There's to be no fun at funerals

Jul 16th, 2008 | By | Category: Ministry

It can’t be often that a report from the Irish Independent is posted on the official Richard Dawkins’ website, but yesterday John Cooney’s report was worthy of note.

Fury at funeral songs ban

A NEW row has erupted over Catholic Church rules for funerals.
It flared up after jazz musician Paddy Cole revealed yesterday that he was not allowed to play at his mother’s funeral Mass.

The flames had earlier been fanned when priests in Castleblayney, Co Monaghan circulated a leaflet at the weekend setting out the rules for funeral Mass from the Bishop of Clogher, Joseph Duffy.
The leaflet states that specially composed poems and favourite songs are in breach of the diocesan regulations.

And even the traditional practice of mourners lining up to shake hands with bereaved families in church is banned during Requeim Mass, although it is still permitted during the removal ceremony.

Mr Cole’s comments sparked a rash of calls to a radio show from bereaved families who had been banned from playing “goodbye songs” or giving funeral eulogies.  The jazz star, who comes from the area, said he had played at funerals of friends in Dublin and other parts of the country but had been banned from performing a musical tribute at his mother’s funeral.

Listeners then called RTE’s ‘Liveline’ to vent their anger that they were not allowed to recite their memories of loved ones from the altar.

Meanwhile, a survey carried out yesterday by the Irish Independent found there was no specific set of rules applied by all of Ireland’s 26 dioceses.  The Bishops Media Office in Maynooth did not have a rundown of the practices followed in each diocese — and instead referred enquiries to a little-known document issued in November 2003 by the National Institute for Liturgy. Titled ‘Celebrating a Catholic Funeral’, it stipulates that the text of the Roman Missal should be used at funerals and that the readings are taken from the sacred scriptures. “However, some poems are better kept to the less formal stages of the funeral rites, either in the home or at the graveside,” the document says.

The document lays down that the homily is to be given by the priest but should be prepared in consultation with the family of the deceased. But it states there should be occasions when a member of the family may speak to the mourners.  “Only one family member should speak. It should be undertaken with the agreement of the celebrant and the prepared text should be discussed with the celebrant at a suitable time before the morning of the funeral. A separate microphone should be used, rather than the ambo, which is reserved for the Word of God.”

The first rumblings in this funeral controversy go back to 2000 when the Archbishop of Armagh, Sean Brady, deplored “over the top” eulogies “going on for ever” as “unnecessary duplication” of the more formal aspects of the Catholic rite.  Fr Paddy Jones, of the Liturgical Centre, said that he did not know the specific cases involved, but knew a similar stance was taken by the Bishop of Meath, Michael Smith.

Yesterday, one Co Monaghan undertaker said : “This ruling has caused quite a stir”, but nobody wanted to appear disrespectful to the clergy. He added that the playing of a favoured piece of music at the end of the funeral was a “long-standing tradition” which was now being “knocked on the head”.

Would just a little flexibility on the part of the church be too much to ask?

Why must there always be Holy Communion at funerals when many present are non-believers or are not Roman Catholic?

Would it offend sensibilities as much if the odd piece of poetry or the odd song was included in a less formal liturgy? And why is there so often the assumption on the part of the priest that everyone is at a stage in their spiritual journey similar to his own and there needs to be nothing printed and nothing explained?

Being a Protestant, who is barely baptised let alone ordained, I wouldn’t have much that was valid to say on the matter, but I wonder sometimes as to how small the church can make God.

I buried an uncle in England back in May. The vicar was a warm and friendly man but one was left in no doubt as to his evangelical convictions, yet he found space to allow Fields of Gold to be played during the service and to allow us to go out to the unmistakable sound of The Proclaimers singing I would walk five hundred miles. They would probably not have been the vicar’s first choice, but his vision of God was large enough to take in life outside of narrow liturgical things.

If God is not a God who approves of fun and laughter, if he is a God who is only interested in formal liturgy, if he is a God who is only present through the recitation of particular sets of words, then I don’t think he is God at all.

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  1. They would probably not have been the vicar’s first choice, but his vision of God was large enough to take in life outside of narrow liturgical things.

    If God is not a God who approves of fun and laughter, if he is a God who is only interested in formal liturgy, if he is a God who is only present through the recitation of particular sets of words, then I don’t think he is God at all.

    Some interesting and refreshing remarks there Ian.

    I can never understand why the Catholic Church seems to put more of its faith in doctrine, tradition, and institutionalisation of religion, than in the core message of “love one another as I have loved you”. I know so many lapsed Catholics out there who feel so alienated these days from their church. I may not share their beliefs, but I still feel quite sorry for them.

    Anyway, when I go out, it had better be with laughs and good music!

  2. No wonder we’re considered rebels by the Vatican. This would not be tolerated here (except maybe in St Mary’s Cathedral where George Pell holds Mass . . .we have as many eulogies by whomever we like and apart from playing death metal or something entirely inappropriate music is dictated by the family. Yet another example of the Church being totally out of step with reality. (Even the first Mass for World Youth day had young rockers doing their thing!)

  3. I heard an interesting quote – The occasion of a funeral has moved from “A rite performed by mourners to reinforce religion” to “The right of mourners to be comforted by a religious leader”. The National Funeral Directors Association in USA recently released a revealing statistic – in 2007, for the first time, more than 50% of funerals are held in a non-religious setting (eg the funeral directors premises). So what’s it all about? The religion, or the individual that died? Assuming God has welcomed the deceased, what’s God (ie the men who claim to repreent him) doing for those who remain here in grief? Just a thought.

  4. Ian

    When I’m gone, I want everyone to sing and dance on the streets in celebration of life.

    And, as at the funeral of Jonathan Philbin Bowman, I’d like people to dance out of the church service to…

    “Always look on the bright side of life”
    de dum, de dum, de dum, de dum. de dum!

    And, I would be hugely honoured to have someone with an outlook like yours, to be master of ceremonies! 😀

  5. I think part of the problem in Ireland arises from the shortage of priests, meaning that funerals are generally held at the usual weekday Mass, which is for the daily devout of the parish as well as for the funeral party. There are alternative ways of doing things, but the Irish church is so conservative. It will not allow a permanent diaconate which would allow many married men to exercise an active ministry.

  6. There is a wider issue where the RCC in Ireland has been basically been able to get away with being its reactionary self because of a more widespread fear by much of the laity of “letting the side down”.

    Personally, I would have become Anglican years ago except for the utter incomprehension and pain it would cause my elderly parents. Fifth Commandment for Irish Catholics trumps all others.

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