God we never knew
despite all He ever said
autem dico vobis …”
But I tell you ...
is often such a tremendous disparity between what we read
in the Gospels … and what we hear in homilies-as-conjectures
at Mass (“Now, this is what I think Christ is telling
us here …”) and what we read in the “deconstructed” literature of New
Age Catholicism. Things that Christ appears to state very clearly somehow
acquire a cognitive opacity such that what He appears to say
and what we are told He really means are often quite opposite,
or at least open to debate and can be construed quite otherwise.
Pride, appropriately enough, often
appears to motivate this effort. “How clever can I prove myself
to be”, a priest may ask himself, “in manipulating the words of Christ
to endorse a social or political agendum to which I personally
subscribe and that I wish to foster within the congregation — even if
it undermines or contradicts genuine Church teaching?”
Of even greater concern to us
is this: such gratuitous “hermeneutics” or personal interpretations
suggest a good deal more than the vanity or pride within those who utter
them. Something far greater is at risk, and it can be summarized as
The conflict in meaning that we
confront — the apparent and obvious meaning, and its “elucidation”
or deconstruction into meanings other than (and sometimes
even opposite to) the obvious, implies two extremely important and deeply
disturbing assumptions: On the one hand, either Christ does not
know what He is really saying, or, on the other, we are unable
to grasp what He is saying, despite its being perfectly clear to
us. In this case either Christ is a fool or we are fools. In our
presumably “unlearned” state, then, we need “professionals” to elucidate
the true meaning of anything that Christ utters, and this, of course,
takes many years of training and the accumulation of multiple academic
And this is to say that ... much
to Christ’s Heavenly Father’s consternation ... what Christ is saying
is actually “Hidden from the simple and unlearned,
and revealed only to the schooled and wise”. 1 And they,
in turn, will reveal it to us, given our pronounced inability to understand
the obvious. Take, for example, the following:
ye in at the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way
that leadeth to destruction, and many there are who go in thereat. How
narrow is the gate, and strait is the way that leadeth to life: and
few there are that find it!" (St. Mat.
To those of us who are “unlearned”,
Christ seems to be saying — and very clearly — that the way to Hell
is easy and a lot of people end up going there; while,
on the other hand, the way to Heaven is difficult and not many
people make it.
Now, the clear and apparent meaning,
of course, makes life a good deal more difficult for us. After all,
many will go to Hell and few will go to Heaven — if
we take Christ at His word. Jesus warns us of this, or at least
appears to be warning us to take our lives on earth — what we
do and do not do — seriously, given what appears to be the likelihood
of Hell and the uncertainty of Heaven.
What are our options, then? We
Call Christ a liar to His
Accuse Him of being delusional
Or call into question the
veracity, the authenticity, of Sacred Scripture itself since the
obvious meaning does not accord with, is not amenable to, what we
ourselves would prefer to understand of God.
In fact, the god we choose
to fabricate and believe in, has inverted the matter entirely: few
or none go to Hell and many, if not all, go to Heaven. Any funeral
Mass will attest to this common, however deeply mistaken, assumption.
Our dead, we are assured, are already in Heaven smiling benevolently
down upon us, and playing basketball, surfing, or golfing on endless
courts, seas, or greens. Our priests tell us this universally
and our eulogists provide unique glimpses into the beatitude
of our deceased in Heaven (that eulogies are strictly prohibited
in the Catholic Church is quite beside the point. We have them
at every funeral Mass anyway — no matter what the Church teaches.
That some of them were cruel,
malicious, perverse, brutal, selfish, miserly, indifferent to God in
this life, or not believing in Him at all, has no bearing on the matter
of death and the circumstances of life beyond it. If the casket makes
it into the Church the dead shoot right up to Heaven … regardless of
what they have done or failed to do, saint and sinner alike. If “all
dogs go to Heaven”, then, a fortiori (that is to say, all
the more), so do men. All men. Good, bad, or indifferent.
The problem is that we cannot
in the same canon — that is to say, within Sacred Scripture — find one
reference to all men, good, bad, or indifferent, attaining
to salvation … which is to say, going to Heaven. Not one. In fact, Sacred
Scripture speaks of only one man — just one — who is assured of Heaven:
the thief on the Cross beside Christ, to whom Christ promised Paradise
the day of His own Crucifixion. Even Saint Paul worried! 3
but also not Despair!
But neither must we fall into
the sin of despair which is the diametric opposite of the sin of presumption!
Both are equally wrong and both are gravely sinful. While it is
true that many have lived a life deserving of Hell, no one — not one
— has lived a life deserving of Heaven. It is never ones right
to go to Heaven no matter how exemplary one s life has been. If it is
your right to go to Heaven, if you deserve Heaven on your own merits,
then you have emptied the Cross of the suffering and death of Jesus
Christ, and made His Resurrection unnecessary. Yet we are told in no
uncertain terms that,
"I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No
man cometh to the Father, but by Me."
(St. John 14.6). Now, we must ask ourselves,
what could Christ possibly mean in uttering this? Let us debate
this terribly abstruse utterance; let us “deconstruct” it to see what
He is really saying in this very puzzling statement.
Until we begin to take Christ
at His word, and His word at face value, we may find a home
in academia or among the pseudo-literati; we may even have the congregation
in stitches, but it is unlikely that we will uncover the too-obvious
Christ or walk in the company of the Saints with Him when death ends
the charade of our pretension to misunderstanding what He said and why
He said it.
Ego autem dico vobis
Are there things Christ said about
which we are genuinely unclear? Yes — but by and large they are few.
He speaks with authority, an authority that infuriates the Pharisees
because not only does He state the (Mosaic) Law, but of Himself
supersedes it lest there be any question whence the authority derives.
(from God Himself in His Only begotten Son Who is One with the Father):
“You have heard that it hath been said,
Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thy enemy. But I say to
you (Ego autem dico vobis), Love your enemies: do good
to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate
you.” (St. Matthew 5.43-44)
The very clarity with which He speaks enraged “the scholars” 2000 years
ago as much as it enrages our scholars today. There is little room for
equivocation — and interpreting the Law is, after all,
an income, as much 2000 years ago as it is today. Simplicity
impedes this, obviates it altogether! What would so many scholars possibly
do if God spoke to us in a way that even the simple understood? Of course,
not to be outdone by the Son of the Living God Who is the very Word
of the Father, the scholars convince us that the simple is altogether
complex, and the greater its apparent simplicity the greater its complexity
— and our perplexity — and, for a sum, they alone have the credentials
to properly interpret what is so plainly concealed from us in its beautiful
When you go to Mass — that is
to say, to the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass — listen
to what Christ says to you plainly in the Gospel reading, no
matter how much it may be interpreted to mean something utterly different,
totally irrelevant and in the end merely tiresome and prosaic. He has
so much to tell you — Himself!
"Qui habet aures audiendi audiat."
See St. Matthew 11.25:
“At that time Jesus answered and said:
I confess to thee, O Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, because Thou
hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them
to the little ones.”
2 At least one Church
in America, the Blessed Sacrament Church near Fort Mitchell,
KY, explains this clearly in a note to their parishioners:
Either most Catholic Churches are clueless or their priests
disobedient in permitting this. The article appears in its entirety
"But I chastise my body, and
bring it into subjection: lest perhaps, when I have preached to others,
I myself should become a castaway." (1
"With fear and trembling work out
who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
(St. Matthew 11.15)
Geoffrey K. Mondello
for the Boston Catholic Journal
Printable PDF Version
Eulogies Not Permitted at Funerals
The following is the series of articles that appeared
Blessed Sacrament's Sunday bulletin regarding eulogies at funerals.
NO EULOGIES AT FUNERALS Part 1
1989 the Vatican published the revised Order of Christian Funerals
(OCF) for the United States. The long-standing prohibition of eulogies
at Catholic funerals was again upheld and restated. "A brief homily
based on the readings should always be given at the funeral liturgy,
but never any kind of eulogy." [OCF # 141] In the revised General
Instruction of the Roman Missal promulgated by John Paul II in year
2000 (GIRM 2000), this prohibition of eulogies was again restated:
"At the Funeral Mass there should, as a rule, be a short homily, but
never a eulogy of any kind."
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. 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." (Archbishop Daniel
Pilarczyk) While the presider is to keep in mind with delicate sensitivity
not only the identity of the deceased and the circumstances of the death,
but also the grief of the bereaved, the focus of the Christian funeral
rite is the saving mystery of Jesus' death and resurrection. Attentive
to the grief of those present, the homilist should dwell on God's compassionate
love and on the Paschal Mystery of the Lord, as proclaimed in the Scripture
readings. (OCF 27).
If the Church prohibits eulogies at funerals, how is it that we
often have one, two, three or more speakers appear after communion to
deliver a five, ten, fifteen, up to thirty minute long eulogy/eulogies???
Although what usually happens at funerals is not at all what the Church
envisions, the alleged justification comes in a statement made in the
Order of Christian Funerals: "A member or a friend of the family may
speak in remembrance of the deceased before the final commendation begins."
(OCF # 170) If such a person does speak at all, the ritual envisions
it happening at the very end of the Mass while the priest and
ministers are already standing at the coffin about to begin the Final
Commendation. The words are to be very brief, highlighting an aspect
of the deceased's life of faith. In short, what often happens at the
end of the Funeral Mass is not what the Church permits. Even
here at Blessed Sacrament we give the family or friend very specific
guidelines about what is proper and how it is to be done. Our experience,
however, is that our guidance is rarely followed.
Next week I will again write some more about this issue. It is one that
is becoming increasingly problematic in the celebration of Catholic
funerals. It is an issue that causes me great concern here at Blessed
Sacrament and needs to be addressed.
NO EULOGIES Part 2
Last week I wrote about the Catholic
Church's long standing prohibition of eulogies at funerals. The focus
of the Catholic Funeral Mass is not on the life of the deceased, but
on the saving mercy of God that brings the deceased into eternal life.
I also noted last week that the current funeral ritual of the Church
does permit a family member or friend to say a few words of remembrance
at the funeral, but does not permit that person to deliver a eulogy.
What's the difference between "a few words of remembrance" and a eulogy?
The guidelines that most parishes - Blessed Sacrament included - provide
to the families of the deceased explain the details of the difference.
Eulogies recount for the assembly some or all of the great events of
a person's life. Words of remembrance do not attempt to give a biography
of the deceased. As is the case with the entire funeral liturgy, this
is a time to share and emphasize faith. Eulogies, by nature, tend to
be lengthy discourses about the deceased. Words of remembrance
are brief - usually two to three minutes. These brief words are meant
to share one or two examples of insight into the faith life of the deceased.
These words come at the end of the liturgy when people are psychologically
and spiritually prepared to bring things to a conclusion. To prolong
or extend the conclusion of the liturgy is upsetting to people. Most
people find the prayers and rituals of the funeral Mass very comforting
and healing. Prolonged and emotional words spoken at the end of the
Mass tend to undo all the healing that has occurred during the Mass.
Furthermore, because of tight schedules coordinated with cemeteries
and funeral directors and because of the flow of daily activities here
at Blessed Sacrament, things need to be kept moving - Not rushed, but
not delayed either.
Next week I will write about some of the specific problems that have
occurred as a result of the growing phenomenon of eulogies at funerals.
Some of these problems seem to be occurring in all parishes; others
are specific to Blessed Sacrament. The time has come, I believe, to
deal with the issue directly. More about that next week.
NO EULOGIES Part 3
Two weeks ago I wrote about that
fact that the Catholic Church has never and still does not permit eulogies
at a funeral liturgy. This is because the focus of the Catholic Funeral
Mass is not on the life of the deceased, but on the saving mercy of
God that brings the deceased into eternal life. Last week I wrote about
the "loophole" in our current funeral ritual that permits a friend or
member of the family to say "a few words" of faith remembrance at the
time of the final commendation. In an effort to keep these few words
of remembrance in accord with the vision of the ritual, we have for
three years provided the families of the deceased with some specific
guidelines. These guidelines were designed to help them construct their
words in line with the Church's desire that their remembrance be a short,
but insightful glimpse into the faith life of the deceased.
We specifically request that only one person share the words of
remembrance. However, more often than not, two or more persons
simply present themselves in the sanctuary after communion - usually
with no prior notice to the Church. We have sometimes had up to five
people speaking at the end of Mass.
We request that the words of remembrance be brief, no more than three
minutes. Instead the speakers often go for fifteen to thirty minutes.
The length is usually due to the fact that the speaker(s) is/are ignoring
the fact that they should not be giving a eulogy but only share an example
or two of the way the deceased lived his/her faith. Many times
these extended eulogies are delivered by someone who anticipated that
he/she would be able to be composed at the time, but in fact become
very emotional and have great difficulty in delivering their words.
This situation becomes very uncomfortable for the assembly and often
results in more grief for the bereaved at a time in the liturgy when
they had been lifted a little beyond grief through the Eucharistic celebration.
Many of these problems could be avoided if our request that the words
of remembrance be submitted in writing prior to the liturgy were honored.
However, only once has this guideline been followed. So generally, the
priest has no idea what is going to happen when the person ascends the
pulpit. Sometimes the words spoken are not only uncomfortable, but clearly
heretical. (I have had to listen to totally pantheistic poems being
read from the same pulpit from which the Gospel is proclaimed!) On one
occasion a child of the deceased openly proclaimed that he knew that
all this "Church stuff" was important to his father, but that he didn't
believe in any of it - especially life after death!
On another occasion during this past year, the family of the deceased
told us that there would be no words of remembrance. As I was about
to begin the final commendation, a relative of the deceased came forward
and politely told me to "sit down, because he had a few things to say."
He then went on for over twenty minutes with a detailed chronology of
the deceased's life.
For over three years I have agonized over this issue. Rather than just
forbidding the words spoken in remembrance, I and the bereavement committee
have tried to offer assistance and guidelines to insure that the words
spoken would be in conformity to the vision of the Church for the funeral
liturgy. But after three years of trying, it has become clear that we
are never going to be able to accomplish what the Order of Christian
Funerals envisions for the "words spoken in remembrance." I have discussed
this issue with Bishop Foys. It has also been the subject of discussion
at several pastors' meetings in the last couple of years. Our parish
Bereavement Committee has also discussed the issue with me at length.
I have also spoken with most of the funeral directors who service our
After prayerful and extended consideration of the matter I have decided
to follow all the advice being given to me. Therefore, effective January
1, 2006 we will no longer have the "words spoken in remembrance" at
any funeral liturgy celebrated here at Blessed Sacrament.. I do not
make this decision easily. But as pastor, it is my responsibility to
insure the integrity of the liturgy. Ultimately, I have to answer to
God for what takes place in our sanctuary. I realize that some parishioners
may disagree with me and it may cause some disappointment at the time
of a beloved's death. However, there are other and, I believe, better
options for sharing those faith memories. I will write about those options
IN PLACE OF THE EULOGY Part 4
For the last three weeks I have
written about eulogies at the Catholic funeral liturgy. I have
stressed the fact that the Church has never permitted the delivery of
a eulogy at the liturgical celebration. It still does not permit it
because the focus is supposed to be on the saving mystery of Jesus Christ
and how God now extends life in the risen Lord to the deceased.
I also wrote about how the Church, in recent years, did allow for a
few brief words of remembrance to be spoken during the rite of final
commendation at the end of the liturgy. However, rather than follow
the guidelines of the Church, family members and friends have usually
used this opportunity to deliver extended eulogies. In fact, this custom
has so taken on a life of its own that most families feel obliged
to provide for such a eulogy even though it is not permitted.
As a result of the many problems we have experienced which I detailed
in last week's article, I last week announced the decision that effective
January 1, 2006 we will no longer have the "words spoken in remembrance"
at any funeral liturgy celebrated here at Blessed Sacrament. I also
indicated last week that there were other more appropriate ways for
the family or a friend to share a remembrance of the decease. What are
those other options?
The Church's Order of Christian Funerals provides for a Funeral Vigil.
This is ordinarily celebrated at the time of what we commonly call the
"visitation", "wake", or "lay out" for the deceased. The clergy of Blessed
Sacrament strive to be present at the beginning of such a visitation
time in order to celebrate the Funeral Vigil. The vigil consists of
prayers and scripture readings. The end of the Vigil Service is a very
good time for a family member or friend to speak in remembrance of the
Many families now hold a reception following the funeral liturgy. We
host many such receptions here in the Undercroft. Once guests are seated
with their food and drink, a family member or friend could deliver some
appropriate words of remembrance. This would function almost like the
typical "after dinner" speech.
Recently, many funeral homes have begun providing a service by which
they will print a small remembrance booklet for the family. These booklets
often have a collage of pictures of the deceased on the front. The inside
contains the words of remembrance written by the family or friend(s).
Many people have commented to me about how they preferred the booklet
to words spoken in Church. The booklet is something they can take home
for remembrance whereas the spoken words are often forgotten in short
order. Putting something in print also relieves the family member or
friend from the intense emotion of trying to speak at a very difficult
time. My own family composed our own booklet last year when my father
died. Each one of us children wrote our own part. Not only do each of
us treasure the booklet as a keepsake, but also many friends and extended
family members have told me how grateful they are to have it.
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