grants to us sinners – we are able to look our failures (and even the failures of our loved ones) in the face. And the love of Christ gives us every reason to trust that, although we may never be able to tie up all the loose ends that death leaves dangling, our God is able.
In the liturgy's clear proclamation and fervent confession of such divine love, we pray that those like Jennifer may be claimed by such faith and hope.
+ St. Thomas More R.C. Church + - 1439 Springdale Road - Cherry Hill, N.J. 08003 all rights reserved© 2017