Catholic News Service photo
Mary Kool holds a single red rose outside St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church where the funeral of U.S. District Judge John Roll was taking place in Tucson, Ariz. in 2011.
Staff and news service reportsAware of the loquaciousness of residents of the Emerald Isle, an Irish archbishop several years ago banned eulogies during funeral Masses. The lengthy memorials are fine, but should come before or after the liturgy, said the archbishop, who also nixed the placement of soccer jerseys and cleats on caskets.
The guidelines were meant to ensure that funeral liturgies are dignified, prayerful and consoling experiences.
The church has long taught that the funeral Mass is not the time for eulogies or avid individual displays. It's time for the deceased to be celebrated as a member of the Body of Christ.
The Vatican's 1989 revised Order of Christian Funerals for the United States, for example, prohibits eulogies, preferring "a brief homily based on the readings." The Roman Missal restates the rule.
The firm belief of the Catholic Church is that the Christian funeral is not a celebration of the life of the person who has died, even though we honor and express gratitude for all God's gifts to that person.
"The funeral liturgy is a celebration of salvation and mercy, of grace and eternal life," Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk once said. "It is not meant to be a commemoration (much less a canonization) of the person who has died. Extended remembering of the deceased often results in forgetting the Lord."
While the presider is to keep in mind the deceased and grief of the bereaved, the focus of the Christian funeral rite is the saving mystery of Jesus' death and resurrection.
A member or friend of the family is allowed to speak near the end of the funeral, before the final commendation begins. The norms for funerals say these comments should be only a few minutes in length. They are not to be a biography, but a moment of insight into the faith life of the deceased.
In practice, these guidelines are often ignored. One Kentucky priest writes in his parish bulletin that some talks go on for 30 minutes with content not appropriate for Mass.
"Sometimes the words spoken are not only uncomfortable, but clearly heretical," the priest wrote. "I have had to listen to totally pantheistic poems being read from the same pulpit from which the Gospel is proclaimed."
That priest, with support of his bishop, banned words of remembrance, even at the end of funerals. He suggested that such remembrances happen at the conclusion of the vigil service or during the post-funeral luncheon.