Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church


The Catholic Rite of Christian Funerals

August 11th, 2015, Promulgated by Ludwig

Last month, an incident at a funeral mass at St. Mark’s in Greece drew quite a bit of attention from the local media. At that time, I reached out to a handful of other Cleansing Fire writers to see if anyone planned to address the matter. We concluded that, due to the sensitive nature of the incident, and our imperfect knowledge of what transpired, it would be best to not touch upon the matter.

With that said, it’s worth reading the words of Reverend Paul English, Pastor of St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish in Irondequoit. Published in last Sunday’s bulletin (pdf), Father English provides a fair, loving but strong explanation of why something like this occurs, and how we ought to understand (and hopefully share) the beauty of the Catholic Rite of Christian Funerals. (Emphasis is in the original.)

An incident occurred during a recent Catholic funeral in our diocese, reported in local media and on the Internet. Given the sensitivity of an incident like this, it may be impossible ever to learn the complete set of facts. This unfortunately, does not stop people from drawing their own conclusions and leveling harsh criticisms. As followers of Jesus Christ, we would do well to consider, in all humility, that we don’t have all the facts, and thus reserve judgement, harsh or otherwise.

This does, however, provide an opportunity to learn about the way our Church worships the Lord in the particularly fragile moment of the death of a loved one. Often it is the lack of knowledge of the Roman Catholic rites (our “way of doing things”) that leads to misunderstandings and expectations that are impossible to meet.

There may have been a time when everyone had a strong familiarity with the Catholic funeral rites, allowing realistic expectations on the part of bereaved families and loved ones. Today, people’s understanding of a “funeral” comes more from movies, television shows and services for celebrities, often with little or no reference to faith, Catholic or otherwise. It’s usually one event, then the burial, so what you don’t say at the funeral, you’ll never get a chance to say. It’s understandable, then, that grieving people might come to a parish expecting things that are actually not part of our way of worshiping. This must be handle with care, sometimes simply allowing for a brief statement, since the moment of grief is the hardest time to try to explain the depth and beautify of the Catholic Rite of Christian Funerals. That’s why I’m taking this opportunity now.

The pastoral care given at the end of a person’s life begins with prayer for healing while the person is still alive (the Anointing of the Sick). At the time of death, the rite provides for Prayers At The Moment of Death. Relatives and loved ones gather later for the Gathering in the Presence of the Body, where further prayer is offered. At the funeral home, a Vigil Service can be celebrated. Later a Funeral Mass is celebrated. There’s a procession to the cemetery and a Rite of Committal. That is five separate moments after one’s death for gathering and prayer. At the Gathering in the Presence of the Body, the Vigil and the Committal in particular, it is very appropriate for those who knew the deceased to say a good word about them for others to hear. This “eulogy” (usually the substance of non-Catholic funerals) is not actually part of the Order of Christian Funerals during the Mass, particularly since we have several other opportunities to do this.

We need to develop a fuller understanding of the pastoral care that is available to us as Catholics, of the multiple opportunities there are for sharing memories, and of the time for respectful solemn prayer according to the ancient practice of Catholics throughout the centuries. I hope this helps.

Fr. Paul F. English, CSB, Pastor

Please remember to pray for the repose of the soul of Mary Deuschle, as well as for Christ’s peace for her family, with special blessings for her two sons.


24 Responses to “The Catholic Rite of Christian Funerals”

  1. avatar Bernie says:

    This is a good instruction that Father English provides his parishioners. Simply put, we don’t do eulogies at Catholic funeral Masses but there are other times in the Catholic grieving process where eulogies can be offered.

    The question is probably in the minds of many, however, as to why we don’t do eulogies at Catholic funerals. What is it about Catholic funerals that makes a eulogy inappropriate?

  2. avatar ROBERT says:

    There is a provision provided at the end of a funeral Mass to give comments about the deceased. If you saw the funeral of Boo Biden, this is the appropriate time. Evidently, the family here was grief stricken and wanted to do it before the Gospel? At least, the reports appear to say this. Nice thought about “pastoral care” by the Basilain pastor, but this is usually done well in advace of death and not at a funeral. This death did not provide for this. All is very unfortunate and further unfortunate that the pastor involved was director of the “Marriage Tribunal” and should not have caused a scene and enough to make the local papers. Compassion is a wonderful word, but the pastor here seems to be a little arrogant!

  3. avatar Richard Thomas says:

    Unfortunately, people hav been conditioned by bad habits and bad clergy who allowed the eulozation of the deceased during mass. When a priest then forbids it, the grievingfamily becomes hurt and insulted. This happened in Utica recently and one of the members of the family wrote a scathing letter to the local newspaper condemning the Church.

  4. avatar Hopefull says:

    I am not impressed with Father English’s rationale. Even if there are 5 separate grieving opportunities, it doesn’t mean all the grievers will be gathered together at those times, especially with calling hours sometimes going on over two days. There has been a lot of “tightening up” in recent years and people may well remember practices from not all that long ago. The family of the deceased ought to be given instructions in writing as one can’t expect grievers to remember all they are told at times such as this.

    The other problem is that there are different classes of funerals. First-Class-rule-breaking funeral apply to people like Senator Ted Kennedy, with the open question if some one so pro-abortion should even have been allowed to have a Catholic funeral. Then, same issue, there was the funeral in NYC for Mario Cuomo with the current governor speaking his so-called political eulogy for 45 minutes at the Mass. And then there are priests’ funerals and those for big financial donors where the eulogy and homily are indistinguishable. At the other end of the spectrum from the First Class Funeral with its custom-designed-do-what-you-want funeral, is the Tourist-class-stick-to-the-rules funeral or else you’ll be punished.

    Even if the presider did adequately communicate the rules, and even if a few family members deliberately disobeyed, does the “punishment” of withholding a Funeral Mass from the deceased equal the offense? What about denying the Holy Mass and Communion to over 200 people who were not part of the problem? Using the Eucharist as a weapon should be beneath the dignity of any priest. Thank God for Bp. Matano’s pastoral care; but those who so glibly talk mercy should also be taught mercy, especially keeping their own egos out of the situation.

  5. avatar annonymouse says:

    Hopefull: “Given the sensitivity of an incident like this, it may be impossible ever to learn the complete set of facts. This unfortunately, does not stop people from drawing their own conclusions and leveling harsh criticisms.”

    I don’t know the facts. I wasn’t there. It is not fair for me to even have an opinion about what happened at St. Mark and whether it was appropriate or inappropriate. And I suspect this is the case with nearly every one of us.

  6. avatar Scott W. says:

    Last month, an incident at a funeral mass at St. Mark’s in Greece drew quite a bit of attention from the local media

    Which makes me want to ask who went to the press and why.

  7. avatar Ludwig says:

    Which makes me want to ask who went to the press and why.

    It’s not at all a secret: the family talked to the press. They were open about it.

    The reason is obvious. They felt scandalized.

    What grieving parent goes to their child’s funeral mass hoping a scene will be caused in order that they can bring in the local news?


    I don’t for a second believe it was anything nefarious, and I recoil at the suggestion.

  8. avatar Scott W. says:

    I don’t for a second believe it was anything nefarious, and I recoil at the suggestion.

    I’m not suggesting anything nefarious either. Rather, that when we get these “we don’t have all the facts” stories, rather than moralizing with hedging, we should start asking those classic questions for more detail. Who? What? How? Why? etc. As far as I can tell, one side and only one side of this story has been told.

  9. avatar Hopefull says:

    That we “don’t have all the facts” is a good way to silence people who have an opinion about anything, including almost anyone who comments on any blog. I don’t have “all the facts” re Cuomo or Kennedy either, but I do have an opinion that the Church should not permit varying levels of funeral liberties depending on WHO is being memorialized. And that there turned out to be no Mass and no Communion seems pretty well publicized for the case mentioned. As far as I know, not a single person has said that there WAS a Mass or Communion, which clearly grieving parties had expected. The whole situation is shameful.

  10. avatar Scott W. says:

    That we “don’t have all the facts” is a good way to silence people who have an opinion about anything, including almost anyone who comments on any blog.

    It wasn’t my intent to suggest something nefarious OR to silence people, and since it appears I’m having trouble communicating effectively on this, I’ll stop digging before I reach China. 🙂

  11. avatar Bernie says:

    Going forward: The reason –the REASON– we don’t do eulogies needs to be stressed! The PURPOSE of the funeral Mass needs to be carefully explained to parishioners and certainly to family planning a funeral. It perhaps should be printed on the back page of any Order of Service handout at the funeral Mass.

    “…the purpose of the funeral Mass is not to celebrate the life of the deceased but to offer worship to God for Christ’s victory over death, to comfort the mourners with prayers, and to pray for the soul of the deceased.” –from the “Catholic Answers” site.

    “Protestants do not pray for their dead, Catholics do. Our Catholic funeral Mass IS a prayer for that dead person to HELP THEM- not us. The Catholic funeral is about the dead, while a protestant funeral is about the living left behind. I know this, because for most of my life I was a protestant and have buried many protestant friends and relatives. The ‘funerals’ or ‘memorial services’ (depending on which denomination is holding the ceremony) are based on people gathering to share and celebrate the life of the dead person…

    “I think the issue people are having is they attend a Protestant funeral and see people talking, celebrating the dead persons life with laughter and tears and WRONGLY ASSUME that this is what a Catholic funeral is about- it’s not. Not at all. –from Connecticut Catholic Corner blog

  12. avatar annonymouse says:

    Hopefull – you do not know what the priest told the family that they may or may not do, but I think it’s fair to assume that the family egregiously violated the priest’s instructions. Perhaps he said “no eulogy.” Perhaps it was the second, or third or fourth person to come forward to eulogize that finally tipped the scales and caused the priest to put an end to it, I don’t know. What I do know is that priests are people with emotions, that they sometimes get angry and lose their cool, and that many, many people in and out of the Church view the Church as there only to serve their whims, with the mindset of a consumer. You are implying that the blame lies at the feet of the priest. I’m not so quick to judge, since I simply do not know the facts.

    But I applaud Father English for attempting to educate his flock about what they can and cannot expect of the parish with regards to funeral liturgies. This is especially important since, as you point out, famous people have funeral liturgies that violate the rubrics (i.e. Cuomo, Kennedy) with one or more “eulogies.”

  13. avatar annonymouse says:

    This is also quite consistent with what Bernie wrote:

    All this said, in my experience it appears that many parishes allow for one brief eulogy, usually at the very beginning of the funeral liturgy.

  14. avatar Hopefull says:

    WOW– being offline for a few hours and I miss all the input.

    First — Scott — I was not reacting to what you wrote, but to what Fr. E had written; “Given the sensitivity of an incident like this, it may be impossible ever to learn the complete set of facts. This unfortunately, does not stop people from drawing their own conclusions and leveling harsh criticisms.” I would suggest completing his sentence “nor does it stop people from defending what well might be indefensible.”

    Bernie — great suggestion for the program at a funeral; very important distinction to be kept in mind. Thanks!

    Annonymouse — I’m not sure how you can at the same time say you don’t know what happened and at the same time state that you know what I don’t know….strange. Ultimately, whatever happened, the pastor is the shepherd of souls. He is the one responsible not for what others did but for how he reacted to it. That it ever got this out of hand is mostly the responsibility of the pastor, not of the sheep who don’t know any better. One doesn’t have to know every minute detail to get that point. It is hard to imagine that there weren’t any other possibilities to solve short of cancelling a Funeral Mass!

    Also, I don’t personally think Bp. Matano would have jumped in if he thought the priest was capable of managing the situation for the good of souls. Yes, that is my opinion. He stepped up to be the one ultimately responsible because the priest was not able to handle it.

    I can imagine that not wanting to criticize the priest is part of the reason Cleansing Fire had not wanted to get involved, as Ludwig indicated.

  15. avatar Bernie says:

    Father Hart over at Saint Thomas More/Our Lady Queen of Peace has a good commentary on Catholic funerals that includes a statement as to the reason why we don’t do eulogies at funeral Masses.

  16. avatar ROBERT says:

    Good for you Joe Hart! I’d like to see what you are going to do at the funeral of Bishop Clark. You’d probably give one at the end of the funeral Mass! Thanks for your “solid” advice.

  17. avatar emmagrays says:

    When my mother-in-law passed away, now some 15 years ago, we were instructed as to what was and what was not permitted during her funeral Mass. The funeral director solved the problem of the eulogies for us by suggesting that we take a few minutes after the prayers at the funeral home prior transferring her to the church for Mass for anyone who wished to share their thoughts. It took no more than 10 minutes for this simple gesture and the memories shared about her many kindnesses and positive outlook on life have lasted all these years.

  18. avatar JLo says:

    Like so much else that has been dragged into our Catholic rites (like holding hands and popular music), speeches at Catholic funerals are now commonplace. That doesn’t make them right, just commonplace. We who plan funerals must take a hand and do the right thing, not the trendy. I don’t remember the last time I attended a funeral that DIDN’T have one, and I’m of an age to be sending lots of people off on that final journey.

    I join with those who think that’s just another sad thing in the Church today, too many Catholics not knowing what the praying of the Mass is and not being schooled by their priest as they plan funerals. I join with the voices who give a high-five to Fr. English for his letter to his parishioners. A rare thing is a pastor trying to TEACH his parishioners: not much of that going around…. or have I missed all the sermons on the SCOTUS “marriage” decision and the latest Planned Parenthood scandal? Not even mentioned at daily Masses.

    Have you not noticed that people’s obits don’t ask for Masses, but rather suggest that you make a donation in the deceased’s name to Lolly Pop Farm or some such place? Everyone, it seems, is already in heaven and in no need of prayers, not even the greatest prayer, Holy Mass.

    I’m grateful for this discussion and for the quiet voices, and even that one shrill one, I guess. Would that we all didn’t have axes to grind in every matter but could rather discuss because we want to raise up the truth; and the truth for Catholics is that we all need prayers, before and after death! Few leave this world so purified that they are fully ready to behold Divinity. Eulogies are a problem, but there’s lots more missing in our send-offs these days.


  19. avatar JLo says:

    Meant to mention to emmagrays: that’s a good idea your funeral director employed at your mother-in-law’s funeral, but the problem is that only the family seems to gather at the funeral home prior to the morning’s funeral Mass… everyone else is usually asked to be at the church awaiting them. At least that’s my experience over the past 10 years or so. +JMJ

  20. avatar ROBERT says:

    PLEASE put an end to all of our opinions.
    If one would go to the General Instructions of the Roman Missal – Order of Christian Funerals and READ it,a eulogy is NOT permitted during the funeral Mass. It appears and according to custom is given after the Mass and prior to the the committal rite.
    The Church has given much thought to this and this is probably why our Bishop made a personal call to the family. Give that some thought after your read the “rubics”.
    [I assume that the EWTN library has the information readily available.] PAX

  21. avatar JLo says:

    Amen to that, Robert, and I believe that is the frustration most of us are trying to express… that the rubrics apparently are not not known by the faithful, and to object to the times priests do try to instruct is not helpful. +JMJ

  22. avatar y2kscotty says:

    Having attended several funerals recently, I can say with confidence that Catholics know how “to do” funerals. Regarding the controversy, there was no journalistic report of the incident. It made the newspaper in a column by Dave Andreatta, who has a personal issue with the Catholic Church and proceeded to take the complaint by a certain spokesman for the family and use it as a slam against the Church. That’s why we don’t have the facts. The Democrat and Chronicle newspaper should assign an actual reporter to cover this controversy in an objective way, instead of letting Andreatta have the last word.
    In the Catholic funeral ritual, one part often stands out for me: the incensing of the deceased’s body, which shows great respect for the human body and the person who once inhabited that body. And at some funerals the priest has given a brief explanation as to why we use incense.

    In conclusion, I, for one, thought that Father English’s explanation was excellent. He deserves kudos for addressing this matter. I don’t know of any other pastor who has done this.

  23. avatar Scott W. says:

    Thanks for the background, y2kscotty. Earlier, I was trying to fairly and simultaneously hold that the family might have a legitimate beef and smell rotten fish in the media coverage.

  24. avatar emmagrays says:

    To JLo:
    You are correct in that it is usually only the family at the funeral home prior to Mass, but we tried to make sure that everyone who might come to her funeral Mass knew what was coming beforehand. We were amazed that nearly all her friends and neighbors, in addition to our fairly large family, were at the funeral home first.

Leave a Reply

Log in | Register

You must be logged in to post a comment.

-Return to main page-