"I was at a Requiem Mass this morning; nothing unusual in that, of course. Yet this Mass was highly unusual in this respect: there was no panegyric of the dead. The deceased man had made it clear to his widow before he died that he wanted the homily to focus on the faith – specifically the theology of death and resurrection, with accompanying prayers for the dead – and not on him........"
And this from earlier in the year and from another perspective, the comments of Peter Forster, the (Anglican) Bishop of Chester (link), but in fundamental agreement. Report here
It's a growing problem for all of us as the Christian faith loses its grip on the the public imagination, but particularly for those of us who minister in an 'Established Church' context (I know Wales isn't, but sometimes it's hard to tell the difference.)
Far more often than not the expectation now is for some form of 'celebration of the life' of the person who has died. Without a clear lead and the knowledge that one will be supported by one's superiors (difficult to imagine in most cases on this issue) it's hard to make much of an impact on the wider culture. I admit that all too frequently (and, we tell ourselves, for sound pastoral reasons) we largely go along with popular expectations, perhaps not simply 'giving people what they want,' but coming perilously close to it. Yes, people find these thanksgivings helpful, but in the light of the Gospel is it honest? And we've not even touched on the Protestant / Catholic divide in understanding as to whether funeral rites are merely for us who are left behind, or are concerned with prayer for the souls of the departed who are journeying, we hope, towards a greater Reality.
Fr Tomlinson explored this issue thoroughly last year in his blog and for his pains ended up being reported in the national press (report here) - in itself a measure of the task we face.
Probably my worst moment was when a family said to me (a while ago & not in my present parish,) "Can we have something that's not too religious. He didn't have much time for that sort of thing..."
- a valuable teaching opportunity, or merely setting ourselves up for accusations of insensitivity in the face of grief? Where do you begin? Could this be different in another pastoral setting, I wonder?