Eulogies at Funerals

A friend of mine called recently to vent about the awfulness of his parish. He attended a funeral where, instead of the homily, gave a pretty lame eulogy about the deceased. The poor woman was not actually a very pleasant or sociable individual, and of course Fr Folkmass went on and on about how popular she was. Then he invites the family to say a few words about the dear departed and nobody can think of anyone to say. My friend was cringing as the old duck’s brother stood up and told a couple of childhood stories about how the departed dealt with her weight problem. So it went from bad to worse.

Why, oh why, do Catholic priests have so little understanding of what liturgy is about? A funeral Mass is not primarily a memorial service. A funeral Mass is not first and foremost an opportunity to comfort the bereaved. A funeral Mass does something. In it the Church offers the sacrifice of Calvary for the repose of the soul of one of her departed sons or daughters. The funeral Mass is an action of the church which applies the benefits of Christ’s atoning death to the soul of the deceased. The funeral Mass is a solemn rite of passage in which the Holy Church hands on to God the soul of the departed and commends his body to the ground or to the flames.
This is what a priest should be doing at the Mass. At the wake, by all means, get Uncle Harry to tell a few ripe stories about the old rogue. At the reception have a few drinks and get everyone to reminisce about the good times and the bad times, but not at the funeral. Another friend in England told me about a funeral he attended where Ernie (the deceased) was an unpleasant alcoholic with no particular gifts. When the family was asked to say a few words, his son Sid stood up and said, “My Dad loved to watch football on telly. Every Friday night he bought ten lottery tickets, then went down the pub and downed ten pints. He liked his beer, did my Dad.” Then he sat down. That was it. There’s nothing in the world wrong with being an ordinary fellow from an ordinary family, and the sadness and waste of alcoholism is awful, but such sentiments at a funeral don’t exactly inspire or uplift anyone.
When we resort to eulogies at funerals we do not do the departed any favors. The liturgy should raise the departed to the dignity of the son or daughter of the King. HadJust as no one should eulogize the simple soul who did nothing much with their life, so no one should eulogize the great person who accomplished much. In death they are equal. The funeral liturgy should be done straight up. Say the Black. Do the Red. In this way the solemn liturgy elevates the humble and humbles the great.

And another thing: funerals are meant to be sad. Black should be worn. Dignified grief should be encouraged. A funeral is not a ‘celebration of Stanley’s life’. A funeral is not ‘a time of joy because Mildred is in heaven now.’ How tacky and trite is that? No. A funeral should be sad. Someone had died for goodness sake. Furthermore, people need to grieve. They need to work through the terror of death. They need to face reality. A solemn, sad, sober and serious funeral helps them to do that. A silly, shallow, superficial and stupid memorial service or ‘celebration of Pat’s life’ only encourages them to look the other way and take a feel good cop out from reality.

No. Give me the funeral march. Give me solemn young men in black with serious faces to mourn my passing. Give me widows and women in black veils and gloves wiping away tears. Give me the smoke of incense to purify my bones. Give me the water of life to remind me of my baptism. Give me a requiem Mass and may all who are there–whether a multitude or the faithful few–grieve me with the dignity in death that I once hoped for in life.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11189752491998491804 patrice

    I believe that too few people put much thought into how their own funeral liturgy should be, or how the funeral liturgy of their spouse should be. The proper time to plan one is now, when one is cognizant. These plans should be filed with the funeral home, and YES, you should choose the funeral home now.I think a person should pick out the first reading, the psalm, the Gospel, and the hymns before hand.(My biggest worry over my funeral is that the pastor uses the same Gospel exclusively, which means that I won’t get the one I want, which is the Mansions one, unless he is transferred or I am.) I’m a musician, so I give a great deal of thought to the music chosen. I selected “Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee” for my father’s funeral because he loved Beethoven.My friend Anne is selecting “Oh God Our Help in Ages Past” because the hymn tune is “St. Anne.” Schubert’s “Ave Maria” is sung at all our family funerals AND weddings because it is the family hymn.The following hymns are banned from my funeral. Amazing GraceHow Great Thou ArtThe Prayer of St. FrancisOn Eagles’ WingsAnything by Haugen or HassAny hymn or song which does not mention God, the Lord, or the SaintsI like white for funerals, since it reminds me of Christ’s Resurrection, and of our Baptism. The vestment color for Baptism is white, and the sprinkling of water on the casket is a reminder of that baptism. Personally, I am not a fan of black for funerals, but I admit that I prefer it to violet. Give me white or black, but please spare me violet! I think that the choices of the readings and the music should reflect the LIFE of the deceased. I also think that every Catholic funeral should include the Litany of the Saints. To make it more personal, I think you should include in the Litany the names of the saints of the deceased’s spouse, children, or other living relatives.My mother taught me many long years ago that a funeral was for the living. When I planned her funeral, I read the first reading, and I looked straight at my father as I did so.”Happy the husband of a good wife. Twice numbered are his days.”He cried. That was the intent.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01334685411912094988 chloesmom

    Amen, Father! At our parish, I once played for a funeral at which the family had set up a large screen in the sanctuary and played a DVD of the deceased woman’s life. That’s just one example which I found profoundly disrespectful. Everyone else thought it was great! And don’t get me started on the eulogies. They’re standard procedure, even when the speaker is drunk — I actually saw that happen. So yes, we do need to Say the Black, do the Red once again. Let’s get some reverence and dignity back into worship.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15415548089882625246 Annie

    A timely post Father. I lost a long-time friend yesterday. There will be no memorial service. He requested a big blow out of a party to celebrate his life. Bob was indeed a happy guy and met life head-on but I’m still feeling like something important is being overlooked.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06962374096401238994 shadowlands

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr Longenecker

    Shadowlands, you’re right. The post read snobbish. I didn’t mean it that way, so I’ve edited it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12783656541535813711 julesofnc

    Great post Father!Here’s the perfect solution – a traditional Latin requiem Mass!And Patrice, add these to the banned list of songs: Be Not Afraid and I am the Bread of Life.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07632714882132276803 George Weis

    I am down with that poetic ending. I know nothing of this subject within the Church, so it is a curious one.I have a feeling I will die prior to my wife. She will know what music and so forth to choose for me :D I trust in her to honor me in a humble and beautiful way. I cannot for the life of me think of what color I think people should wear, or how their faces should look.One thing is certain, I do not wan them to grieve too long, but get on with their lives… hoping that in some way, my life aids them to live better. Not saying I have thus far accomplished that :DI happen to like Ernie and Sid. They make me feel jolly haha! Sid, sounds perfectly plain and pleasant, and in a way, those folks are the best kind of people.Fr. D, I think you ought to do a Fr. Folkmass friendly homily feature… that would be humorous… something to contrast your own way.Blessings,-g-

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17877449375576975508 Sarah

    I’ve told my husband: No wake, no viewing, but have a proper funeral Mass. If anyone wants to say something, do it after the gravesite thingamajig. Even though it was extremely moving and everyone bawled, my husband got up during what would usually be the announcement period after Mass and read “The Watch” for when Navy men retire. His dad was a retired Navy Chief. It was another one of their father and son bonds . . . it wasn’t tacky, but it wasn’t following proper form for the Mass, was it? I did not say anything, ‘cos I wasn’t sure. Father, was it wrong?

  • http://jenniferfitz.wordpress.com/ jenniferfitz

    Wanted to share an example of a catholic funeral done right. Recently (this century) and at a normal American suburban parish.-Day before the funeral, visitation in the church. Out in the lobby, photos and scrapbooks of the deceased (college yearbook, etc) for those who want to reminisce. Inside the church, space set up for those who want to pray privately. A couple hours allowed for prayer, consolation from visitors, funeral chatter. (oh, you know about that. hush.)- At the end of the visitation, the Deacon led a short prayer service, gave his own encouraging (and yes, folksy) talk, and those who wished could read a eulogy.-Following morning, a good solemn funeral mass. Music selections that some might not care for, but which were appropriate, catholic, faithful, and suited to the wishes of the deceased and her immediate survivors. -Beautiful, rigorous, theologically bombproof homily by the priest. What happens to the dead, why do we believe, what is purgatory, why pray for the deceased, etc etc. Consoling in the way only the truth can console.And that was it. Sorry for the long comment, but wanted to report in from the field about a funeral done right, by way of example. And to emphasize this was all at a completely normal, average American parish. Very hopeful.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13523683273450353313 Subvet

    My wife is considerably younger than myself. She’ll undoubtedly get to bury my sorry butt someday.When the topic comes up I tell her to do as she pleases, funerals and such are for the living to cope with their loss. The dead are beyond caring.I doubt God is going to be gauging the quality of the music, solemnity of the eulogy, etc. Just my opinion.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07932665331766567610 jedesto

    Patrice and fellow victims of AP-LM (Awful Pseudo-Liturgical Music),Several of these comments suggest that it is indeed time to revive the SMMMHDH! Check out their discontinued website if you didn’t know about it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15261940312418634427 WordWench

    I find it ironic that two thirds of the songs that everybody here despises and wouldn’t consent to hearing at their funeral are exactly the ones my mother,a life long Catholic who was raised in the Byzantine and then Latin rite, and died of cancer at 79, wanted at her funeral when she died 10 years ago from cancer. You couldn’t have found a more devout and tradition bound woman but also for some reason those “horrible” “bad liturgy” songs spoke to her. I don’t quite know what to make of this, but thought I’d throw it out there for perspective.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11740482509910163332 Gail F

    At Fr. Richard Neuhaus’s funeral, when it was time for the homily, the celebrant (I’m blanking on his name, sorry), said “Today we gather to celebrate the life… (big pause) … death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the OCCASION of the funeral of Fr. Richard John Neuhaus.” (May not be an exact quote, but close.) It was great.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08532906102654768874 Wm

    A Traditional Latin sung Requiem Mass! No homily/eulogy! The Liturgy commends the soul of our dearly departed brother/sister to God’s mercy and the living are given pause to contemplate their mortality and the disposition of their own souls when they, too, shall die. Now THAT is a Catholic funeral.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14430570230888513801 gonetocarolina

    I had a priest that gave the most wonderful homilies for a funeral. It was like a CCD class, talked about all the wonderful saints, why we do what we do as Catholics. I got to where I would just show up at the funeral Masses for daily Mass. (that was how it was usually scheduled) It helped me to develop a devotion to the Holy Souls.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02577310321800276499 Remy Rosenhoover

    I read Carolina’s post and I started thinking about death and how the church views the funeral mass. What I found the purpose to be is: 1. intercede for the dead2. minister to the sorrowing (or, for the bereaved, to move through “crisis grief” and beginthe “work of mourning”)3. offer worship, praise, and thanksgiving to God for the one deceased4. Honor the body.What a blessing to have a faith that honors our bodies and the dead who are alive in Christ as our Catholic Church does.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15299230935468606845 Ben Trovato

    I will be buried according to the Extraordinary Form.That means that everyone will be spared any decisions about readings, prayers, music etc. THey will all be according to the accumulated wisdom oof Holy Mother Church.They will also be identical to those used at my mother’s funeral, and countless saints, known and unknown for centuries back.And they are beautiful: expressing the full range of human emotion and divine compassion, from the terrible Dies Irae to the sublime Pie Jesu.And I hope and pray that everyone will be too busy praying for my soul to think about my life too much!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06962374096401238994 shadowlands

    Thank you Father.I removed my previous comment too as it seemed no longer appropriate.Looks like Ernie had the final say in his own Eulogy! May he rest in peace.Amen.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18402863494352499533 Lisa

    Thank you for reminding us of what a funeral done right is all about. I’m a Catholic convert, terminally ill, and I need to do some serious planning for my funeral. The rest of my family are Protestant, so I need to make my wishes for a funeral Mass crystal clear.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07217936266957675449 Donna

    Fr. Longenecker,This is a comment about your entire blog. If someone told me that I could only choose one blog to read, I can honestly say it would be yours. It is the most thoughtful, the most intelligent, the most reasonable of all the Catholic blogs. I say this as a convert who entered the Church after years and years of reading. It was Walker Percy that finally pushed me over the Tiber. In fact,prior to my conversion, I dreamed one night that he was on the other side of a bridge beckoning me over.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11193940613766457443 Fr Scott Bailey, C.Ss.R.

    It’s interesting that today’s Catholics have no idea what a funeral Mass is about, though the fault is not theirs. The past forty years have seen such liturgical and dogmatic devistation that it’s no wonder people think one dies and goes to heaven. Would that that were the case. It does happen but rarely. Most of us will die and go to Purgatory for, as our Lord said, nothing unclean can enter Heaven.We ought not speak about hymns in reference to a funeral (or any) Mass when the reality is there is no place for them. The Roman Rite in both forms provides the music and, though this rule is rarely if ever honored, it may not be replaced by hymns. If the liturgy is properly celebrated there might be a place for a hymn after the Offertory Verse (just because it’s not in the missalette doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist) and the Communion Verse and psalm. At the beginning the Entrance Antiphon and it’s psalm are sung and after the Final Commendation the “In Paradisum” is to be sung.And who gave people the idea that they pick the readings? A priest may take suggestions into consideration but it is always his and only his choice.The funeral Mass is offered for the dead, not the mourners. It is a Mass of suffrage and penance for the deceased. It is not a “Mass of the Resurrection” but a “Mass for the Dead.” We pray that they will one day share in the Resurrection, but, the reality is, the deceased is in Purgatory and is suffering, not in Heaven. How uncharitable and heartless is the person who does not pray for the dead, for they are very few who bypass Purgatory. It isn’t pleasant to think about, but it is the teaching of the Church.It was commented that the sprinkling of water on the casket is a reminder of baptism. It is not. Formerly the words spoken at this time (only in the USA) alluded to this, however they are no longer allowed because they make this erroneous connection which the Church does not intend. They were never part of the official version. The sprinkling is blessing the body with the intent to relieve the deceased person’s suffering. Holy Water is a powerful sacramental that is of great help to the souls in purgatory. This is congrouous with the idea that the sprinkling rite at Mass is a reminder of Baptism. Again, it is not. It is a blessing, and Holy Water is used in blessings.Remember, the OF is a completely new creation that was made to look like the EF. As Pope Benedict has said, it was a rupture with the Church’s tradition. It was made to look like a revision, but it is completely new and imparts meaning that is new and not part of the ancient Tradition of the Church.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16120027058653022897 Kelly

    I have sat through several very uncomfortable funeral homilies. One woman, who lost custody of her children due to her drug problems and tendency to date abusive men, was extolled for her devoted motherhood. Another priest said that he felt he was “on holy ground” when around a man who had several public family disputes. Both were proclaimed to be certainly in heaven.I’m not saying we shouldn’t give people the benefit of the doubt, but surely these people are losing the benefit of our prayers on their behalf if we assume that they are in heaven. I think all of us could use a bit of soul cleaning before we attend the wedding feast of the Lamb.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14531024393615051496 veritas

    Thank goodness that at last someone has brought some sanity back to what should happen at funerals. What you said Father is exactly correct. Only God knows our spiritual state at the time of death and only He knows how long we will be in Purgatory or if, let alone when, we will enter Heaven.The purpose of the funeral is to COMMEND THE SOUL TO ALMIGHTY GOD, not to have a rousing chorus of “For he’s a jolly good fellow!”I personally would like to see all personal eulogies totally banned at funerals. The homily should be on the afterlife and holiness, the Four Last Things (Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell). By all means, if family or friends want to give personal reflections let them do so afterwards at a wake.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02879152155540181381 brad

    Of course, one needs to remember that the deceased may also have received the Apostolic Pardon prior to death which reads: “Through the Holy Mysteries of our Redemption, May Almighty God release you from all punishment in this life and in the life to come….By the Authority granted to me by the Apostolic See, I grant you a full pardon and a remission of all your sins, + In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” This special blessing and Apostolic Pardon is given after the Sacrament of Penance and prior to Viaticum to the dying. It carries with it a Plenary Indulgence and as the prayer indicates releases the soul from all punishments in this life and in the life to come. Thus through the mercy of God a soul who receives such a privileged Apostolic Pardon and plenary indulgence prior to death can be brought with the proper state of contrition, conscious or unconscioius, immediately into the Kingdom of Heaven upon death and not have to spend any time in Purgatory at all. This is a special blessing that priests are privileged to give to people as part of the ‘last rites’ and can be found in the Ritual of the Anointing of the Sick. Sadly, many priests dismiss this special blessing as trivial when, in fact, it is a great comfort to the dying and often when given in the final moment of life, often speeds people on their way to heaven, content and at peace, that they will soon see the face of their beloved Saviour.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02879152155540181381 brad

    Of course, one needs to remember that the deceased may also have received the Apostolic Pardon prior to death which reads: “Through the Holy Mysteries of our Redemption, May Almighty God release you from all punishment in this life and in the life to come May He open to you the Gates of Paradise and Welcome You to Everlasting Joy!! ….By the Authority granted to me by the Apostolic See, I grant you a full pardon and a remission of all your sins, + In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” This special blessing and Apostolic Pardon is given after the Sacrament of Penance and prior to Viaticum to the dying. It carries with it a Plenary Indulgence and as the prayer indicates releases the soul from all punishments in this life and in the life to come. Thus through the mercy of God a soul who receives such a privileged Apostolic Pardon and plenary indulgence prior to death can be brought with the proper state of contrition, conscious or unconscioius, immediately into the Kingdom of Heaven upon death and not have to spend any time in Purgatory at all. This is a special blessing that priests are privileged to give to people as part of the ‘last rites’ and can be found in the Ritual of the Anointing of the Sick. Sadly, many priests dismiss this special blessing as trivial when, in fact, it is a great comfort to the dying and often when given in the final moment of life, often speeds people on their way to heaven, content and at peace, that they will soon see the face of their beloved Saviour.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17879431925563259051 Pilgrim

    I showed up to a daily Mass last week at my new parish (I moved to the other side of town) and outside there was a hearse, so I knew this was going to be a bit different and I felt bad for not being in my Sunday best.My former Anglican church (I’m pursing conversion) had an aging population and we were losing them fairly quickly, but funerals scare me so I didn’t go. I haven’t been to a funeral since one as a kid.There was not reminiscing about the departed, though of course he was mentioned. Apparently, they had a separate gathering the night before that involved the family speaking about the man. The priest actually said that this wasn’t the time for those sort of sentiments.The homily was about sin and our struggle. We have this fundamental desire towards God, even in spite of those worldly pleasures which distract us (apparently the departed was into antique cars), and that fundamental desire is what we need to focus on and to cling to — what really matters. I know I’m putting the priest to shame by my ham-handed conveyance of his homily, he has had the best, most poignant, serious and relevant homilies that I’ve ever had from a pastor or priest in my life.So yes, there was that division between the funeral, I suppose you could call it, and the actual Requiem Mass. It was a bright sunny, Spring day and I was going to hang out with my friends on my day off after Mass and I left feeling much more sober — not depressed, but sober, because it really pushed the issue of what matters in life and how central our spiritual journey is.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17879431925563259051 Pilgrim

    Oh I want to mention that the priest did recollect the last few moments with the man as he died. He had been in and out of the hospital, near death, through this disease so had received Anointing of the Sick before but the priest told the story of what happened this day. One of the most emotional parts was that as the priest was giving Communion to the guy, who was pretty out of it, he placed the Host on his tongue and suddenly the guy’s eyes came back to life and he stared right at the priest and smiled. Then as soon as that happened, he relaxed and the machines started beeping and he flat-lined because now there was nothing more left to do. This is central to everything, this Communion with God. At the end of Prime, there is a prayer for the departed — “Fidelium animae per misericordiam Dei requiescant in pace. Amen.” “May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.” And going from praying that in the morning off to the surprise Requiem Mass really brought those two pieces together. I also was interested in the similarities of the Good Friday Mass to the Requiem Mass since that was recent. All the pieces fit together to form a beautiful whole to reflect God to us.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08681373724956917014 Fr. Rodolfo D. Vasquez

    Many people forget that the Funeral Mass or the “Requiem Mass” is neither about the “compassion or sensitivity of the priest” nor is it about the “passing of the deceased”. It is still a Mass, and it is always about giving solemn worship to the Risen Lord. If the priest would understand that then there would be no sappy music, no eulogies, but simply the offering of the One, Pure, Oblation for our sins to the Eternal Father. If priests did that, that’s all I want for the Mass of my burial.


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