The National Catholic Review
Terry Golway
Back in the day, when everybody was 12 years oldwell, that’s how it seemed to mewe had a colorful expression designed to convey our undiluted skepticism of a peer’s ill-considered and overly ambitious plans. O.K., we’d say, it’s your funeral. It was a handy way to distance ourselves from a friend’s rash behavior and a way for us to express our own clear thinking, precocious wisdom and, ultimately, our weary recognition that we were powerless to stop this bit of foolishness.

O.K., it’s your funeral. What a fine little phrase. I haven’t heard anyone use it recently, but I think it is time to restore it to its former glory. I commend the phrase, if not the attitudes it conveys, to parish priests and bishops who seem intent on controlling what happens, and what does not, at a funeral or memorial Mass.

In the middle of my middle age, I am becoming a connoisseur of funeral Masses, although not by choice. Like poor little Ralphie in the movie A Christmas Story, who became a connoisseur of soap after putting together several naughty words in the same sentence, my newfound expertise is not the result of happy circumstance. I am of an age when the parents of friends are dying at an alarming rate.

While I would not claim to be a regular funeral-goer, I have been to enough to appreciate a Mass that satisfies our need to mourn and to celebrate a life, and that addresses both our anxieties and our faith.

The best of them are uniquein their music, in their preaching, in their individuality. The worst of them are generic, musty and, if you’ll excuse the reference, lifeless.

A good priest can turn a generic funeral into a faith-filled celebration of an individual life. Rigid rules and stubbornness bordering on cruelty can turn a celebration into mere ritual.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a memorial service for an occasional writer for this magazine, James Davitt, who died at the age of 79 after an eventful life as a labor lawyer and tireless campaigner for social justice. More than 30 years ago, he publicly resigned as a member of the Waterfront Commission of New York Harborat a congressional hearing, no lessto protest continued mob influence on the docks. It was front page news in The New York Times. You may not be surprised to learn that in subsequent years, he was turned down for a series of government jobs for which he was immensely qualified.

His memorial service was a magnificent tribute to a life spent in service to family, truth and humanity. A priest he befriended in Brooklyn in the 1960’s left a sickbed to deliver a stirring homily/eulogy. The readings were well chosen, the music a combination of sacred and popular. The most moving moment, for me anyway, came after the final blessing. Suddenly, over the church’s sound system, we heard the voice of Sting, the British singer, accompanied by the Irish folk group, the Chieftains. Most of the words were in Gaelic, but even we non-Gaelic speakers could tell the song was about defiance and courage and life itself. The song ends with a brilliant combination of drums and bagpipes and Sting’s brilliant voice conveying words we didn’t know but emotions that brought a smile to our faces.

A friend afterward said, I don’t know what that song was about, but that sure was the way to end a funeral. The song’s title was Mo Ghile Mear, Gaelic for My Hero. Yes, that was the way to end a funeral.

Or was it? I have no doubt that some priests and bishops would have been horrified. Some dioceses have banned all such music from funerals, leading to controversy in New York when Danny Boy was removed from the list of approved funeral songs. Irish-Americans have since shown that they have not completely forgotten the art of subterfugemany funerals in New York now feature a song with religious references, but sung to the tune of Danny Boy.

Unless you don’t realize for whom the bell tolls, it is impossible to attend a funeral without thinking of your own. After witnessing and participating in Jim Davitt’s, several mourners said they would insist on something similar. One friend said he had a plan in writing, with musical selections and his choice for a eulogist. I’m going to show mine to my parish priest, one friend said. If he doesn’t like it, I’ll find another parish.

He might have to exercise that option. Another topic of funeral conversation was the ban on lay eulogies that several dioceses and parishes have put into place, formally and informally. Unfortunately, given our mobility these days, many of us do not have personal friendships with priests. The result, at a funeral, can be a cold and impersonal homily by the presider. Hence the eulogy delivered by a loved one.

Priests have plenty of horror stories about eulogists who were either too emotional to speak or who were too flip and irreverent about death and the deceased or who talked on and on and on. There is no question that establishing the right tone of familiarity and reverence, and doing so while controlling your emotions, is a delicate task. Priests and bishops are right to be concerned.

But the people in the pews have a right to be concerned, too. Instead of dealing with cold, unforgiving rules regulating music and eulogies, they would like to hear their priests and bishops say, O.K., it’s your funeral.

Because, after all, it is.

Terry Golway is a freelance writer based in Maplewood, N.J..

Comments

kevin davitt | 8/9/2007 - 9:16pm
It's the best column I ever read!
Richard A. Jacobs | 9/4/2006 - 2:10pm
The essay by Terry Golway, “It’s your Funeral” (6/5), caused a reaction among your readers that cuts several ways. Two troubling letters appeared, one from a diocesan bureaucrat and the other from a priest that gave no quarter to the mourners of the individual who died. They seemed to say it’s all about the church’s need to evangelize. One even used the occasion to decry the modern tendency toward Individualism. How sad.

I am a singer, sometimes a church singer. I am asked to sing weddings and funerals; therefore I am in attendance at many such events, in several denominations. One such event was an absolute outrage. The deceased was a noted musician and we organized a competent choir to perform a number of worthy sacred pieces for the memory of the deceased and the edification of the gathered mourners. The priest who officiated (with emphasis on the word) disallowed the music we had chosen and proceeded in his homily to scold our efforts and the feelings of the mourners toward the person who had died. The entire church was scandalized by his behavior, and I shall never forget it.

Weddings and funerals are times when the church should moderate its tendency to evangelize, specifically in deference to the individual parties who are and ought to be the focus of the event. It may be true that some people’s preferences are ‘over the top,’ but prudent negotiation can minimize that and still give deference to the parties.

Rev. Thomas M. Catania | 6/17/2006 - 2:15am
Terry Golway has spoken pointedly to a pastoral issue that often distresses me as a priest: how can we effectively and affectively communicate to the grieving that their loved ones are enfolded in the final healing of God precisely as the persons they were on earth when we all but depersonalize the rites of their commendation? I recall with deep regret the funeral of a woman, for many years the organist at the parish I was raised in: I was present, as was the parish priest who worked with her for the first twelve years of his ministry. We knew this woman well, yet the presider, who knew her only as "Christian A," delivered a homily that spoke not at all to the years of generous service (and delightful quirkiness) that we two knew so well. It was one of the loneliest funerals I ever attended, and made more so by the memory of her faihful trooping up to the church to render the Dies Irae whenever she was called. Generous to a fault, she was buried anonymously.

May I add, on a similar note, that I am utterly baffled by the refusal of chanceries to allow Catholic weddings to take place in settings other than churches or synagogues. The correctness of form I understand, but ought we not pick our battles? God is not insulted by the playing of "Danny Boy" nor by the sacralization of a rite pertaining to human nature on the beach or in a park. Jewish-Christian weddings are regularly celebrated, according to Jewish custom, in reception halls, yet should a Catholic couple, or even a Protestant-Catholic couple to be married by a Protestant minister friend, request a setting other than an ecclesiastical edifice, they are turned down.

Perhaps, as Terry Golway suggests, we ought to pay more attention to whom we are serving than to what we imagine we are teaching. Nothing is taught to the grieving or the hoping by rigidity; much can be learned from their grief and their hope.

(Rev.) Thomas M. Catania, Queens, NY

Rev. Thomas Extejt | 6/5/2006 - 11:42am
Two cheers for Terry Golway's article "It's Your Funeral." Mr. Golway is right that we don't want to return to the bad old days of one-size-fits-all funeral Masses that leave one wondering if the departed person was 18 or 81.

However, priests, musicians and families need to remember that the Mass of Christian Burial isn't (as the bothersome phrase in obituaries goes), "a Mass celebrating Uncle Ralph's life." Rather, it's a Mass celebrating how the life and death of Uncle Ralph is caught up in the mystery of the death and risen life of the Lord Jesus.

That means that the priest-presider has a duty to visit with the family and to learn as much as possible about the unique way Uncle Ralph lived the Gospel, so that he can preach about Uncle Ralph in the light of the Scriptures the family has chosen. Asking questions like, "What will you miss most about Uncle Ralph?" or "Did Uncle Ralph have any favorite sayings?" will help the priest to know the man so that he can relate his life to the Scriptures.

The musician has a duty to guide the family toward a choice of quality music that explicitly deals with the great mysteries that we are celebrating at the Mass of Christian Burial. Please excuse this grumpy Polish priest who thinks that "Danny Boy" is still "Danny Boy," no matter what set of words you cram into its melody.

The family, even in the tears they shed over Uncle Ralph, has a duty to grow in their faith, and to be open to the increased awareness of His mysteries that God gives. They shouldn't shy away from Scripture readings that talk pointedly about death, because these readings also offer healing for people's souls. If one of their members will deliver a eulogy, of course that person will recall favorite memories of Uncle Ralph. However, I would hope that they will not indulge in some lame, inadequate vision of eternal life, like "Uncle Ralph is up there in heaven, catching big fish one right after another, and eating as much of Grandma's strawberry pie as he can hold." Mr. Golway is right that it is Uncle Ralph's funeral, and that it must be celebrated without rigid adherence to "cold, unforgiving rules." But it's also a celebration of Jesus Christ who died and rose for Uncle Ralph's sake; we need to give first place to Him in our celebration.

Deacon Tim Cotita | 6/4/2006 - 12:37pm
Having recently attended or served at several funerals,including my mothers, I appreciated Mr. Golway's observations. Experiencing the loss of many friends, I too have become somewhat of a funeral "connoisseur" and agree with many of his observations. Recently a friend, a public figure who volunteered tirelessly and received over 240 awards for public service, passed away. At his funeral a resolution from the State Legislature was read acknowledging his accomplishments as well as proclamations from two cities proclaiming a "day" in his name. Remembering him from the ambo after the mass one friend stated, "his was a life well lived." A moving challenge to us to examine our lives.

I believe that the funeral presents a wonderful opportunity to remember and celebrate the life a person lived and provide some comfort to those of us left behind. When the celebrant recognizes the power of a funeral, then quite possibly he will move aside and let the Spirit act.

Quite often it is the largest gathering of a persons friends many from diverse faith traditions. The funeral can be a great witness to others of our hope and joy. Joy for the gift of this life, and hope for what is to come.

One recurring issue in the funeral mass is how to adress those of the non-Catholic tradition regarding the reception of the Eucharist. Some clergy are uneasy about denying communion to those who present themselves, whatever their faith. Publicly announcing their inability to participate seems equally unappealing to others. One creative priest I was priveleged to serve with at my aunts funeral stated simply, "Division exists in the world outside, we won't allow it in here." This seemed to me to be a carefully worded message of eucumenism. When I observed relatives of diverse traditions approach for communion, I knew that whoever needed the message received it.

We ask for "full, active, and conscious participation" in the liturgy. Who knows what we'll see at funerals, and all masses, when the Church begins to get what it asks for.

Rev. Joseph DeGrocco | 6/11/2006 - 11:28am
The title of Terry Golway's column "It's your funeral" (June 5-12, 2006) sums up precisely both where he personally is wrong and the misguided thinking of many people when it comes to liturgy.

The simple truth is that it is not "the deceased's funeral" any more than it is "the bride's wedding" or "the Rosary Society Mass" or any other select individualism we might want to name. Liturgy is always the Church's liturgy, the community's celebration of the Paschal Mystery focused the saving reality of Christ's death and resurrection. This is not to say that the funeral Mass should be cold and impersonal, but the deceased's life and death should be seen in light of faith and of Christ's Paschal Mystery, not vice versa. It is up to the homilist to accomplish this skilled weaving between the life of the deceased and Christ's life (the directives are clear that the homily is not to be a eulogy).

The introduction to the Order of Christian Funerals beautifully explains how the funeral rites are meant to draw us beyond the self-referential emotionalism described by Mr. Golway into a true experience of hope-filled faith that is a true expression of the Christian meaning of death.

Mr. Golway does his readers a disservice when he makes the pastoral decision as to whether or not to allow a eulogy subservient to the ultimate criterion of "It's your funeral". Mr. Golway would better serve his readers (and perhaps his own spirituality) if he were to become educated in Catholic liturgical studies, rather than perpetuating a secular or Protestant model of religious services.

Warren Schoeppe, S.J. | 2/23/2007 - 4:38pm
The essay by Terry Golway, “It’s Your Funeral” (6/5), is aptly titled. I look on every funeral as my funeral, because I am a priest who has done a good many since 1958.

What is proposed in the way of music and eulogies has an important place. The place I have in mind is the mortuary, where the family and friends can let out all the stops and celebrate the night away.

The reasons why it is my funeral are several. I live in Mormon Utah, and inviting someone to give a eulogy in Utah (that’s the main thing at a Mormon funeral) means a lecture on Mormon theology and a bit from the Book of Mormon as an inevitable and embarrassing eventuality.

Also, funerals are an important opportunity to remind Catholics of how we place a funeral in the context of hope. Hope is a tremendous reality to give people at the moment of death—hope that life is not ended. Death does not have a sting in a Catholic funeral.

Also, funerals are a rare opportunity to speak to the unchurched. Not only are we reverent, sincere, solemn in the face of death; we also have a view of life and death that is worth proclaiming in the hopes that some listeners will appreciate a broader view of death than the one they have.

In short, a funeral is a rich opportunity that we priests do not want to miss. Mr. Golway’s point of view is not novel. But in a world where “the lights must never go out and the music must always play,” people need a solemn silence to realize another aspect of life. They have plenty of entertainment; we don’t need to give them that.

Elizabeth Simcoe | 2/23/2007 - 4:33pm
As director of the Office of Prayer and Worship for the Diocese of Albany, I found Terry Golway’s essay “It’s Your Funeral” (6/5) disturbing. I can only speak for the Diocese of Albany; but like diocesan officials in many areas of the country, we have found it necessary and helpful to establish guidelines for the selection of music and the reflection on the life of the deceased at funeral liturgies. Yes, there were a few horror stories that initiated these directives, but there is also a need for catechesis and a desire to provide positive liturgical experiences reflective of the Christian belief in death and the life to come.

It is in this respect that I disagree with Mr. Golway. The Catholic funeral Mass is not about the individual; it is a celebration of the paschal mystery, Christ’s ministry, passion and death, resurrection and promise to come again as made evident in the life of the one whose earthly time has passed. It points the mourner not only to what has been, but more importantly to the belief that “life has changed, not ended.” It offers hope to those who grieve that there will be a time when all will be united again and “every tear will be wiped away.”

Roman Catholic liturgy is forever attempting to call us back from the rampant individualism that pervades United States culture to a sense of community, a sense of identity within the larger group, the body of Christ. It is for this reason that the Order of Christian Funerals recommends that as the casket is received into church it be covered with a pall that recalls the baptismal garment, the sign of Christian dignity given through the sacrament of Baptism. The white pall also “signifies that all are equal in the eyes of God.”

With regard to Mr. Golway’s complaints about music selections, perhaps he can appreciate that music is part of the prayer of the funeral and all liturgies, not a decorative finial tacked on to provide accent. Prayer is addressed to God. It too is not merely about us.

Also of Irish descent, I am chilled by the affection he feels for the song by Sting and the Chieftains played at the end of James Davitt’s funeral, whose words were sung in a language he did not know. He believes the song was about “defiance and courage and life itself.” How does he know that the song did not also glorify or call others to acts of violence? Was there any way for him to experience the song as prayer?

I would suggest that instead of being concerned about whether or not one has a friend on the inside and the need or inability to cultivate relationships with clergy to serve one’s own ends, Mr. Golway and others who share his perspective enter into and maintain a greater familiarity with the rituals of the church and the theology that underlies them. I hope America will not let Mr. Golway’s text be the only word on this subject.

(Rev.) Bob Hart | 2/23/2007 - 4:09pm
As a priest (of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis) I understand Terry Golway’s points about the need to be sensitive, but I also wonder when the funeral Mass becomes a memorial service, with the Eucharist taking a back seat in the liturgy (6/5). Two examples: a priest was recently buried from his home parish—not surprising. But the six readings and six eulogies were! A woman was recently buried from her parish and although there were only three readings, there were three eulogies and the reading of a poem/story. What happened to testimonials/eulogies being given at the wake? Oh, that’s right. We don’t have wakes anymore, only “reviewals” right before the liturgy.

Perhaps in lieu of a eulogy, the printed text could be included in a worship aid? We need to tread lightly on the line between a funeral Mass and a memorial service. There is, after all, a difference.

Cris Roll | 2/23/2007 - 4:08pm
A resounding Amen! to Terry Golway’s comments about funerals (6/5). I well remember my mother’s funeral in 1989. The Mass was said by a traveling priest who covered pulpits during vacations. He kept referring to her as “the deceased.” I wasn’t sure he even knew the gender of the body in the casket. He never even took the time to talk to us for a few minutes and find out just what kind of woman my mother was. I vowed then that I would never go through another family funeral that was as impersonal as my dear mother’s was. My sister will probably be the next to go, and I have a eulogy all prepared for her funeral. I wrote it with her approval, and when the time comes, she will get a wonderful sendoff. She wants a bagpiper to play “Amazing Grace,” and by golly she is going to get it.

(Rev.) William Lugger | 2/23/2007 - 4:06pm
Having just read “It’s Your Funeral” (6/5) by Terry Golway and after presiding at more than some 800-plus funerals in my 17 years ordained, I was amused and challenged. If you read through The Order of Christian Funerals (1989), one understands that a funeral Mass is first and foremost about the life, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. Theoretically one would never have any talk about the deceased and would just proclaim Christ’s P-D-R. The church’s funeral rites celebrate and commend the Christian person to the Lord in hope of his/her resurrection to new life. Having heard “Be Not Afraid,” “On Eagles’ Wings” and even “Amazing Grace” at almost every one of those 800-plus funerals, I hope and pray that my family and friends have enough liturgical sense not to sing them at my funeral...lest I should “rise” from the casket pleading them to stop singing! While I can and will indicate which hymns I would like sung by my family and friends, I will not have much choice in the matter, I think. While I thought “Inna Godda Divida” was a terrific rock song in the 1970’s, I would not want it played at my funeral...before or after they carry me in or out. Hymns that truly proclaim that Christ has died, Christ is risen and Christ will come again are what I’ll ask for. Skip the eulogy. Each of my family and friends will have a memory, good or bad, of me. I just pray that each of the souls I commended to the Lord in a funeral liturgy will be standing at the gate with our Lord, asking, “Let him in Lord; he did a good job proclaiming your passion, death and resurrection.”

(Rev.) John D. Kirwin | 2/23/2007 - 4:02pm
Following your May 2005 editorial maneuvers, I worried that you had bowed to foreign pressure and were in danger of fading as a light in the theological wilderness. Then along came your past three issues.

Terry Golway (“It’s Your Funeral,” 6/5) and mourning companions will always be welcome at our parish, for whatever moments they wish to celebrate. What would Joseph of Arimathea, Mary of Nazareth and the other women have done if they had to face some of today’s episcopal and presbyteral types?

The words of Paul to Timothy about being ‘strong, loving and wise,’ come to mind when reading Margaret Roche Macey (“When Light Yields to Darkness,” 5/29). No doubt her funeral (hopefully not for years to come) will be a “not to be missed” event. I’d give anything to be her parish presbyter!

Having been educated and greatly influenced by the Benedictines of New Hampshire’s St. Anselm Abbey and the monks of Vermont’s Weston Priory, I take renewed hope from Christopher Ruddy (“Pope and Abbot,” 5/22) and his assessment of the current bishop of Rome. There has got to be some taint of monk under those white robes!

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia for these contributors. They should keep you from yielding to the darkness for a while.

Richard A. Jacobs | 9/4/2006 - 2:10pm
The essay by Terry Golway, “It’s your Funeral” (6/5), caused a reaction among your readers that cuts several ways. Two troubling letters appeared, one from a diocesan bureaucrat and the other from a priest that gave no quarter to the mourners of the individual who died. They seemed to say it’s all about the church’s need to evangelize. One even used the occasion to decry the modern tendency toward Individualism. How sad.

I am a singer, sometimes a church singer. I am asked to sing weddings and funerals; therefore I am in attendance at many such events, in several denominations. One such event was an absolute outrage. The deceased was a noted musician and we organized a competent choir to perform a number of worthy sacred pieces for the memory of the deceased and the edification of the gathered mourners. The priest who officiated (with emphasis on the word) disallowed the music we had chosen and proceeded in his homily to scold our efforts and the feelings of the mourners toward the person who had died. The entire church was scandalized by his behavior, and I shall never forget it.

Weddings and funerals are times when the church should moderate its tendency to evangelize, specifically in deference to the individual parties who are and ought to be the focus of the event. It may be true that some people’s preferences are ‘over the top,’ but prudent negotiation can minimize that and still give deference to the parties.

Rev. Thomas M. Catania | 6/17/2006 - 2:15am
Terry Golway has spoken pointedly to a pastoral issue that often distresses me as a priest: how can we effectively and affectively communicate to the grieving that their loved ones are enfolded in the final healing of God precisely as the persons they were on earth when we all but depersonalize the rites of their commendation? I recall with deep regret the funeral of a woman, for many years the organist at the parish I was raised in: I was present, as was the parish priest who worked with her for the first twelve years of his ministry. We knew this woman well, yet the presider, who knew her only as "Christian A," delivered a homily that spoke not at all to the years of generous service (and delightful quirkiness) that we two knew so well. It was one of the loneliest funerals I ever attended, and made more so by the memory of her faihful trooping up to the church to render the Dies Irae whenever she was called. Generous to a fault, she was buried anonymously.

May I add, on a similar note, that I am utterly baffled by the refusal of chanceries to allow Catholic weddings to take place in settings other than churches or synagogues. The correctness of form I understand, but ought we not pick our battles? God is not insulted by the playing of "Danny Boy" nor by the sacralization of a rite pertaining to human nature on the beach or in a park. Jewish-Christian weddings are regularly celebrated, according to Jewish custom, in reception halls, yet should a Catholic couple, or even a Protestant-Catholic couple to be married by a Protestant minister friend, request a setting other than an ecclesiastical edifice, they are turned down.

Perhaps, as Terry Golway suggests, we ought to pay more attention to whom we are serving than to what we imagine we are teaching. Nothing is taught to the grieving or the hoping by rigidity; much can be learned from their grief and their hope.

(Rev.) Thomas M. Catania, Queens, NY

Rev. Thomas Extejt | 6/5/2006 - 11:42am
Two cheers for Terry Golway's article "It's Your Funeral." Mr. Golway is right that we don't want to return to the bad old days of one-size-fits-all funeral Masses that leave one wondering if the departed person was 18 or 81.

However, priests, musicians and families need to remember that the Mass of Christian Burial isn't (as the bothersome phrase in obituaries goes), "a Mass celebrating Uncle Ralph's life." Rather, it's a Mass celebrating how the life and death of Uncle Ralph is caught up in the mystery of the death and risen life of the Lord Jesus.

That means that the priest-presider has a duty to visit with the family and to learn as much as possible about the unique way Uncle Ralph lived the Gospel, so that he can preach about Uncle Ralph in the light of the Scriptures the family has chosen. Asking questions like, "What will you miss most about Uncle Ralph?" or "Did Uncle Ralph have any favorite sayings?" will help the priest to know the man so that he can relate his life to the Scriptures.

The musician has a duty to guide the family toward a choice of quality music that explicitly deals with the great mysteries that we are celebrating at the Mass of Christian Burial. Please excuse this grumpy Polish priest who thinks that "Danny Boy" is still "Danny Boy," no matter what set of words you cram into its melody.

The family, even in the tears they shed over Uncle Ralph, has a duty to grow in their faith, and to be open to the increased awareness of His mysteries that God gives. They shouldn't shy away from Scripture readings that talk pointedly about death, because these readings also offer healing for people's souls. If one of their members will deliver a eulogy, of course that person will recall favorite memories of Uncle Ralph. However, I would hope that they will not indulge in some lame, inadequate vision of eternal life, like "Uncle Ralph is up there in heaven, catching big fish one right after another, and eating as much of Grandma's strawberry pie as he can hold." Mr. Golway is right that it is Uncle Ralph's funeral, and that it must be celebrated without rigid adherence to "cold, unforgiving rules." But it's also a celebration of Jesus Christ who died and rose for Uncle Ralph's sake; we need to give first place to Him in our celebration.

Deacon Tim Cotita | 6/4/2006 - 12:37pm
Having recently attended or served at several funerals,including my mothers, I appreciated Mr. Golway's observations. Experiencing the loss of many friends, I too have become somewhat of a funeral "connoisseur" and agree with many of his observations. Recently a friend, a public figure who volunteered tirelessly and received over 240 awards for public service, passed away. At his funeral a resolution from the State Legislature was read acknowledging his accomplishments as well as proclamations from two cities proclaiming a "day" in his name. Remembering him from the ambo after the mass one friend stated, "his was a life well lived." A moving challenge to us to examine our lives.

I believe that the funeral presents a wonderful opportunity to remember and celebrate the life a person lived and provide some comfort to those of us left behind. When the celebrant recognizes the power of a funeral, then quite possibly he will move aside and let the Spirit act.

Quite often it is the largest gathering of a persons friends many from diverse faith traditions. The funeral can be a great witness to others of our hope and joy. Joy for the gift of this life, and hope for what is to come.

One recurring issue in the funeral mass is how to adress those of the non-Catholic tradition regarding the reception of the Eucharist. Some clergy are uneasy about denying communion to those who present themselves, whatever their faith. Publicly announcing their inability to participate seems equally unappealing to others. One creative priest I was priveleged to serve with at my aunts funeral stated simply, "Division exists in the world outside, we won't allow it in here." This seemed to me to be a carefully worded message of eucumenism. When I observed relatives of diverse traditions approach for communion, I knew that whoever needed the message received it.

We ask for "full, active, and conscious participation" in the liturgy. Who knows what we'll see at funerals, and all masses, when the Church begins to get what it asks for.

Rev. Joseph DeGrocco | 6/11/2006 - 11:28am
The title of Terry Golway's column "It's your funeral" (June 5-12, 2006) sums up precisely both where he personally is wrong and the misguided thinking of many people when it comes to liturgy.

The simple truth is that it is not "the deceased's funeral" any more than it is "the bride's wedding" or "the Rosary Society Mass" or any other select individualism we might want to name. Liturgy is always the Church's liturgy, the community's celebration of the Paschal Mystery focused the saving reality of Christ's death and resurrection. This is not to say that the funeral Mass should be cold and impersonal, but the deceased's life and death should be seen in light of faith and of Christ's Paschal Mystery, not vice versa. It is up to the homilist to accomplish this skilled weaving between the life of the deceased and Christ's life (the directives are clear that the homily is not to be a eulogy).

The introduction to the Order of Christian Funerals beautifully explains how the funeral rites are meant to draw us beyond the self-referential emotionalism described by Mr. Golway into a true experience of hope-filled faith that is a true expression of the Christian meaning of death.

Mr. Golway does his readers a disservice when he makes the pastoral decision as to whether or not to allow a eulogy subservient to the ultimate criterion of "It's your funeral". Mr. Golway would better serve his readers (and perhaps his own spirituality) if he were to become educated in Catholic liturgical studies, rather than perpetuating a secular or Protestant model of religious services.

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