Funerals for prayer not eulogies: Pell

Warning that some Catholic funerals are in danger of losing their essential nature and becoming mere settings for eulogies, Sydney Cardinal Pell has issued new guidelines that aim to preempt inappropriate or awkward moments.

According to the Cardinal, the changes aim to uphold the principle that the funeral Mass is an act of worship and prayer, the Catholic Weekly reports.

Cardinal Pell said that these days some Catholic funerals were unfortunately losing their essential nature and becoming settings for a series of eulogies.

"It is not appropriate to admit elements foreign to its intrinsic nature," he said.

"Some dioceses, in all of Ireland and much of the US, for example, forbid any words by the laity at the funeral Mass, while others have no guidelines at all, with negative results. The Sydney guidelines, however, avoid extremes."

The guidelines specify that a eulogy should not replace the brief homily by the priest based on the readings at that point in the Mass.

The proper time specified for a lay person to speak at a funeral service (or Vigil) is after the concluding prayer, before the Blessing and Dismissal; if at a Funeral Mass, after the prayer after Communion; or at an ordinary Mass, after the Lord's Prayer; and at the Committal service (at the graveside or crematorium), after the Prayer of Committal, before the intercessions.

The guidelines also specify that only one person should speak at the Funeral Mass or liturgy, although others may at the Vigil or Committal services. They were also the appropriate times for playing favourite secular tunes or showing slides or photos of the deceased.

For lay speakers the guidelines say that the reflection should be brief - no more than three-to-five minutes (about one typed page). It should be prepared beforehand, rehearsed and ideally shown to the priest or presiding minister beforehand.

Priests should suggest that storytelling, anecdotes, poems and songs, for instance, can form part of the Vigil or Committal services or would be better used in a domestic situation.

The guidelines include clear reasons for their observance, such as to avoid inappropriate remarks about the deceased proclivities (drinking prowess, romantic conquests, etc) which could embarrassing the family, the priest and the congregation.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Pell has commended a new initiative by the Sydney archdiocese's Liturgical Commission to support Christians in the Holy Land.

The Cardinal says in his letter yesterday that ongoing violence in that region has caused the number of pilgrims to dwindle, leaving many Palestinian Christians struggling to make ends meet.

The proceeds from the sale of olive wood crucifixes made by Palestinian artisans will be sent back to the Holy Land, the letter says.

Archdiocese guidelines for funeral Mass rites, wrongs (Catholic Weekly, 25/2/07)
Cardinal's Letter for the Holy Land Cross Project (Sydney Archdiocese, 21/2/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Sydney Archdiocesan Liturgical Commission

22 Feb 2007