Saturday, 13 April 2013

What is a funeral for?

There's a good article here at The Catholic Herald prompted by Lady Thatcher's forthcoming obsequies. The author,  Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith, is surely right in his view that funerals have become in recent years  tributes to the life of the deceased person to the greater or lesser exclusion of the proclamation of faith in the Resurrection.
Obviously, in some Anglican circles one runs very quickly into the ongoing reformation disputes over the efficacy and the validity of prayers for the dead; we won't resolve that issue, yet whatever one's tradition, the increasing absence of a 'God-centred' funeral liturgy is surely another sign of the Christian faith's fading influence on the lives of many, not only just 'occasional' worshippers but including some of  those who would number themselves as committed Christian believers. The work of catechesis is never ended, and some direct teaching on this subject from the pulpit is absolutely essential. Do we as clergy do enough to encourage the saying of funeral masses, for example? Do we promote in the parishes the work of  the Guild of All Souls?
It is possible, of course, to combine in a sensitive way both the need (from the perspective of bereaved families) for some kind of  public recognition of the lives of  those who have died with a clear proclamation of the hope that looks beyond death and judgement to eternal life. What worries me, is that all too often, we tend now to err on the side of  a mere recitation of the significant events of a past life rather than to offer needed prayers for the departed soul.  - Not only, then, 'what is a funeral for,' but for whom is it really meant?
"...The usual answer given is that a funeral is a ceremony (and this can cover non-religious funerals too) for the dignified disposal of the body of the deceased. It goes further: a funeral is an occasion to mark the end of a life, allowing for reflection and thought. After all, death is a major event in all our lives, or ought to be. For a Christian, a funeral would be a moment for prayer, and for a Catholic, a moment of prayer for the repose of the deceased’s soul.
What bewilders me about modern funerals is the concept of “paying one’s respects”. I know what this means, but I simply do not understand it. Allied to this is the idea of making a funeral into “the celebration of the life of X”. Again, I am at a loss to understand this. When I die, as die I must, I do not want my life celebrated, and I want no eulogies; I just want prayer, and more prayer. Neither do I want people to pay their respects – at least not to me; I would like them to show respect for God, however, by behaving properly in church.
In fact a funeral should be, horrid phrase, God-centred, just like any other act of worship. A non-religious funeral can hardly be that, but if it is to be existentially meaningful it should, to my mind, involve a deep long look into the abyss of nothingness that is death: it should honestly face up to the reality of personal extinction, if that is what the non-religious believe. It should not resemble an episode of ‘This is Your Life”..."


  1. I have made provision for my funeral to be a Requiem Mass with as much music and as many of my favourite hymns as possible – and for there to be no homily, address or eulogy of any sort. Through the Mass they should either be rejoicing with me in heaven or offering the Mass for my poor tortured soul.

    I fully intend to return if these provisions are not honoured…

    1. A very Anglican response! What's the point of offering a Requiem Mass for a soul already in heaven? Or one already in hell? One is not needed, the other useless.

  2. I chose my provision carefully, and also the words of my response.

    If I am already in heaven, through the Mass (I did not at that point use the word ‘offer’) they will be rejoicing with me. If my soul is tortured in Purgatory with the vision I cannot yet attain, they will be able to offer the Mass for my soul.

    That seems to me to be a Catholic response in every sense…


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