Eulogies Not Permitted
at Catholic Funerals
The following is the series of articles that appeared
Blessed Sacrament’s Sunday bulletin regarding eulogies at funerals.
NO EULOGIES AT FUNERALS
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.
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.
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!)
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
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.
Printable PDF Version
In light of so many abuses and embarrassing moments
that we all have experienced at Funeral Masses it would seem wise
for the priest to at least require a written copy of the
so-called “eulogy” to examine and, if necessary, edit, before it
is given — if it is allowed in defiance of
the very clear Order of
Christian Funerals cited at the beginning
of this article. This is brought to mind given the recent death of a
relative whose son rambled on for about 20 minutes in a “humorous”
biography of his father — interspersed with “sh*t” and other
humiliating epithets — as he stood at the same pulpit where
the priest solemnly read the Gospel — and dismissively spoke of the
belief he apparently shared with the deceased that religion was so
much “nonsense”. The priest sat smiling benignly . My
instinct was to slap him soundly for blasphemy. For the sake of his
humiliated mother, I refrained.