Sunday, September 15, 2013


Follow the link below for a very good article on what Catholic funerals should be and what they are in some places, many places. Here are a few excerpts:

Funeral homilies that promise sainthood over the more likely need for purgatory may discourage the living from praying for the dead. They also force the poorly catechized and the uninitiated to choose between what little they know of heaven and what they fear most about hell. And often, as Sandy demonstrated, no matter how many times a loved one hears that the deceased is in heaven, it is understandable if they spend the rest of their lives secretly wondering otherwise.

Funeral liturgies should be what they are intended to be: powerful moments of transcendence that point us to questions that only faith in Jesus Christ can answer—questions about death and life, sin and salvation, humanity and God. The faithful, the lapsed, and the uninitiated should experience in ways proper to each the promises and mysteries of revelation.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “[t]he death of a member of the community…is an event that should lead beyond the perspectives of this world and should draw the faithful into the true perspective of faith in the risen Christ” (par 1687).

This leading us beyond is a means of catechesis and evangelization. But when funerals become events of liturgical showmanship or poor (if not heretical) catechesis—or when they center on the sentiments of the survivors rather than the salvation of the deceased—the Church cannot teach as she ought. Nor can she evangelize as she must.



John Nolan said...

The abandonment of the Roman Rite in the 1960s has led to the greatest Novus Ordo aberration - a complete volte-face on what Catholic funeral rites had meant from time immemorial. I have attended so-called Catholic funeral Masses (white vestments of course) where friends of the deceased came up in procession to tell us what a wonderful person he/she was. I have even heard "she is now an angel in heaven" which is complete tommyrot, and yet the priest (who ought to know better) sits there simpering through the whole thing. The funeral rites are seen primarily as "a ministry to the mourners".

This is heresy writ large, and I challenge Pater Ignotus to defend it. "The Vatican and the bishops don't object" will not cut the mustard, I'm afraid.

Gene said...

John, this "ministry to the mourners" nonsense is part and parcel of protestant seminary teaching. It is customary for the minister at a prot funeral to beatify the deceased in his sermon. I attended a funeral once with a rather outspoken friend of mine. The deceased was something of a successful rascal in life, and one of the mourners standing by the coffin remarked, "Well, his suffering is over." My friend replied, "How do you know he isn't suffering now?" I had to walk away biting my tongue to keep from laughing out loud.

Anonymous said...

"The Vatican and the bishops don't object"?

That's not a defense and it's certainly meaningless. The only time the Vatican or bishops remember that they even HAVE the faculties of discipline is when Traditionalists do something they object to.

Another tragedy of liturgical abuse at funeral Masses is that, outside of weddings, this is the one occasion most likely to be observed by non-Catholics. What kind of message does this send/

rcg said...

I could not agree more. I recall the Mass of a family member and wondering if she had died Catholic.

Pater Ignotus said...

John - I don't defend heresy it nor do I practice it liturgically.

While I, like Good Father McDonald, may make an appreciative reference to the deceased, there is no "eulogizing" in funeral masses where I am pastor.

Now, I do not agree that ministry to mourners should be absent from a funeral liturgy which runs from the vigil through the mass to the committal. Offering hope and consolation to the survivors is entirely appropriate.

Gene said...

Ignotus, re: "I do not defend heresy nor do I practice it liturgically."
Of course not. It is obvious that, to you, heresy needs no defense and experts do not need to practice. LOL!

John Nolan said...

Pater, I'm glad to hear it. I don't doubt that you regard the funeral rites as primarily the prayer of the whole Church for the soul of the deceased and the souls of all the faithful departed.

One of the most profound works of the 19th century (and one of my favourite pieces of music) is the 'Deutsches Requiem' of Johannes Brahms. The composer was not particularly religious, but what remained of his Christian belief was essentially Protestant. From the opening words "Selig sind, die da Leid tragen" through "Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit, aber ich will euch wieder sehen" to the final "Ja, der Geist spricht, dass sie ruhen von ihrer Arbeit; denn ihre Werke folgen ihnen nach", we have wonderful words from Scripture, but the sense is not Catholic. Protestants rejected at an early stage the doctrine of Purgatory and the efficacy of praying for the dead.

Given the bewildering variety of options available for funeral liturgies in the Novus Ordo, do you not regard it as at least possible that the Catholic belief can be downplayed and the Protestant position legitimized?

Pater Ignotus said...

John - I don't find the number of options for the celebration of any liturgy "bewildering."

For the Introductory Rite Greeting at the Vigil for the Deceased there are four; for the Opening Prayer, two; for the Introduction to the Lord's Prayer, three are given, but " similar words" the minister may invite the people to pray the Lord's prayer.

At Funerals for Adults there are 7 suggested readings from the OT, 19 choices for the NT, 10 for the Psalm Response, 11 for the Alleluia Verses before the Gospel, and 19 Gospel choices.

I don't find that having options tends to encourage a legitimizing of a Protestant position regarding the function of a funeral.

I understand that the Funeral Rites, which express the prayer of the whole Church, are intended for more than praying for the soul of the deceased and all the faithful departed. We intercede for the departed, yes, but we also minister to the sorrowing, offer praise and thanksgiving to God for the gift of life, express the union of the Church on earth with the Church in heaven, etc.

John Nolan said...

Thanks for that, Pater, and I am in general agreement with what you say. Before Trent the chants for the Missa pro Defunctis were not standardized and some of these can be used with the Ordinary Form. The 1974 Graduale gives 7 options for the Introit, 6 for the Gradual, 5 for the Alleluia verse, 4 for the Tract, 7 for the Offertory, and no fewer than 10 for the Communion (and there are more for Paschaltide). This seems to me to be a bit excessive.

I have sung at many EF Requiems in the last few years, but I have also been to OF funeral Masses which seem to be worlds removed from the Catholic ethos. This is obviously a problem, and bishops, who normally take an 'anything goes' attitude to liturgy, have had to issue stricter guidelines when it comes to funerals. So it isn't just traddy paranoia.

Pater Ignotus said...

John - How would you describe this "Catholic ethos"?

John Nolan said...

Pater, the original article describes it well enough. It is salutary, however, to look at the rites surrounding death in pre-Reformation England, which was probably the most devout country in Catholic Europe. A sick person in imminent danger of death would receive Extreme Unction, "shrift and housel", i.e. Confession and Viaticum followed by the "Last Rites". A lighted candle would be placed in the dying person's hand and the Ordo Commendationis animae, consisting of prayers, Litanies and Scripture readings would be said (or sung). The first prayer, beginning "Proficiscere, anima Christiana, de hoc mundo" is the best known of these, as it is quoted at the beginning of Elgar's 'Dream of Gerontius'.

At the point of death, "In manus tuas, Domine" was commenced, and when it was clear that the soul had departed the body, the "Subvenite" was said or sung. The exsequies themselves would consist of "Placebo, Dirige and Requiem", i.e. Vespers, Matins and Mass (taken from the opening words of each) and even poor people would make provision for all three, plus Masses afterwards, if possible thirty (a trental). The Reformation swept all of this away. One can barely imagine the anguish this must have caused.

The rites take up over a hundred pages of the Rituale Romanum (Sarum would have been slightly, though not very different, and the publication of the Tridentine Rituale in 1614 explicitly did not suppress local usages).

This is the Catholic ethos. I don't know what the post-V2 ritual is, and quite frankly I don't care - it's not going to be used over my dead body!

Pater Igtnotus said...

John - Today I doubt if a "candle in the hand" would be acceptable in most hospitals (or homes) where oxygen is frequently in use, especially for those who are seriously ill - in danger of death.

As illness progresses or death threatens, the person is given communion/Viaticum and is anointed.
If death is imminent, the Prayers for the Commendation of the Dying which includes reading Scripture, the Litany of the Saints, and a final Prayer of Commendation are offered. The option to pray the Hail Holy Queen is also given.

After death, various "Prayers After Death" are offered. It's all in the ritual book.

Almost every mass I celebrate has an intention attached. the great majority of these are for a deceased person.

This "ethos" does not sound very different from the "Pre-Reformation" scenario which you describe.

John Nolan said...

True, the candle in the hand is very much a Sarum custom and is not in the Roman Ritual. Nowadays people tend to die in hospitals, linked up to various monitors and tubes, and often sedated as food and water are denied in order to hasten the process.

Death could be a very much messier business in the past; unbearable stench as gangrene set in and organs failed, and with little in the way of palliative care.

I suspect, however, that the modern squeamishness concerning death is carried over into a squeamishness concerning what happens to the soul after death. The the idea of a funeral with joyful hymns and white vestments
(appropriate for a baptized child who has died before attaining the age of reason) is presumptuous and inappropriate for the rest of us. Yet it is now commonplace. What is the precedent for it, and how do you defend it?

Marc said...

If one reads the texts of the former prayers over the dying, one recognizes a tremendous rupture in Catholic ethos, in my opinion. I am referencing the individual anointing of various body parts. Also, the allowance for cremation evidences a change in Catholic ethos to the extreme.

I'll let John correct me if these opinions are false or unsupported by the texts...

Pater Ignotus said...

Marc - The acceptance of cremation by the Church is a realization that not every act of cremation is a assertion of disbelief in the resurrection of the body. That was, as I understand it, the basis for opposing cremation. This was a prudent and, I think, helpful step by the Church.

In any case, cremation is really nothing more than the process of decomposition accelerated by the addition of heat.

John - Not every change in liturgical practice must have a "precedent." I suspect there was no liturgical or theological precedent for the use of Latin or for the use of a maniple. These were cultural practices that were incorporated into the liturgy.

Certain changes come by way of Motu Proprio - changes that are made on the personal initiative of a pope. There may be very good reasons why a pope would encourage or discourage, require or forbid some part of a liturgical rite, but they doesn't have to come with an historical precedent.

John Nolan said...

It is the objective and relatively unchanging nature of ritual that helps us come to terms with death. The memorial cards nearly always had the words "fortified by the rites of Holy Church", and the Church had a set ritual which covered everything and everybody. It was not a bespoke affair tailored to the individual or his/her relatives, where sensibilities have to be taken into account, personal choices indulged from a myriad of proferred options, the attitudes of lapsed or non-Catholics who may be present catered for, and so on. The General Introduction to the Order of Christian Funerals (1988) has much to say about the "planning" of the rites.

Now a funeral certainly requires planning, but in the old days this planning did not extend to the rites themselves; they were simply there. This DIY approach to liturgy, which doesn't just apply to funerals, is to my mind the single most poisonous fruit of the post-V2 liturgical 'reform'.

Pater Igtnotus said...

John - My experience of funeral planning with families has been positive. This happens in two ways:

1. At an annual "Planning for Death" seminar I encourage people to look to the practicalities of death - wills, Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, pre-paying for burial, etc. Many who attend do follow through and have these things attended to long before the time of their demise.

2. At the time of a death, meeting with families to make choices for the rites offers me an opportunity to comfort and console them, to offer, gently, some catechesis regarding the Catholic way of burying, and to meet family members who may have not been in Church since the last family death.

Far from being a "poisonous" development, this kind of planning by family members, with my guidance, has been almost 100% helpful to me and, I hope, to them.