Motherwell, Scotland, Apr 3, 2019 / 05:43 pm (CNA).- The funeral Mass is an important moment of prayer and faith after the death of a loved one – but it is not the appropriate time for eulogies, which are better suited for the funeral reception, said Bishop Joseph Toal of Motherwell, Scotland.
“The funeral liturgy in the Catholic Church brings great consolation and hope to those who have lost a loved one because we proclaim the Resurrection of the Lord and our hope of eternal life,” Toal said in a letter to priests and deacons.
“Its strength is in the faith of the Church and the words of the liturgy that express that faith. We need to accept therefore that it is what the Church offers us that counts most of all, rather than our own words.”
His April 3 letter on the celebration of funeral liturgies aimed to help clergy and lay faithful in arranging funerals.
“Since the liturgy has its own structure and rhythm, especially the Requiem Mass, it should not be interrupted to add in our extras,” he said. The homily during the funeral Mass is “not a time therefore for anyone else to be getting up to talk about the deceased, whoever they may be.”
The bishop suggested “a few words of tribute could be offered” before a funeral Mass or service begins. “These words though should be written down and shown to the celebrant beforehand and should not be prolonged,” he added.
“Often what families want to hear and share can be offered in a more appropriate and less formal manner at the reception afterwards,” Toal continued. “Those closest to the deceased gather for this part of the funeral and it may well be better to share there their happy memories about the deceased in this setting.”
The Motherwell diocese has 66 parishes in Lanarkshire and parts of Glasgow. As of 2015, it served an estimated 162,000 Catholics, the diocese website reports.
“The important point though is the full celebration of the Catholic funeral rites and our intercession that the deceased’s sins may be forgiven and that they will be worthy to share in eternal life with God,” he said. The homily is just one part of the Mass or funeral service, and its role is “reflecting on the Word of God which has been proclaimed and leading into the celebration of the mysteries in which we place our faith.”
The bishop said that Church instruction for funerals clearly state that the priest or deacon who celebrates the funeral should “preach a homily as on other occasions on the Word of God, emphasizing at a funeral the hope of resurrection in Our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“The instruction specifically says the homily should not be a eulogy,” he added. “It is a homily therefore spoken by the priest or deacon.”
It is also not appropriate to add a final tribute to the deceased before or during the close of the funeral Mass, known as the Final Commendation.
Bishop Toal said it is fitting for the preacher to integrate some details about the deceased person’s life into the homily “so that it is personal and recognizes the family’s wish to recall their loved one in a sensitive way.” This requires some skill and “an effort to find out something about the deceased from their family.”
“Clearly the homilist is not there to give a blow-by-blow account of the deceased’s life but rather to use some of what he knows in a fitting manner through the course of the homily,” he said, adding “whatever is said about the deceased should be accurate and prepared.”
The bishop said the faithful should keep in mind that not all celebrants have the same ability to integrate the personal and the spiritual. He also offered guidance for family participation in the funeral liturgy.
While families sometimes want to do particular tasks during funerals, “it may be better to leave liturgical tasks to those who do them normally in the parish,” Toal said.
Discussing in particular lectors and those who say the prayers of the faithful, the bishop noted, “It is an ordeal for people to come forward to read if they are not used to doing so, or perhaps are not even regular attenders in church.”
He encouraged family members of the deceased person to look to the priest or deacon for guidance, given their responsibility to decide on these roles.