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Sunday, 20 July 2008

Funeral Liturgy and Decorum

Sweet Lord in heaven, I thought we were a little lax in preserving the dignity of Your Holy Sacrifice of the Mass....
Catholic funerals in Ireland seem to be an unholy MESS!

FUNERALS are "about helping people to come to an understanding of Christian death and to understand that when we celebrate a funeral Mass we do so in the context of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ."

The quotation is from a statement issued by the Roman Catholic clergy of Castleblayney, Co Monaghan, following a rising storm of protest about an instruction pamphlet which lays down strict rules for funeral services that take place in the area's Roman Catholic churches.
One high-profile protester was jazz man
Paddy Cole, who was distressed to be told that he could not deliver a eulogy for his mother from the altar. He was, however, allowed to play in her memory.
Paddy's playing, we can be certain, was wonderful and moving. But the rules have to be universal; and if people can choose to have their "own" music, there is no guarantee that it will not be entirely demeaning of Christianity, much less Catholicism.
When the Saints Go Marching In, played by the wonderful Mr Cole, may be entirely appropriate, even if it is not sacred music (I do not know what he played, or indeed, if it was a jazz piece), but some ghastly piece of pop schmaltz is not merely unsuitable, it is also undignified and possibly blasphemous. And cruel though it may sound, if you can't have Kylie Minogue, then you shouldn't be able to have Paddy Cole either. But the rules as expounded by the Monaghan clergy are not new strict, guidelines; they are merely the rules that have always been part of the funeral rite of the Roman Catholic Church -- a rite based rigidly on the Mass.
The fact that they have been honoured more in the breach than the observance in recent years is down to the fact that the "faithful" aren't faithful, nor are they properly tutored in the rites, rituals and theology of their Church. Many of the clergy seem to be in the same boat, operating a "sure, isn't it grand if we all just hold hands in woolly fellowship" ethos.
And quite frankly, if you want that, what the hell (if you'll forgive the phrase) are you doing being buried within the rite of the Roman Catholic Church?
The clergy of Monaghan, and the clergy of Ireland as a whole, should be issuing a firm dictat that unless you are a believing Christian of the Roman Catholic education, practice and lifestyle, you can have your grieving relatives take your mortal remains somewhere other than the local Catholic Church.
Because if you are not, you, and those who have taken charge of your funeral, are mocking everything that the Church stands for. You and your grieving relatives may not care a damn about mocking all that the Church stands for, but the clergy sure as hell are supposed to.
Personal eulogies are not part of the funeral rite as laid down by Church law, and can be verbal and emotional embarrassments. But sometimes the sermons delivered by clergy are meandering verbal embarrassments as well. Clergy frequently are arrogant enough to think that, because they are indulging themselves in what they loosely consider the word of God, they shouldn't have to deliver it succinctly and articulately. That too can be an insult to what they claim to be serving.
Where Mass "offerings" are concerned at funerals, they have become offensive in their unsuitability. Gone are the days when the offerings were simply of water and wine to be transubstantiated in the central and most sacred rite of Roman Catholicism. Now we have sets of golf clubs, playing cards, footballs. Such items may be a sentimental memoir of a life lived well and piously, but they are nonetheless always vulgar, and sometimes blasphemous.
The clergy have every right to insist on the integrity of the Mass, and the dignity of the consecrated Church building. What they should not have the right to do, however, as the clergy in Monaghan have now decided, is to forbid the congregation at funerals to gather in the churchyard after the funeral Mass so that friends and acquaintances can express their sympathy to the bereaved family, though it can still happen at the removal or in the graveyard after the internment.
The only reason for this dictat would seem to be the convenience of the presiding priest, to let him get away for his dinner, one presumes. Well, the priests need to be reminded that their secular comforts should come a very far second behind expressions of sympathy on the death of a good, practising Christian.
And there we come to the final point. Regulations have recently been altered for the marriage service for those who do not profess a particular religion. They can now choose to marry in venues other than churches or registry offices, provided the marriage is conducted and recorded by a qualified registrar.
So why not the same for funeral services? The body can be buried or cremated in dignified privacy, and the loved one can then be commemorated in whatever way the mourners want, and in accordance with the wishes of the deceased. That way, if Dolly Parton is your idea of a suitable requiem, you can have her. If you sang Knees up Mother Brown when you got a few pints in during your lifetime, and want people to remember you that way, write it into your funeral service.
But please, don't be a hypocrite. Unless you are a believing, practising Catholic, accepting the Church's teachings on faith and the after-life, don't look for a Catholic funeral. And if you do accept those teachings, then accept the rulings of the Church on the sacred burial rites of the faith.
I think that's what the clergy in Co Monaghan are trying to say. At least, I hope that's what they're trying to say. I'd be more certain if they refused to accept for burial the bodies of those who proclaimed themselves atheists in life.


Fergal O'Neill said...

You obviously don't know Ms Emer O'Kelly, the author of this article. She is a vile, anti-Catholic news-reader turned self proclaimed guru who writes for one of our anti-Catholic newspapers.
Take all she says with a bit of salt. Oh on seconds thoughts what a waste of salt. Better to ignore her.
The move made in Co. Monaghan is very welcome indeed. Some of our funerals have decended into a right farce where some have used the Pulpit to bash the Church. They still demand the right to 'preach' about and 'canonise' the recently deceased whilst at the same time have total disregard and indeed show contempt for the Church.
Good riddance to bad rubbish and well done Monaghan!

Scelata said...

No, Mr. O'Neill, I never heard her name before.
Nonetheless, from what you say, it sounds as if the funeral practices she described had taken hold, before priests with better liturgical sense tried to put an end to them?
I am a church musician, and we get the same kind of nonsense here -- usually promoted by family who haven't darkened the door of a Catholic church in years, yet now want to play liturgist and tell everyone how the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass should be celebrated.

Thanks for stopping by.

(Save the Liturgy, Save the World)