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Bishop issues rules for funerals to stop ‘dumbing down’ of Mass

By on Wednesday, 14 August 2013

A parish priest in Brooklyn, New York, sprinkles holy water on the casket of Bishop Octavio Cisneros (Photo: CNS)

A parish priest in Brooklyn, New York, sprinkles holy water on the casket of Bishop Octavio Cisneros (Photo: CNS)

The Bishop of Meath in Ireland has issued new guidelines for funerals to counter the “dumbing down” of the Mass.

The guidelines clarified that eulogies had no place during a liturgy, but should take place outside the church.

They received some criticism, including from the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP).

In a statement Bishop Michael Smith thanked his priests for upholding the dignity of the funeral liturgy “often in difficult circumstances”.

Quoting a book by the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he said secular culture tended towards the “materialistic trivialisation of death”. Cardinal Ratzinger, he said, wrote that: “Death is to be deprived of its character as a place where the metaphysical breaks through. Death is rendered banal so as to quell the unsettling questions that arise from it.”

Bishop Smith said the funeral liturgy had a clear focus. “It is a prayer of petition for the deceased, a prayer commending the deceased to God’s tender mercy and compassion, a prayer rooted in the hope engendered by the Death and Resurrection of Christ.”

Eulogies, therefore, as well as secular songs, poems and readings, “should not take place” during the Mass, the bishop said. He added that priests should only engage with the family about the Mass, not with a “funeral planner”.

His guidelines were criticised by ACP spokesman Fr Sean McDonagh, who said he “doesn’t really understand” the reasoning behind the directive. He said: “As far as I can see there is no way that eulogies interfere with the integrity of the Eucharist. Most of them are totally appropriate for funerals.”

  • Jon Brownridge

    An atheist? whatever gave you that idea? Before my retirement I was Principal of three large Catholic Schools.

  • paulpriest

    Sorry but now you’re being specious – I was not appealing to some genetic fallacy nor was I referring to their opinions on other issues in any other regard – whether it be who was the best Doctor Who.or the quality of Marks and spencers knicker elastic – we are referring to Ecclesiastical conformity to the GIRM – something with which they have repeatedly dissociated themselves – their requiems generally consosting in sister germaine moonbeam performing the dance of the seven veils on the coffin to pink floyd’s greatest hits.
    The Herald introduced them as providing a positio worthy of due consideration – something they have completely abrogated with their defiant apostasy and treachery to Holy Mother Church

  • Julian Lord

    This desire that they have for what are de facto religious ceremonies obviously belie their so-called disdain for “the irrational”.

    A “rational” atheist funeral would involve either a compost heap, or a mass grave.

  • PaulF

    Thanks for these important clarifications. I’ve long felt that the root problem in the post V2 church is not in liturgy, but in the pollution of praising other religion which, sadly, our pastors are still persisting with.

  • Emma Green

    indeed yes. We’ve always thought it odd that athiests seem to want a de facto ceremony. We tend to think though that deep down in even the most convinced athiest is a theist waiting to come out! For many people, admitting a religious faith is worse that admitting you are gay. I think many people are “closet” Christians.

  • Dave

    Without wanting to contradict that, many atheists probably see a funeral as something for the bereaved and not for the deceased

  • Romulus

    Well, that is the sentimentalist position, isn’t it? Feelings must be allowed to predominate. And since no one’s feelings can be privileged over another’s, the result is relativism.

  • Romulus


  • Julian Lord

    many atheists probably see a funeral as something for the bereaved and not for themselves

    … which is itself an intrinsically religious concept.

  • MJTOBR13

    This is not so horrible as the “spontaneous” clapping that always follows the eulogy, no matter what its merits.

  • Romulus

    Mr Lord: “Restorationism” = “Intégrisme” Clear?

  • Benedict Carter

    And what was the lapsation rate at your schools? You have evidently been a major part of the problem. And you still keep at it.

  • Benedict Carter

    They are part and parcel of the same thing Paul.

    Topple one part of the Faith, you topple all of it.

  • Kim

    When we are dead, all of us become suddenly nice and wonderful fellows.
    We better leave eulogies for after or before Mass – out of the church- .and pray for the dead sinner.
    Protestant practice is consecuence o disbeielf in the Communion of the Caints.
    Bishop Smith is right…and catholic.

  • Julian Lord

    I doubt it, because I for one do not believe the Pope was talking gibberish.

    Restorationism = Restorationism

  • SimonS

    I am not sure I understand the mis-quote nor the point that you are trying to make. Which of the following is an intrinsically religious concept:

    atheists, funeral, bereaved, deceased

    I see absolutely nothing necessarily religious about someone considering that having some form of social construct bringing bereaved people together could be about the bereaved person, rather than the person who has died.

  • Simon James Perry

    No it’s not. I didn’t say anything about letting feelings predominate. All i’m saying is that we have to be somewhat sensitive to the feelings of the bereaved, that’s just human for God’s sake. I’m not justifiying great rambling eulogies and It’s got nothing to with relativism.
    I can’t see any problem with just saying a few appropriate remarks about the person who has died. Obviously we don’t need to know about the pets of the deceased or which street they lived on etc, but it might be useful to know something of their character, particularly if they were devout or even if they were not but clung somehow to catholicism in spite of everything.
    No one seems to object to the reading out of notices at during mass, (many of which are irrelevant) and speeches for second collections (all very unliturgical really) so why should we object to an appropriate word or said about the deceased

  • Simon James Perry

    Well actually, i’m a church organist too and whilst I have sat through many boring eulogies which were lengthy and pretty pointless, the worst thing that can be said about them is that they were boring and might sent people to sleep.
    However in my regular church they are usually quite short and i have heard some rather inspiring things said about the person, sometimes by the priest in a homily and other times after communion by a relative who knows the person better. If things were like this it would be perfectly ok I feel.
    Actually, i have a funeral this afternoon, so I hope there won’t be a long rambling pointless thing to put up with. And looking at the time I should have gone to bed hours ago!

  • Julian Lord

    The reason WHY all of their opinions are automatically null and void is because they are preaching directly against the Eternal Truth of the Revelation ; this renders the entirety of their speech, including on all other questions of Faith and Morals, automatically null and void, because Catholics have a disciplinary requirement to entirely avoid the teachings of open heretics (no matter how difficult it has become to do so in this day and age).

  • Julian Lord

    Yes, well, part of my point is that most atheists/secularists/”humanists” so misunderstand the nature of religion that they cannot see when they themselves engage in their own religious activities.

  • Emma Green

    yes, definitely. I’m sure they do and that’s why actually I’m in favour of secular funerals for athiests. Not out of spite, far from it, but out of the recognition that for them the ceremony is largely for the living and therefore poems and eulogies are in my opinion completely appropriate for that. I know from the many athiest friends and work colleagues that many of them do feel genuinely uncomfortable with a religious funeral and also don’t understand the spiritual component at all.

  • PaulF

    Probably, and I don’t doubt that things were taken out in the new ligurgy that would have been better left in, but it is still the Mass and I don’t believe it is right to turn against it. The praise of other religion is so clearly counter to the core message of revelation that it is really scary, the spiritually crippling error that Scripture warns us against on every page. I place it in a class of its own and am still praying for our church to wake up.


    As a former chaplain of a major cemetery, I applaud “the rules” versus ad-hoc macabre funnies with undeserved canonisations.

  • Cradle Catholic turned Atheist

    A “rational” atheist funeral would involve either a compost heap, or a mass grave.The desire to treat the body of a deceased loved one with dignity and respect is not dependent on whether or not one believes in God.

  • Alba

    Because protestant churches do not have any equivalent of a Requiem Mass the eulogy, as a focus upon the deceased, is normative practice. The Catholic funeral liturgy, even according to the reformed books, is perfectly adequate as the name of the deceased is recalled. That this practice has slipped into usage is a manifestation of that liturgical experimentation phase that only those with another “agenda” might extol. Being asked by priests at a difficult time to decide the readings, the music, will there be poems and a eulogy etc is an imposition. The funeral rites of the Church need no embellishment or accommodating to passing popular taste. The knock-on effect of this dumbing down de-sacralising is to be seen in the Catholic sections of cemeteries: windmills, teddybears, balloons, Irish flags and maudlin, un-Catholic, inscriptions on headstones.

  • Cradle Catholic turned Atheist

    Agreed. But isn’t the Holy Spirit supposed to prevent just such a thing from happening to the Catholic Church? Doesn’t this constitute evidence that there is no Holy Spirit?

  • togold

    And far better to do this than have a religious service that none of the family believe in or understand and when the deceased had no faith or religious affiliation. It is so embarrassing to witness funerals in our church that are plainly nor understood by the relatives who clearly don’t know what to do and when the dead person was totally unknown to the church.

  • togold

    The lack of comprehension among many about religious faith in amazing. My neighbour of many years died last winter and as there was no religious faith either in the deceased or the family they organised a humanist funeral. Amazingly they wanted to hold the humanist funeral in the local Anglican church which was just around the corner and very convenient. Understandably the Anglican church refused permission and the family felt aggrieved at their ‘unreasonableness’ . They just could not see the obvious point. . They had no concept that the church was for the expression of faith and religion and not for humanist funerals however near and convenient

  • Emma Green

    yes, locally to us, a similar thing happened and they went to the Press who of course took their side and vilified the poor Anglican Priest who then had to backpedal and give them a funeral.

  • Guest

    completely true and much less hypocritical. Mind you we have this in our church regarding christenings where one of the people was a baptised Catholic but has never darkened the door. None of the others are remotely religious and the godparents stand up and don’t even know what they are supposed to be saying. On one memorable occasion half way through the Christening one of the party shouted “hurry up and finish Father, I want to go the Pub”. We’ve also had instances of christening parties smoking in church and talking and swearing on their mobiles in the middle of the Eucharistic Prayer. So its not just funerals I’m afraid to say.

  • togold

    Emma, it sounds so depressingly familiar