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Seve Ballesteros’s funeral had a powerful sense of community. I wish we saw more of this in England

The funeral was attended not only by golf luminaries but also the ordinary people of the town

By on Friday, 13 May 2011

Javier Ballesteros carries the ashes of his father Seve Ballesteros accompanied by his sister Carmen (Denis Doyle/Pool/PA Wire)

Javier Ballesteros carries the ashes of his father Seve Ballesteros accompanied by his sister Carmen (Denis Doyle/Pool/PA Wire)

Unlike a lot of clergy, I do not have any particular interest in golf, but I do take an interest in funerals, and was intrigued by certain aspects of the funeral of the late Seve Ballesteros, the famous golfer, which took place on Wednesday. You can see a short video of the funeral here.

There were several very positive elements to this celebration (as the liturgy correctly designates it) which I would like to highlight. It took place in the local parish church of the deceased, and a Mass was celebrated: I note with approval that celebrants were vested in purple. There was obviously a very large turnout, not just from the luminaries of the international golf world, but also from the ordinary people of the town. Their attendance conveys respect for the deceased and solidarity with his survivors and is much to be commended. Perhaps these people did not know the late Mr Ballesteros very well, but their being there, either in church or outside it, was a very powerful gesture of community cohesion. How I wish we saw more of this in England!

The introduction to “the Green Book”, which is the newish and very comprehensive Order of Christian Funerals, says that every funeral should reflect the life of the deceased. This was present on Wednesday with the attendance of the members of the local rowing club and the placing of golf clubs and a photo next to the urn containing the ashes. Likewise, in the eulogies given by family members.

A lot of priests do not like eulogies, but I have to say that I do. People do not have to have them, but when they do, they often find them a huge comfort. They do add that personal touch, and avoid the impression that this funeral is a production line event. A funeral is a special occasion, as much as a wedding is. The eulogy is not part of the Mass, coming after the post-communion prayer, and it can be delivered, if desired, at the crematorium or the graveside; but the fact that the eulogy is secular does not detract from the sacred rites that precede it, in my opinion.

One thing that will strike people is that Mr Ballesteros’s body had been privately cremated before the Mass. This is not often done, but I would highly recommend it, and it is perfectly acceptable from a liturgical point of view. It means, of course, that one does not have to have a hearse and undertakers present at the Mass, and that the family can carry the ashes and bury them themselves. I have nothing against undertakers, but it is much nicer to have a funeral without them. Incidentally, while on the subject of ashes, these are meant to be treated exactly as a coffin is treated; the contents are to be reverently buried, not scattered. This burial can include burial at sea.

The remains of Seve Ballesteros are now buried under a magnolia tree in his garden, as he wished. May he rest in peace.

  • Charles Martel

    Father, surely cremation is not a desirable procedure. I believe the Church tolerates it, but does not recommend something that is really quite alien to our traditions.

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    As far as I know, in the UK at least, cremation is viewed as perfectly acceptable by Catholics. The intro to the Green Book does make clear, however, that cremation is not desireable if undertaken as a way of “disproving” the doctrine of the resurrection of the body. It is for this reason, no doubt, that the liturgy of cremation makes lots of references to the said doctrine. Incidentally, if the Church condemned cremation there would hardly be a specific liturgy for cremation, would there?  

  • Amette Ley

    Indeed the liturgy is celebrated – a requiem Mass as any other – but the word ‘celebrate’ often means something more secular to one’s unchurched relatives and the funeral rites become a ‘celebration of X’s life’.  It seems to me there are two purposes for a funeral.  It is the opportunity for relatives and friends to do something for themselves – to say goodbye – to get closure (ugh – horrible phrase, but it suffices).  And it is a time for them to do something for the deceased – to pray for their soul and offer the Holy Sacrifice for them. I notice that often this aspect is lost in the ‘celebrating’.

  • berenike

    You don’t have to have undertakers (except perhaps in Vienna, where there seem to be all sorts of byelaws about burials.