Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Funerals again

From an excellent article by Francis Phillips in the Catholic Herald on funeral liturgies. Read it all -  link here
"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?


  1. Isn't the article by Francis Phillips?

    My impression is that the change is more recent than the author suggest, at least in Wales (dating back, say, 10-15 years).

    But it certainly is here now and with a vengeance.

    The modern emphasis seems to be on "us" (sharing our memories, etc. in an orgy of self-indulgence), followed by the deceased, and God comes a very poor third (often hardly a look-in). Which is precisely the wrong order: it should be the other way round!

    Thoughtful chapel people used to remark that one virtue of the Church's funeral liturgy was that it was the same for everyone, high or low, rich or poor, whereas if you were an important non-conformist you would have umpteen ministers falling over themselves to deliver long eulogies and panegyrics, and offering floods of extempore prayer.

    No longer, alas.


  2. The role of the Requiem Mass is to reflect that awesome and fearsome step on the journey of a child of God - and to underline our communion at the heavely banquet, won at the cost of the sacrifice re-presented in the Mass.

    It should be sad, it should thrill, and it should focus on nothing other than our shared life in Christ.


  3. Sir Watkin - thank you: I've corrected my mistake!

  4. Dear Fr, Like you, I've been asked for a 'not too religious' funeral'. My response (always gently put) is 'You wouldn't go to the hairdressers and ask for a service for your car'. The point is always understood. And I often have to point out that all this 'celebration of the life of ...' is terribly unhelpful as (aside from all else) it's a piece of evasion so typical of these postmodern times.

    Here, in 'Welsh' Wales, what Sir Watkin says still holds true - except that, whereas once 'umpteen' ministers would wax (not very)lyrical about sin and justification by faith, they now offer something more mainstream and drone on in praise of the deceased. A former Curate in a parish in which you (Fr Michael) and I once served vouchsafed to our former boss that 'when he [ie the Curate] is lying in his box, he will not have someone else lying in in the pulpit.' Bendigedig! Fr Peter Jones (St Davids Diocese)


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