Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Eulogies and Panegyrics

I noted, a few posts ago, the passing of Bernadin Cardinal Gantin. On Thursday, I must celebrate the funeral of an old friend, perhaps the last person I shall know with memories of pre-revolutionary Russia (there can't be many left), and the parish priest of her parish (very correctly) reminded me of the Church's forbidding of eulogies at a funeral.
This is often a difficult one: my reading of the law is that a eulogy must not replace the homily of the Mass (on the Christian understanding of death &c), but this need not preclude some account of the deceased person being given outside the Mass, which is to say, before the commendation, in addition to a homily after the Gospel. One remembers that at a Requiem in the Extraordinary Form, the address (traditionally a panegyric) is given at the end of Mass.
I was very interested to see on the Whispers in the Loggia site that the Holy Father had given a very explicit eulogy/panegyric at the funeral of Cardinal Gantin, and at the end of the Mass. What I don't know was whether there had been a homily also.
The forbidding of a panegyric by the priest is a good idea, for all sorts of reasons, but at the same time one cannot help feel that it helps the mourners to have their loved one's life directly addressed in some way, and very often this does come best from somebody who knew him or her in life. I'm relieved that the Holy Father thinks so too.


FrB said...

Since the Holy Father delivered this at the end of the Funeral Mass, I strongly suspect that there was a homily after the Gospel as well.

Personally, I don't think that a homily at a funeral need necessarily exclude reference to the deceased. After all, you are preaching the Gospel to people who are gathered together precisely because of their affection for and relationship to the deceased. Consequently, one should address the particular situation and the life of the deceased.

How does this not become a eulogy? Well, I see my role as preacher at a funeral to help people make sense of the scriptures in the light of their experience of this particular loss and to make sense of their loss by drawing explicitly and directly on what the scriptures (and by extension, the doctrine of the Church) has to say about death.

Consequently, if there is something good to be said about the deceased, then I think it's right to say it. However, I also believe that it's equally necessary to say that such goodness is a sign of God's grace, and that our prayer for the deceased is that this grace is flowering into eternal life.
I also remind people that we all run the risk of finishing life with 'unfinished business' - and that's why it's so important to pray for the soul of the faithful departed.

I detest when funerals are turned into canonisations. However, as long as we speak of the deceased with sober hope, and in the context of a homily that explains the scriptures and the Christian understanding of death, then I think we're doing our job properly.

Fr William Young said...

The present funeral rites make provision for a relation of family friend to speak of the deceased. This is good in theory, as you say, but it can lead to the most appalling liberties being taken. I remember on one occasion being present at the funeral of a person who had been murdered. The relative spoke at length, and ended with a heart-felt plea for the return of the death penalty! Cautioned by this and other horrors (not all of them perpetrated by lay people!) I ask to see beforehand what will be read out, but some people depart from their text. The address, coming after Communion, is often, indeed usually, destructive of the prayerfulness which the funeral Mass can and should build up. So what I do now is to discourage lay people speaking at all. If they insist for good reasons, then I ask them to speak before the Mass begins. This enables me to regain the initiative, as it were, so that I can counter any nonsense and reinforce anything which was helpful. Even this does not prevent gross liberties being taken, for instance, when a family member speaks for over half an hour, despite being asked to be brief and to the point! It has to be said that the "new" funeral rites do encourage abuses like this. Priests are often in the position of either seeming harsh by saying "no", or having to compromise, and so driving down even further general expectations of what a funeral is. Is it just that we have all forgotten how to behave in church? The older ways have much to teach us, even if we do not simply abandon the new,(which would no longer be understood anyway in ordinary parishes like mine). We need to rediscover Christian funeral tradition and assert it with authority. If people really do want a show, complete with compere and gimmicks, then let them hire a secular hall and get on with it without abusing the Church. If the Faithful want a funeral Mass, let's provide them with the proper thing and make sure it has dignity and restraint.

PeterHWright said...

I couldn't agree more with the comment by Fr. William Young.

It seems to me, a layman, that there is a very great difference between on the one hand the Requiem Mass celebrated for the soul of the deceased, and on the other the social gathering of family and friends at a secular venue when people can talk all they want to.

Why try to conflate the two ?