THE CELEBRATION OF THE FUNERAL MASS AND THE USE OF EULOGIES
Dear Parishioners and Friends,
The loss of a loved one is a time of great sadness and grief for those left behind. It is a time when the Church, in a particular way, draws those who mourn close to the heart of Jesus, our Risen Lord, where they can be given the strength and the hope of the promise of eternal life for all who believe. As Jesus said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life, whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live.” One of the great blessings to those who mourn is the celebration of the Funeral Mass where the Church intercedes on behalf of the deceased because of its confident belief that death is not the end, nor does it break the bonds forged in life. The Church, as a tender mother, ministers to the sorrowing and consoles them in the funeral rites with the comforting word of God and the sacrament of the Eucharist. We too share in your grief and desire to help you in every way we can in this time of sadness.
The funeral liturgy is first and foremost an act of praise and thanksgiving for Christ’s victory over sin and death, a proclamation of the Paschal Mystery. This act of worship belongs to the whole community, to the whole Church, and not to any individual or group. The Catholic funeral liturgy is not a Memorial Service for the deceased person, but a way for the faithful to “offer worship, praise, and thanksgiving to God, the author of all life and the hope of the just.” The focus of the Funeral Mass must always be the Paschal Mystery: the suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. The funeral rites are not so much a celebration of the life of the deceased, but a prayer that the life and death of the deceased may be joined to Christ in heaven. It is the prayer of the Church at the time of death that aids the deceased in making their final journey to fullness of life with God in heaven.
In every funeral Mass, the Church attaches great importance to the reading of the Word of God. The biblical texts proclaim the story of God’s love and fidelity, reminding us of God’s design for the world in which suffering and death have been conquered by the power and grace of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Even the homily, according to the Order for Christian Funerals, must “be based on the readings. The homilist should help those gathered to understand the mystery of God’s love and the mystery of Jesus’ victorious death and resurrection. Through the homily, members of the family of the deceased and the community as a whole should receive consolation and strength to face the death of their loved one with a hope nourished by the saving word of God.”
It is important, in this context, to understand that The Order for Christian Funerals does not permit eulogies to be given at a funeral liturgy. A eulogy, by definition, is a certain kind of rhetoric or public speaking, focused on the deceased person, with the intention of praising him or her. This is simply inappropriate, and out of place, in the context of the Funeral Mass. Eulogies, if desired, are far better delivered at the gravesite or at the gathering that so often follows the burial with family and friends. It is the policy of Saint Paul Cathedral Parish, in conformity to the liturgical laws of the Church that no eulogies are permitted at the Funeral Mass.
While the Church does not permit eulogies at the Funeral Mass, it does allow for, if needed, a “few words of remembrance,” at the end of the liturgy, before the Final Commendation. The policy of the Cathedral is that these “few words of remembrance,” can be no more than 2-3 minutes, and delivered by only one person. Care must be exercised so that these words of remembrance speak of the person’s life in the context of their Catholic faith, and should never be a time to trivialize the sacredness of the Funeral Mass or to speak of anything in a person’s life that contradicts or makes light of Catholic faith teaching. If a family desires someone to offer these brief “words of remembrance,” that person must speak to me, as the rector and pastor of the Cathedral parish, and receive my permission and a copy of those remarks must be presented to me for review before the Funeral Mass.
This policy is in place to safeguard the Church’s liturgical tradition and to protect the sacredness of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In the case of the Funeral Mass, a faithful adherence to the liturgical norms actually allows the Holy Spirit to strengthen the faith of the people and to console those who mourn and to pray for the eternal rest of the deceased. It is our sincere desire that as we commend the deceased in prayer to God, the Funeral Mass will as well bring hope and consolation to the living and that as the Order of Christian Funerals expresses, “the funeral rites also recall to all who take part in them God’s mercy and judgment and meet the human need to turn always to God in times of crisis.”
With every best wish and prayer, I remain,
Sincerely in Christ,
Very Reverend Kris D. Stubna, S.T.D.
Rector and Pastor
June 1, 2013