Funeral Liturgies in Theory and in Practice

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FrGareth
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Funeral Liturgies in Theory and in Practice

Post by FrGareth » Wed Dec 05, 2012 1:49 pm

Personal and anecdotal evidence suggests that priest colleagues and myself are experiencing more and more requests for "personal" tributes at Catholic funerals (poems, favourite CD tracks) which don't sit easily with the Order of Christian Funerals (OCF).

I am struggling with the best way to respond to such requests with both pastoral and liturgical integrity.

At Crematoria, it is inevitably expected that music at the family's choice can be played as people gather and once the service has finished. But during the Catholic ceremony at a Crematorium, and at any service in a Catholic Church, which is a place of worship, the ethos is one of worship. So when the mourners ask for their loved one's favourite song to be prayed in church, I politely decline, explaining that because they have chosen a church service, my role is to provide a service of prayer, and we restrict the kind of things we allow in order to keep the atmosphere prayerful.

Similarly, once a coffin arrives in church, the presence of the body of the deceased is a primary liturgical focus. I don't mind if it arrives and departs covered with a football shirt or a floral tribute, but once at the foot of the altar, everyone is treated the same in death - a white pall, a Bible and a Crucifix. It is the body which the Church honours as a baptised temple of the Holy Spirit, the vessel of a soul which has now gone to God. I suggest that if the family wishes to place a photograph of the deceased, this can be done next to the main exit so everyone sees it as they leave - the OCF says "no other symbols" are to be placed on or near the coffin.

I do allow some flexibility in the "words in memory" slot. If a particular family wishes to remember their loved one by reading a poem or having someone sing a short song, I interpret that as a particular way of offering words in memory and allow it - but only at that slot which the Church explicitly allows as a moment to remember the person.

Not infrequently then, I am in the position of explaining to grieving families that they can't always have exactly what they want at a funeral, because that's not the way the Catholic Church does things, and because my role is to conduct a prayerful service rather than a musical tribute ceremony. This causes the family some distress; in some cases my decision is accepted gracefully, but in others it provokes vigorous protest.

I do not wish to cause needless distress to grieving families; I would like to use this thread for your help to think through WHY we say "no" to certain requests.

1. The Law

The OCF is amazingly flexible when it comes to the range of different prayers and different structures which can be used when a person has died, but precribes a religious service with one slot where a family member may "speak in memory" of the deceased.

I could reply to various family requests by simply saying: "You've asked for a Catholic Funeral, and the Catholic Funeral Book doesn't allow such-and-such".

(Inevitably I will be treated to stories of other priests who have allegedly or actually played fast and loose with the rule book.)

2. The Spirit of the Law

Why is the structure of the OCF the way it is? Like our other rites which focus on individuals (baptisms, ordinations, marriages), it is person-focussed but God-centred. The pre-Vatican II funeral rites presumed that the soul now deceased was mired in sin and needed our deep prayers for its cleansing and freedom. This is not a prominent theme in our current texts, but we do still believe that our prayers can be of assistance to the deceased; I usually comment in my introduction to a funeral service that we have gathered "to remember the life of N and to pray for his/her soul, that they may more quickly complete their journey to heaven".

The theory is sound.

By restricting the music to sacred music, and by having a pall-draped coffin as the liturgical focus to the exclusion of football shirts, photographs and the like, what am I communicating?

    * To God, that this is a service which puts the worship of Himself at the centre, with prayer for a particular soul as its focus.

    * To the liturgically-minded, all the things I have mentioned above.

    * To regular Catholic worshippers, a safe and familiar context for worship.

But then there's...

3. The Pastoral Impact

At funerals (and indeed at baptisms and marriages) I find myself presiding at religious services where a fair percentage of the congregation are not adherents of my religion. Now that needn't be a problem when they have come to honour the choice of a family who have opted for a Catholic baptism or wedding. But at a funeral, the faith may be that of the deceased, while the arrangements are in the hands of those without a strong Catholic identity.

I would like to think that through the use of hymns, readings, prayers and a homily, when I celebrate the kind of ceremony that the OCF prescribes, I will create a liturgical experience that can invite even a thoroughly secularised congregation raise their hearts and minds to God. But does it?

What about those with no or little experience of Catholic (or any) worship? By insisting on these restrictions, am I creating a liturgy which communicates to them something of the reality, presence and transcendence of God?

What about the family mourners who have experienced some distress because I have said "no" to their various requests? They will have very mixed memories of the funeral liturgy.

And how do I best handle my interactions with the family in making the arrangements?

Messages that the grieving family might well experience are:
    * Doing something pleasing to God as a decent act of worship is more important than your feelings.
    * Obedience to the Church's rulebook is more important than your feelings.

Surely the spirit of the law is that we shape liturgy the way we do in order to draw people closer to God. But the pastoral impact may well be that we alienate mourners (who are probably non-practicing Catholics or non-Catholics) from the Church.

My question to forum members is twofold:

FIRST, is there a better way to comunicate the Church's restrictions without causing distress to the mourners, and in a way that helps even secularised mourners to understand why we have those restrictions?

SECOND, does the current structure of our funeral liturgy communicate what we'd like it to communicate to a congregation in "new evangelisation" territory? Or do we need to rethink what we're doing in funerals to maximise their evangelistic impact in our current culture? (I am not agitating for disregard of the OCF, but for ideas of how the OCF might be revised, supposing that the new Vatican department for the New Evengelisation got together with the Cogregation for Divine Worship and happened to read this forum as part of their research :wink: .)

Over to you!
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Revd Gareth Leyshon - Priest of the Archdiocese of Cardiff (views are my own)
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VML
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Re: Funeral Liturgies in Theory and in Practice

Post by VML » Wed Dec 05, 2012 3:03 pm

It does not help that it is widely publicised that the most popular track... :? ..played at funerals is 'My Way'. And Chris Walker denied the Sinatra family this song at Frank's funeral, saying 'Not my way, but God's way.'
That's how he told it anyway!
We have had far too many slushy poems or Morning has broken in place of a psalm or reading, I cringe. Of course by the time the oganist/ musician gets to hear of the order of service, it is too late to do anything. My problem is whether it is my place to suggest to PP, at a time when no funeral is imminent, that he should be more assertive and/ or less willing to comply with the secular stuff.
However, a couple of years ago the agnostic husband of a daily Mass parishioner, (and one of my closest friends,) had asked that his funeral service, not a Mass, should be in our church. His name was Brian, and they had persuaded PP to begin with, 'We are here to celebrate the life of..', and after a prayerful service, the coffin was carried out to the obvious: 'Always look on the bright side of life.'
What can you say? He had walked two daughters down the aisle here, and always supported his wife and family in their Faith.

HallamPhil
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Re: Funeral Liturgies in Theory and in Practice

Post by HallamPhil » Wed Dec 05, 2012 3:21 pm

It is always difficult to say no to relatives who are struggling to deal with the death of one they love and the immediate demands of the immediate aftermath.

I tend to invite them to consider that the favourite song/moment they are wishing to re-kindle is precious in the hearts of immediate relatives only and will leave the others (perhaps the majority) who may have turned up for Mass completely cold. For that reason I do suggest that they use this material at a family gathering, or at the crematorium or burial place where it can be a more shared experience. Only after this would I mention that the liturgy does not permit the use of pre-recorded sound.

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VML
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Re: Funeral Liturgies in Theory and in Practice

Post by VML » Wed Dec 05, 2012 3:37 pm

HallamPhil wrote:I Only after this would I mention that the liturgy does not permit the use of pre-recorded sound.


This is another bugbear. When PP thought I was rather sniffy about switching on the CD player, we had the ridiculous situation where he as celebrant was going over to a seat on the altar and doing it himself, or producing a remote control to zap a flashier gizmo that sent it to the speakers, so to keep at least some of the dignity of the liturgy, I do do the switching. But when we begin Mass with a recording of Amazing grace 'because the family want that version' ... :evil:

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Re: Funeral Liturgies in Theory and in Practice

Post by alan29 » Wed Dec 05, 2012 3:56 pm

Since retiring, I have found myself playing fairly frequently at funerals, but without being a part of the planning, except for once or twice.
I have been lucky in not having ever to manipulate a CD player or busk my way through "My Way." The music has always been appropriate. However a tribute from the family between the gospel and the homily seem to be the norm in this neck of the woods. I actually like to learn something of the person whose funeral I am playing for, and priests invariably preach a proper homily.
Plenty of people think that funerals are actually for the mourners - a part of their grieving - no matter what the books say. And most of the ones I play for have far more non-catholic mourners than catholic, and they would find it disrespectful to the memory of the deceased not to personalise the funeral in some way. It is, after all, a person who is being prayed for, someone known intimately to their creator as well as those present. And to be a person is not to be some sort of an exemplar of humanity, but an individual. People are formed by the stories of their lives. Surely there is a place for some symbols of that story.

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Re: Funeral Liturgies in Theory and in Practice

Post by JW » Wed Dec 05, 2012 5:42 pm

Some priests I knew explained that the Requiem Mass is a religious ceremony and they only allow religious or 'respectful' music. However, the crematorium ceremony need not be entirely religious - it's not a Christian place as such - and therefore anything goes within reason. My organist predecessor's crematorium ceremony ended with Abba's 'Thank you for the Music'.

Fr Gareth has raised the issue of Communion at funerals elsewhere - this needs to be handled with lots of sensitivity - I don't think anyone at a Catholic funeral, even if not Catholic, would presume to dishonour the Blessed Sacrament.
JW

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Re: Funeral Liturgies in Theory and in Practice

Post by Hare » Sun Dec 09, 2012 7:23 am

JW wrote: However, the crematorium ceremony need not be entirely religious - it's not a Christian place as such - and therefore anything goes within reason. .


But most if not all crematorium chapels have been dedicated...?

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Re: Funeral Liturgies in Theory and in Practice

Post by Hare » Sun Dec 09, 2012 7:26 am

I am playing for a funeral this week of a parishioner whose family are non-Catholic. They have empahatically stated they "only want hymns" - ie a "said" mass with hymns. I feel VERY uncomfortable about this anyway, but also sad as the deceased loved good liturgy and music.

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Re: Funeral Liturgies in Theory and in Practice

Post by alan29 » Sun Dec 09, 2012 2:11 pm

Hare wrote:I am playing for a funeral this week of a parishioner whose family are non-Catholic. They have empahatically stated they "only want hymns" - ie a "said" mass with hymns. I feel VERY uncomfortable about this anyway, but also sad as the deceased loved good liturgy and music.

..... funerals are for the mourners in my view.

Southern Comfort
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Re: Funeral Liturgies in Theory and in Practice

Post by Southern Comfort » Sun Dec 09, 2012 6:26 pm

VML wrote:It does not help that it is widely publicised that the most popular track... :? ..played at funerals is 'My Way'. And Chris Walker denied the Sinatra family this song at Frank's funeral, saying 'Not my way, but God's way.'
That's how he told it anyway!


I'm afraid that Chris was gilding the lily there. The Sinatra funeral took place in a neighouring parish, not his, and Chris's only involvement was being asked to augment the singers in the choir. It's funny how these stories spread. The lady who cantored at the same funeral, but was not in charge of the music either, also used to tell people how she directed the music at the Sinatra funeral.... Curiously, the person who was in charge of the music is someone well known to participants in the Society's summer schools.
Last edited by Southern Comfort on Sun Dec 09, 2012 6:34 pm, edited 2 times in total.

Southern Comfort
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Re: Funeral Liturgies in Theory and in Practice

Post by Southern Comfort » Sun Dec 09, 2012 6:32 pm

Gareth,

We had another thread on funerals not long ago, including a discussion of the increasing practice of having the "memorial words" at the beginning, rather than a eulogy at the end. Having experienced this on a number of occasions, I am all in favour of it, even if it is not in the rite. It gets all that stuff out of the way at the beginning, enabling everyone (including the priest!) then to relax and enjoy the celebration. It also gives everyone present a context in which to celebrate a Mass proclaiming our faith in the resurrection.

SC

John Ainslie
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Re: Funeral Liturgies in Theory and in Practice

Post by John Ainslie » Sun Dec 09, 2012 7:35 pm

Southern Comfort wrote:Gareth,

We had another thread on funerals not long ago, including a discussion of the increasing practice of having the "memorial words" at the beginning, rather than a eulogy at the end. Having experienced this on a number of occasions, I am all in favour of it, even if it is not in the rite. It gets all that stuff out of the way at the beginning, enabling everyone (including the priest!) then to relax and enjoy the celebration. It also gives everyone present a context in which to celebrate a Mass proclaiming our faith in the resurrection.

SC

I agree wholeheartedly. It is like the 'story so far' recap at the beginning of a serial episode, for this is indeed the beginning of the next stage in the life of the Christian. The family will be pleased that their departed one has been given due notice, and others will learn about the deceased much that they didn't know, which will enable them to pray for him/her more easily. The rest of the liturgy can them map out the life of the Christian after death.

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Re: Funeral Liturgies in Theory and in Practice

Post by Peter Jones » Sun Dec 09, 2012 8:39 pm

If there's going to be some sort of family remembrance before the final commendation, I pray that:

1. Whoever is going to deliver it does not attempt to preach.

2. Whoever is going to deliver it allows no elephants in the room. If the deceased was someone who in common parlance was of illegitimate birth, a wife-beating drunkard who neglected his children - for heaven's sake, say so and be honest. Don't say how much we all miss him and what a loving, caring person he was, when, in fact, everyone is relieved he's died and the family can now live in peace.
Any opinions expressed are my own, not those of the Archdiocese of Birmingham Liturgy Commission, Church Music Committee.
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Re: Funeral Liturgies in Theory and in Practice

Post by Nick Baty » Sun Dec 09, 2012 11:23 pm

Interesting that most of the above debate is about advising mourners about choices. I've found that clergy can also have some fascinating ideas.

Some time ago I was directing the music for an elderly friend's funeral and had to persuade the presiding priest that, no, she really wouldn't like the first reading replaced with a piece by Julian of Norwich. "Why?" he asked. "It's good devotional stuff." And then there's the priest who insisted on something or other from Madam Butterfly played on CD after Communion. And the priest who simply refused to allow the curtains to close at the crematorium as that was just "pretending" – instead, we just had to walk away and leave the coffin lying there. One of the mourners said, "It felt like we'd dumped an old car at the scrapyard". Same priest refused to wear any sort of vestment at the crem too and turned up in an anorak. I could go on....

Thinking back to the funeral of my old friend Norman Cresswell – some of you will have known his writing in The Universe, The Catholic Times and many more publications. His family were insistent that we should sing Danny Boy during Mass. We compromised: Norman was carried out from the church to Ernie Sands' Song of Farewell with trumpet playing the sop descant. Trumpet then scurried out to the cemetery behind the church and played Danny Boy solo at the graveside. Everyone was happy.

Of the bereaved I've worked with, I've usually found their, perhaps inappropriate, musical choices are as much to do with ignorance as anything else and they're usually pleased with the final result – at least, I've had quite a few thank you cards and no complaints. In fact, there's one in front of me now from a family who, initially, were fairly hostile to the suggestion that we should sing the Alleluia, Holy and Amen. It reads: "We can't thank you enough for all the time and hard work you put into making N's funeral Mass so lovely. The music was just perfect...."

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Re: Funeral Liturgies in Theory and in Practice

Post by Hare » Mon Dec 10, 2012 6:39 am

Nick Baty wrote:
Of the bereaved I've worked with, I've usually found their, perhaps inappropriate, musical choices are as much to do with ignorance as anything else and they're usually pleased with the final result – at least, I've had quite a few thank you cards and no complaints. In fact, there's one in front of me now from a family who, initially, were fairly hostile to the suggestion that we should sing the Alleluia, Holy and Amen. It reads: "We can't thank you enough for all the time and hard work you put into making N's funeral Mass so lovely. The music was just perfect...."


I was not invited to be in on the discussions in the case mentioned above.

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