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Funeral Foibles. How many Catholic funerals lack balance and do not teach clearly on the Last Things

November 10, 2013 129 Comments
By Wolfgang Kopp  Licensed under  CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Wolfgang Kopp Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

I was recently asked by the Archdiocese of Washington to lead a workshop for catechists that focused on the catechetical teachings implicit in the funeral rites of the Church. At first, I was somewhat surprised at the request. It didn’t strike me as the first sort of topic that one might speak about when speaking to catechists.

But quickly, I warmed to the topic. I have long held that the way in which we conduct ourselves at funerals, in the manner of preaching and other visible attitudes, not only teaches poorly, but is often a countersign of biblical and Church teaching on death, judgment, heaven, and hell.

The rites themselves are not flawed (though the huge number of readings can bewilder and are not of equal value or helpfulness). Rather, a whole host of problems both sociological, and related to liturgical execution, create an environment that not only obscure Catholic teaching on death, but often outright contradicts it.

In this particular blog post, I would like to lay out what I think are some of the problematic issues that surround typical funerals today. And in tomorrow’s post I would like to lay out an outline of a typical funeral sermon I preach in which I seek to remedy some of the misunderstandings that are common today.

So for today here are some problematic issues and attitudes that tend to surround funerals. I do not say that every family or parish exhibits all these problems, only that these are common in various combinations and degrees.

1. There is a basic confusion about the purpose of a funeral. Many people arrive at the parish to plan a funeral and their basic presumption is that the funeral is all about “Uncle Joe,” who he was, what he liked, etc. This then generates a whole series of, often inappropriate, requests. For example,

  1. Uncle Joe’s favorite song was “I did it my way.” Therefore we want a soloist to sing this song.
  2. Uncle Joe’s three favorite nieces want to say “a few words” about what a great uncle he was. Therefore we want them to be able to speak after communion.”
  3. Of course we all know what a great football fan Joe was, that he never missed a game, so we are going to have flowers in the team colors, want a football on a table near the altar,  and ask that a letter from the team’s front office be read in tribute after communion, and after the nieces.
  4. Also, Father, in your sermon please remember to mention Joe’s great concern for this cause, and that cause.
  5. And don’t forget to mention that he was a founding member here at St Esmerelda and the president of the Men’s club.

Well, you get the point. But of course none of this is the real purpose of a funeral at all. Like any celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, the essential purpose of the funeral is the worship of God, the proclamation of the Gospel, and the celebration of the paschal mystery. Secondarily, the Mass is offered for the repose of the soul the deceased and should invite prayer for the judgment they face, and for their ultimate and happy repose after any necessary purification.

The sacred liturgy exists to glorify God, not man, to praise the Lord, not Uncle Joe. No matter how great a guy Uncle Joe was, he doesn’t stand a chance if not for Jesus, and lots of grace and mercy. Joe needs prayer more than praise, and whatever gifts he did have, were from God. God should be thanked and praised for them.

Thus, too many funerals focus on man, not God. Too many funerals focus on human achievements rather than the need for grace and mercy, and gratitude for for all that has been received.

As a practical matter, in my parish we do not allow family members to speak during the funeral Mass at all. If there is someone who wants to say a few words, this is done prior to the beginning of the Funeral Mass. But once Mass begins, it is the Mass, and only the Mass.

2. Most families and funerals miss a step. Upon the death of a loved one there are often instant declarations that “they are in heaven.” Perhaps there are other euphemisms such as “He is in a better place…” or “She’s gone home.”

Of course such judgments are grossly presumptive and in making such declarations, people sit in the judgment seat that belongs only to Jesus. If I were to say, “Uncle Joe is in Hell” people would be rightly angry and say I was being “judgmental.” But of course those who say “Joe is in heaven” sit in the very same judgement seat and are also being “judgmental.”

Further the scriptures don’t teach that people, even believers, die and go straight to heaven. No, there is little pit stop first, an appointment to keep. The scriptures say,

  1. It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27)
  2. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Cor 5:10)
  3. Always speak and act as those who are going to be judged under the law of liberty. (James 2:13)

Thus instant promotions of the deceased to the upper realms of heaven are inappropriate. Rather, we give them to the Lord with our prayers, asking for a merciful and kindly judgment, and that any necessary purification be accomplished soon.  The prayers for, and comments about the deceased can include gratitude for their life and the gifts they brought, but ought never to fail to mention that they go to judgment and should not gloss over the need to pray for them, more than praise them.

3. Purgatory and the concept of purification after death are almost never mentioned, but they should be. But of course purgatory is the likely destination of most of the dead for at least some purification after death.

The whole point of praying for the dead at all is purgatory! If the dead are in heaven they don’t need our prayers. Sadly, if they are in Hell, they can’t use them. It is those in purgatory that both need and can use our prayers.

Jesus says, You must be perfect as the Heavenly Father is perfect. (Mat 5:41). This is a promise, not a threat. And St. Paul says, May God who has begun a good work in you bring it to completion. (Phil 1:16)

Most of us know, if we were to die today, that we are not perfect, and that God’s work in us is not complete. Purgatory just makes sense, and clergy ought not be so reticent to preach it clearly at a funeral. We are not just here to pray for the family, we are here to pray for the deceased because they have gone to judgment. And even if the judgment isn’t for Hell (thanks be to God), there is likely some finishing work needed, some purgation, and our prayers make a difference. More on this tomorrow.

4. The Immediate family is not the only object of concern and ministry at a funeral. While every priest and deacon who preaches is aware that a funeral is a sensitive moment for the family, he cannot simply and only minister to them. Present at most funerals, (in great abundance, frankly), are many who are unchurched, and who need to be called to Jesus. Sometimes these are also in the immediately family.

The clergy should not simply let this moment pass. Honestly the only time many clergy see a lot of these people is at funerals. Waiting for “another time” to call them to repentance and to follow Jesus is not an option. They are here now, and they must be called now.

Therefore a good funeral seeks to minister not only to the immediate family, but to all in attendance who are in varying states of spiritual health or disease.

Pastoral experience tells me that upwards of 80% of funeral attendees and in a very grave spiritual condition. Most of them are not serious about their spiritual life, they are not praying, they are not reading Scripture, they are not attending Mass or going to any service on Sundays, and many are in very serious and unrepented mortal sin. This is just a fact.

And to have that many at a funeral and say nothing to them at all about their need to repent and call on Jesus, is malpractice. Priests, whether they like it or not, are watchmen for the house of Israel. They must go on ahead of the Judge to follow and summon people to repentance and saving faith.

This can be and should be done at funerals. It is possible to do so with loving conviction and a passionate cry.

I have done this for many years at funerals and have almost never received complaints. To the contrary, I have received many expressions of gratitude from people who are desperate for their wayward relatives to hear such a message. I have also joyfully received back a number of people to the practice of the faith on account of it.

Thus funerals must minster to everyone. They are moments that are pregnant with meaning and possibilities. They are evangelical moments.

It is generally agreed that things are out of balance most Catholic funerals. Our silence about important matters, such as judgment, purgatory and a proper preparation for death makes a good deal of what we do unintelligible. Why are we offering Mass? Why do many of our prayers ask mercy and beseech the Lord to received our deceased into heaven? If its all certain and even a done deal (since Joe is already “in a better place”) why do any of this at all?

The priest should surely speak with confidence to the love and mercy of God and assure the family in this regard, especially if the deceased had faith. The Lord Jesus loves sinners and died for us. Surely he will have mercy, if it is sought.

But God’s mercy cannot be preached without any reference to human freedom and choice. Neither can judgment be understood  without any reference to the promise of perfection and the need for it before we can enter heaven. Scripture says regarding heaven, Nothing impure will ever enter it (Rev 21:27) and describes the denizens of heaven as the spirits of the righteous made perfect (Heb 12:23). And we are admonished, Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Heb 12:14).

All of these notions must balance and frame our discussion of mercy and the confident hope that we can give our loved ones back to God.

But too many Catholic funerals lack this this balance. And this lack is on the part of both the families who often speak of salvation without reference to judgement, grace or mercy, and the clergy who often fail to preach in a way that sets forth a clear teaching on death, judgment, Heaven, (purgatory) and Hell.

Tomorrow I would like to publish a sermon typical of what I preach at sermons, that does, if I do say so myself, try to articulate theme themes. More then.


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Comments (129)

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  1. Jennifer says:

    You are a good pastor, Monsignor. You take care of your sheep. <3

  2. Cathy says:

    Msgr. Pope, I don’t know if you do this, but it bothered me at my dad’s funeral that the family was asked to do the readings at the Mass. My neice did the reading, and burst into tears during the reading. Also, would it be appropriate to ask that one’s headstone has the words, please pray for the poor soul of, name of the person – me, when I go.

    • Yes, in this case (in my parish) we do not allow family members to read, only trained lectors. The family is to be ministered to, they are not to minister

      • Annette says:

        Is it appropriate for a family member who is also a trained lector proclaim the readings? My sister and I have both done so (she is a trained lector as well) at the funerals of our brother and parents.

        • Well, let the local pastor make that call. However, I find even trained lectors who are family tend to get emotional. Better to let others minister to the family than “involve” them in everything, IMHO

  3. Lisa Toomey says:

    Sorry, but you sound like a real cold hearted SOB. Did not Jesus himself say to the sinner on the cross, “THIS DAY you will be with me in paradise?” Who are you to presume to know for certain how long it takes to enter the gates of heaven? I have been to many services (including funerals, but also regular mass) where priests talk about football, their relationship with their mother or father or uncle, military persons, and all sorts of non biblical subject to bring the gospel to life in real life circumstances. Why shouldn’t a priest talk about the life of the deceased and comfort the grieving family just as Jesus did. I have also been to many a mass where people were allowed to speak. Missionaries visiting and asking for donations are often given a forum during mass. We even sometimes get a little review of the bulliten before we get the final blessing. Are you seriously suggesting that people who never come to mass unless they are going to a wedding or funeral are ripe for a fire and brimstone sermon?? You are seriously misguided if you are. Grieving families should be treated with deference and respect, not treated to a list of things they can and cannot do at the mass to send their loved ones soul peacefully into the next life. Certainly the mass should be respected, but have a little tenderness towards people in times of despair
    . That is what Jesus taught, Geeze.

    • Except that I am not a a real cold hearted SOB. But as for your comment it does rather well illustrate the lack of balance I try to describe here. Mercy is about more than pleasantries and being positive, true mercy shares the full truth with people and I am not talking about fire and brimstone, no one comes away from my funerals reacting like you do. Finally your grasp of the Scripture “THIS DAY” is flawed, and once again shows a lack of balance wherein even if your interpretation of the text were right (it is not) it still does not follow that one text is the whole teaching of scripture.

      Oh by the way, I wonder if you see any irony in citing the example of Jesus (as you describe him, i.e. consoling and kind) and you yourself referring to me as like a cold hearted SOB?

      • FrDarryl says:

        I think she was just trying to meet you where you are, Monsignor.
        Haven’t you caught the “spirit” of Vatican II? God accepts us as we are:
        It’s radical equality, therefore His mercy is implicit in our every encounter.

        Therefore it’s wrong to talk about divine judgement. It’s wrong ever to tell someone they’re wrong because there is no right and wrong, only opinions stating moral preferences. Stop being judgemental and talk only about mercy and love. And equality. And tolerance. And inclusion. Or else!

      • FrDarryl says:

        I think she was just trying to meet you where you are, Monsignor.

        Haven’t you caught the “spirit” of Vatican II? God accepts us as we are: it’s radical equality, therefore His mercy is implicit in our every encounter. Jesus paid it all so no one is judged unfavourably!

        Therefore it’s wrong to talk about divine judgement. It’s wrong ever to tell someone they’re wrong because there is no true or false, right or wrong, only opinions stating moral preferences. Except that truth claim I just made, of course. Stop being judgemental and talk only about mercy and love. And equality. And tolerance and inclusion. Or else!

      • Bruce Wienckowski says:

        I have walked away from funerals before where the priest sorely disappointed me. However, my mother taught me that if I have nothing nice to say, don’t say it at all. Perhaps assuming the lack of complaints means that your sermons/services please everyone is a symptom to a greater issue.

        • perhaps, perhaps not. I wonder what your issues are that you want to conclude that people hate my sermon. You might want to know a little more about things before issuing your blanket assessment. You don’t know me or my congregation, or my reputation.

    • Dave says:

      Hmmmm. “Let the galled jade wince.”

      Monsignor apparently touched a nerve.

    • Steve M says:

      @ Lisa – I think you are being a little uncharitable to say the least. HAve you ever been to a Baptist funeral? Christ is Love but he also requires us to live up to our end. I am pretty confident that Msgr. Pope would not still be a priest if he gave funeral homilies like you conclude. Unfortunately for our culture the idea that there might be right and wrong things to say or do just doesn’t work. Life has to be fluffly or it is bad. No one gets a clean pass to Heaven. Everyone must be judged. Even Elizabeth, my daughter, who passed away at 20 after a life of physical difficulty had her chance to stand before the Lord and offer her suffering in this life for her love of Christ and others. Life is very hard for some people. We want to celebrate the lives of those we love and lose of course but it is not about us first and foremost. It furstrates me greatly that you cannot see anything but the literal, obvious statements. Can you truly not see a difference between a Missionary speaking from the pulpit and a Priest highlighting the bulletin from a family member talking about a person during a funeral?

      So a priest should hold back the Truth from people because there might be people in the pews who don’t go to Church often and the Truth would scare them off? You might be much more comfortable at the Episcopal Church. They emphasize the fluffy and make sure no one gets offended by the Truth.

    • dominic1955 says:

      Wow, that was completely out of line…What an excellent example of how far we’ve fallen in our Catholic culture that you think it perfectly fine to insult a priest (and the host of this blog) and blather on unknowingly concerning Purgatory. That the lived example seems to give you fodder for this is even sadder.

    • Fr Wilson says:

      Therapeutic Religion rears its head once again — the assumption that the main thing we are supposed to do is seek to make people feel better. If I were a doctor, and you came to my office for a consultation, and in the course of it you asked for an ash tray and lit up five cigarettes, and I said nothing about it — you might leave thinking, ‘Nice guy. Pleasant chat,” but I hope you’d have the sense to add, “What kind of a doctor is he??” Twenty-eight years of presiding at funerals — MANY funerals — tell me that Msgr. Pope’s approach is exactly right. People have either forgotten, or never learned the fundamentals of the faith. The neglect of the Eucharist is often scandalously obvious at Communion time during Funerals, not by the example of those who do not come forward, but of those who do, with no idea how to receive [whereas our Lord told us that if we do not eat His flesh and drink His Blood “you have no life in you (John 6:53);” but then, perhaps He is a cold-Hearted SOB too — He did, after all, say that the gate is narrow that leads to life, and few enter it (Matt 7:13-14]. The fact is, I have seen many people awakened by the teaching that the Funeral Mass is NOT just a memorial service such as the secular world offers, it DOESN’T simply look back on a life well-lived, but forward into eternity; that by arranging a Funeral Mass and subsequent Masses to be offered for the soul of a loved one they benefit that person immeasurably. It is often very consoling when I teach people that they can still actually help their departed loved ones, through their prayers, works, joys and sufferings. I’ve seen people rediscover the Rosary, the Stations of the Cross, and discover great comfort in more frequent Communion. WHY should we as priests deprive our people of the very consolations and sources of strength revealed to us by God Himself? It would be very easy for us — people would smile at us and think, “What a great guy,” but then… there’s the problem of that narrow gate. For US as Priests! I am grateful to Msgr Pope, not just for being a good Pastor to his people, imparting to them through his preaching and his liturgical ministry the Faith, but also for tackling this (and so any other subjects, which I’ve found usefully dealt with here) most needed topic. A Priest who, in this difficult age, withholds these treasures from his people isn’t necessarily afflicted with a cold heart. He may well not have a heart at all. But he DOES have an Ego.

    • Harry says:

      You shouldn’t call people names, but he has a point. Many people at funeral will be in a state of grief, and no matter how well-intentioned you are, using the death of a loved one as a means to lecture lapsed Catholics will not be seen as a compassionate outreach but rather emotional manipulation. I’m sure numerous examples could be compiled of lapsed Catholics or non-Catholics being pushed away by this approach.
      A recent example – my lapsed Catholic friend and his family went to a funeral for a member of their family at an Evangelical church. The preacher talked of nothing but the last things and the need to convert, and all it did was make everyone feel faintly disgusted and annoyed.
      That said, you obviously can’t just avoid controversial topics, but I think you can do it in such a way as to take into account where people are. Like Pope Francis with that atheist guy or that gay group – he didn’t think mentioning Hell was very necessary (despite the fact that in his sermons he references the Devil constantly, which makes even orthodox Catholics uncomfortable).
      Then again, if you got results, then you got results. Just think it’s a good idea to take into account other people’s experience.

      • OK, but I am not this evangelical guy you mention. You haven’t heard my sermon yet, Which I will post tomorrow. Why not wait until you hear it before you assess it with terms like “emotional manipulation” and talking about your “lapsed catholic friend.” I don’t make people feel disgusted and annoyed, people don’t leave my funerals like that.

        As For Papa Francis, he talks about hell and sin, and devil and evil a lot. You are very selective in your assessment of him. Trying reading his sermons rather than read pop media summaries of him.

        • A. Crawford says:

          Pope Francis’s mentions of the devil doesn’t make me uncomfortable. I don’t know any Catholics who are uncomfortable with that particular aspect of his papacy, and I run with a pretty orthodox lot. I also like his constant emphasis on where we encounter mercy: in the confessional. It seems like people are somehow missing the context of his remarks about mercy, which is the confessional!

          I should also note that in my experience with wounded people (which Msgr. says turn up at funerals a lot–I would imagine so!), they WANT to hear truth presented with love, not emotional fluff. And they need to hear it. I have heard a lot of priests talk about funerals, and what they’ve said is entirely consonant with what Msgr. has written here.

    • JS says:

      “Who are you to presume to know for certain how long it takes to enter the gates of heaven?”

      But that’s just it. Part of Monsignor’s point is that he doesn’t presume to know that. What is in fact presumptuous is the de facto canonization of the dead.

    • Granny Smith says:

      Lisa,
      A priest friend of ours used to say that sometimes the most loving thing one can do for another is to give them a swift kick in the spiritual pants!
      Too many funerals I’ve attended have been all about the wonderfulness of the person, as Msgr. said in his article. But realistically, there are heaven **and** hell — we don’t automatically go to heaven, we need to be warned to avoid hell (I need that reminder regularly), and we need to be reminded that at the end of life, our eternal destiny doesn’t depend on what our family and friends think of us, but on how God judges our thoughts, words, deeds, and omissions. We NEED God’s perspective! Because God’s perspective **is** justice and mercy! Deference and respect also mean that we should be praying for the soul of the departed, because we aren’t God and we therefore cannot know where they are. We must be generous with our prayers for them, and not try to take God’s place and judge them into heaven so that we don’t have anything more we need to do for them.
      Losing a loved one is hard, of course it’s painful. But this life is only the journey, not the destination. We need to be sure that we’re on the path to heaven, and a funeral can be one of the best times to reach a congregation with that message. I’ll be praying for you.

  4. David says:

    How about Holy Communion? Like you said a lot of unchurched people come to funeral Masses, what is the procedure for this?

    • I make an announcement at Communion: “Those of you who are practicing Catholics in a state of grace can come forward for Communion at this time, following the direction of our ushers.”

      • Jamie R says:

        I wish priests did this at all Masses.

      • Bruce Wienckowski says:

        I prefer this wording that you have written. I’ve heard less respectful from others.

      • Angie W says:

        We just attended a funeral last week, and oh, how I wanted to weep when I saw all the people that I know do not attend Mass on a regular basis go up to receive Our Lord in the Eucharist. I wish our priest would have spoken up. Instead of saying, “Uncle Joe is in a better place” we should say “I am glad to know he is no longer in the pain he was in from his long illness.” It creates no assumptions as to where he is right now. Great article!!!

      • Jason says:

        THANK YOU! I wish our parish made a similar announcement when we have obviously ignorant folks come forward at Baptismal masses, too.

  5. Tammy says:

    You are right and this is a good topic to teach on. When my husband died, my in-laws (lovely people) wanted to push the local parish Priest aside, bring in someone who would let them do as they wished and have a nonCatholic relative “speak” . I let them know that their son would not want his funeral used as a means to disrespect a Priest in his own Church …that we needed to let the Priest lead us through this unheeded and keep the Mass as it was intended to be. We had a Mass on the east coast and one in the west and they were both beautiful and very true to the Mass.

    There is plenty of time for people to “talk about ” the deceased, but not in the Mass…a Mass is a MASS !

  6. Tailler Heuws says:

    Perhaps the pastor should be able to preach about what he did to help that person before he/she died – and comment on whether he/she requested and received Extreme Unction, the Sacrament of Confession, Viaticum and so forth. What did the pastor do to save this man’s / woman’s soul? Did the person frequent the Sacraments at all? Did the family involve the priest while their loved one was dying? If the family did not request the help of the Church and if the deceased did not, then what can be said to comfort the grieving other than to allow them to request of God the Mercy that they, through their words, project upon the deceased? I suppose that it should be mentioned that we have no reason to believe, absent of the use of the Sacraments, that the deceased is in Heaven.

    • Yes I often do this. Rules against Eulogizing are not absolute in the sense that no reference to the deceased can be made. Whenever I can I like to point to the person’s life as exemplifying faith, including the reception of the Sacraments at the end. The point is not to tell epic tales and recite details out of proportion to the overall preaching task, but clearly details that exemplify faith well lived are good to include as a way of summoning others to imitate the example and prepare for death.

  7. Charlie says:

    This certainly needs to be said.Perhaps the bishops could discuss at their next meeting?! You describe to a ‘T’ what goes on at almost every funeral.
    Thanks you for this.All parishes should have a copy.

  8. publius says:

    “Sorry, but you sound like a real cold hearted SOB” … “Grieving families should be treated with deference and respect”

    My question is whether a priest of God (much less someone like Msgr. Pope) should also be treated with that same deference and respect…

    Msgr- thank you for this very good reflection- it is very necessary. I think that a liturgical point that emphasizes your reflections is the color black used for the vestments at requiem masses.

  9. Gregory Kingman says:

    An excellent post Monsignor, I couldn’t agree more. However, like with so many issues you raise on your blog, it all boils down to episcopal leadership. These appointed leaders are the ones entrusted with the authority to teach, govern and sanctify. They are the guardians of the deposit of the apostolic faith, the principal catechist of all Catholics/ souls in the diocese. Let’ face it, it all starts with baptism preparation and evangelization of the family. For bishops to insist that priests give sacraments to unconverted families has been a disaster and will continue to be so. It is like building a house without a solid foundation. For example, if Catholics do not understand what the Mass is and why it is essential to assist regularly then they are not going to understand funerals. How many know that Sunday Mass is a mystagogical encounter of Trinitarian, christological and ecclesiological proportion, an utterly sublime experience.

  10. Peter says:

    One of the first times I heard you preach was a YOUTUBE funeral recording. I thought it was absolutely spot on, Father. I live in what I call a “mushy diocese” I have enver been to a funeral which did not laud the deceased as a conquering hero entering heaven. When the priest got to my father’s bedside he had been dead for at least an hour, he did a blessing and declared “now we can pray to him”. Well, that was nice but I’ve been praying for him, not to him, ever since.

    Most of my family has left the Church and the ones who haven’t like this feel good stuff. One of the things that I fear is that there will be no one to pray for me when I die, and I will need it!

  11. Crowhill says:

    Funerals are where you find out if preachers really believe in Hell. The operating assumption at almost every funeral I’ve been to is universalism.

  12. Nathan says:

    Out of curiosity, and not to sound like Joan Rivers on the Red Carpet at the Emmys, what color do you wear? White? Purple? Black? Personally, I think the traditional dressing of the priest and altar in black, a color of mourning, helps focus the funeral Mass on the proper things, while white tends to set the stage for the “instant canonization” Masses you rightly lament. I also wonder about what your opinions might be on the music chosen during the funeral. The difference between the Dies Irae and On Eagles Wings is illustrative of everything you wrote. God bless.

    • Yes, I’ll be honest, I usually wear white. But in Advent and Lent I wear purple. I agree with you on what black better communicates and may consider wearing the black more. For now I try more to aim for the homily moment to teach and rebuild a proper attitude to death and dying.

  13. Tony says:

    Good points for a workshop. I am seeing more and more people moving their funeral service to the funeral home where music, comforting words, and appropriate prayers are more accessible to the grieving. Some choices are made due to the lack of clergy, some because of the clergy.

  14. C.C. says:

    Thank you Thank you Thank you! I, too, was completely on board with the secular view of funerals for many years. Once I researched and learned the truth of the need of prayer for deceased souls it made me angry that priests really do not explain that part to everyone. I don’t know if they assume everyone understands it…but judging from what you wrote and what I have seen, I don’t think folks really understand WHY we are praying for souls. I had the same thought recently of ‘why are we praying for souls in heaven’? They certainly don’t need prayers in paradise. We just had a ‘rememberance’ mass for the souls that died during this past year at our parish…and, no one explained CLEARLY why we are having the mass. The priest certainly talked about praying for the souls but he never said ‘why’ in a clear way (do you know what I mean?). I even ran into a lady that attended the mass a few days later and she assumed I had a close friend/family die in the past year. I said “no, I just think it is important to continue to pray for all the souls I know that have died in the years past”. She looked at me like I was from another planet and said “nothing”. Again, thank you for truly caring about souls!!

  15. elm says:

    I attended the funeral of a friend this past week who died a horribly painful and tragic death. He was a man who was emotionally in pain as well, but he tried to live the life God wanted for him, receiving the Sacraments weekly if not daily. I mention this to say that he was a holy man although conflicted. He received Reconciliation the day before he died.

    At his funeral he was not eulogized or beatified. He had picked out the readings and the hymns for his own funeral. The first reading was from 2 Macabees. His hymns were all about how life is hard but Jesus saves. His family was not Catholic. Fr. Robert Sirico presided at his Mass and gave the exegesis on the two last things.

    It was the most hopeful and peaceful funeral I think I have ever attended. Just tell the Truth. God will take care of the rest.

    Thank you for all you do in His Holy Name.

  16. Cathy R. says:

    Well said Msgr. I had a very negative experience from a funeral where the wife was able to eulogize the husband.
    My youngest brother died several years ago & unfortunately he had not spoken to my other sister & brother for about 5 years. I was the only sibling that he was still talking to, and then, only occasionally. I wanted to talk with him about reconciling but was waiting for him to calm down, the last time I spoke with him on the phone he was as angry as he had ever been.
    It is a heartbreaking story; this brother died while in his 40’s. (I now regret waiting). HIs wife, who shared and perhaps helped to fuel the anger, would not allow my other brother & sister to attend the wake. (They agreed with this stipulation so as not to cause a scene in front of the deceased brother’s children). We were all at the funeral however, and the eulogy, read by the priest but written by my sister-in-law. talked all about what a great husband, father, and all around good guy he was (helping people etc…). The only mention made of his birth family was: My deceased parents and one other brother who had died a few years before (my youngest brother always hated the other one while he lived). The end of the funeral had many of my family (cousins etc..) angry at the treatment that we received (not at the priest, he didn’t know). My comment to my friends was: “apparently, the only good Smith (not our real name) is a dead one”. My sister-in-law used to Holy Mass to lash out and to push her husband’s birth family totally away. Sadly, she succeeded. This is why the church should not allow the practice of the family eulogy! save it for the funeral home, or the meal after the ceremony.

  17. Jeanne says:

    This is definitely thought provoking. If we are to assume our loved ones are already in paradise, who will continue to pray for their souls in the case they are not? And if the majority of their funeral Mass is praising what a wonderful person they are, there is a good chance the 80 percent you mention will leave the Church feeling like the sould is all set. You are right, and if anything, a “celebratory” funeral Mass sounds unfair to the deceased.
    In regards to Lisa’s post above, the truth hurts. Jesus did say that on the Cross but, in all fairness, he was talking to a repenting sinner in the hour of his death. Just as we are taught that if we repent and stay close to the Sacraments, we are staying close to Christ should our hour come. Makes me want to run out to confession.
    Anyway, off to see if today’s Homily is published so that I can dog ear it for my husband to use on me 😉

    • Bender says:

      “If we are to assume our loved ones are already in paradise, who will continue to pray for their souls in the case they are not? “
      ___________

      This was a MAJOR concern of St. Bernadette. She was considered by many during her life to be a “living saint,” and the idea terrified her. She would remark that people will be praying to her, but all the while she would be roasting in Purgatory. Another “living saint” was St. Monica, but after she died, her son Augustine made sure to avoid any presumption and instead implored prayers for her soul.

      As for the thief, the teaching there is not meant to be a license to sin right up until the last moment knowing that you can simply make a death bed repentence. We cannot game the system like that. God isn’t going to be played for a fool. Rather, it is meant to offer us hope. As bad as the sin of presumption is, the sin of despair is just as great, if not greater, in our world today. And most of us are more like the two thieves than we are like the One on the cross in the center. At the last breath, even if we or someone close to us has spent a life of unrelenting sin and depravity — especially if we or they have — the importance of turning to God in those last moments cannot be overstated. So long as we breathe, we are never lost.

  18. English Teacher says:

    Msgr. Pope,

    You really need an editor. I noticed several incorrect word in your piece. Such as, “…whether they like it our not are watchmen…” That should be, “…whether they like it ***or*** not are watchmen…”
    Also, your punctuation needs work, too. Such as, “…But of course none of…”. That should be, “…But,of course, none of…”.
    “How powerful are right words!”
    Only when combined with proper syntax, punctuation, spelling, and grammar.
    You get a “C” for this submission.

    Mrs. Smith

    • Yes, I do need an editor. I work hard all day and publish late in the evening. Thanks for your corrections. I wonder what you though of the post and wonder if your grammar venom is about that more than the grammar. Just curious.

      By the way there was a typo in your comment, a singular should have been plural.

  19. AnneG says:

    Excellent instructions, Msgr. Regarding funeral planning, I have a question. Would it be appropriate to request the readings be those of the day? I hope I have a few years before I have to do this, but I’d be happy to have the daily mass readings. I hope to be on my way to heaven and able to pray with those in attendance. Thanks,
    Oh, and no Eagle’s Wings. Better Dies Irae.

  20. Janice says:

    Thank you Msgr. Pope for this well written article. We have many family members who have either left the Catholic faith or are so poorly catechized that we hear a lot of this very thing when attending family funerals. We aren’t trying to be cruel, but as you so well pointed out, what makes you think they get a pass and go directly to heaven? Heaven is guaranteed to no one, you have to work for it every day. Keep up the great work. God Bless and thank you.

  21. Anne Marie says:

    In my home parish, there is a ministry for those who have had experienced bereavement. Such a ministry does play a much needed role for the family when they need it the most.

  22. Ellen says:

    When I die, I want the priest to preach about the importance of prayers for the dead. I will need all the prayers I can get. When my mother died, the priest preached about her deep faith and how she took care of so many of us and that now it was our turn to take care of her by praying for her.

  23. Woody says:

    Very good piece, Msgr. I would hope all Catholics, especially priests, would read it and implement it. Do you think that it was the change in the Mass, from TLM to venacular, that the funeral Mass became more of an eulogy? I have never been to a funeral Mass in the EF but it would seem that the problems that you describe could not occur in the EF.

  24. elm says:

    Because of the certainty of judgment we can say without a doubt that the deceased has see the Face of God?

    • Well, I think seeing the “Face” of God has a more specific application to those who attain to glory. It is not clear how one experiences judgement, I suppose some sort of vision is necessary, but that said, seeing the Face of God, at least as biblically used, refers to the reward of the saved

  25. Laura says:

    Thank you so much for this. I read an earlier post where words like cold hearted were used. In my humble opinion, I would rather give glory to God in His House than to rehash my meager life. Beside, we all need those prayers far more than we to listen to what we already know of a person. Kudos Msgr. Charles Pope! and thank you.

  26. Derek says:

    My understanding has been that a Mass is the time to pray for the soul of the deceased. A wake is the time to remember their life.

  27. Martha says:

    I have been bothered by the “Celebration of Life” services. People it is a funeral. It’s like people are scared of death…and want to change it. So people don’t call it a funeral anymore but a celebration. People we need to mourn. It helps the healing process. People are trying to make themselves happy even at a person’s death. This really bothers me. Also people who spread their loved ones ashes or keep them on the mantle this bothers me too. It is okay to feel sad and mourn at this sorrowful time. And ask Jesus to help us. I fully agreed with you Msgr. Charles Pope. I love reading your blog. It has given me much comfort and I have learned so much about scripture and Jesus’s Love and Mercy. My son died 4 years ago. I pray for the repose of his soul everyday.

  28. Mary says:

    Excellent post Monsignor. Much needed. And I have always found you to be the extreme opposite of cold….but you are a Son Of the Bible! Thanks for all you do.

  29. Ed says:

    Father,
    Wonderful post. Thank you.

    I would submit that even the liturgical color used for nearly all funeral masses helps contributes to this misunderstanding. It’s easy to forget the Church’s teaching on the four last things and praying for the dead when the color of the vestments and the pall is the same as that which we see on the Feast of All Saints.

  30. Quinn says:

    Msgr. Pope, thank you very much for this enlightening post. You touched on many valid and excellent points that need to be reiterated for our time! I will remember them. Recently one of my own relatives passed away and with the amount of assurances given by the pastor (among other family members, including myself unfortunately) of her presence in Heaven during the funeral, you’d think that her canonization was a foregone conclusion by the time the mass was over. Who will pray for her now if she’s still waiting on our prayers in Purgatory? What’s more is that my own brothers (who are either atheist or non-practicing Catholics) nonchalantly walked up to receive Holy Communion right after Father had given the clearest and most charitable explanation of the Church’s discipline concerning the reception of Holy Communion. This is to say nothing of my other relatives, practicing and non-practicing, who received at the funeral. I was sincerely appalled at the sacrilege, but above all moved to tears out of loving concern for their souls to which they unfortunately committed grievous harm. And you confirmed my suspicion that this kind of thing is indeed a microcosm of a much larger problem. Oh, Monsignor, how much sin this world is steeped in! May God continue to pour out oceans of mercy upon us, for the sin of our century is the loss of the sense of sin as Pope Pius XII said. Have you any parting advice to one who strives to be holy but who at times feels alone and sometimes discouraged at the lack of faith and love in Our Lord during this age?

  31. Justin says:

    I agree with what you are saying Father. Especially your first point about the purpose of Funerals. Where I am from, many people tend to “Canonize” (If I may) their departed relatives in their eulogies. There was also this one occasion where the relatives asked one of the man’s grand daughters (who happens to be a very staunch born-again christian) to do the reading. Needless to say, no reverence was paid to the Altar, she walked with her own bible to read from, and also started by saying “good morning everyone, thanks for coming” Family is necessary in consoling each other during times of death, but God must be at the centre of our practices. Thanks much.

  32. Marie Van Gompel Alsbergas says:

    I agree with you, Father.

    Over a decade ago my beloved grandmother passed away. As her end drew near, she asked that my cousin and I present brief eulogies. My cousin and I are her first and last grandchildren (with many in between) and we are both named after her. Even now, I can’t describe what I felt as I considered this task. But I asked a wise deacon in my church, who was himself a grandfather. Deacon Michael suggested that I discuss her prayer life, since I had lived with her and prayed with her. My cousin, in her 20’s, talked about her memories of Grandma. I talked about how Grandma prayed the Rosary daily for each of her children and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. I told them how much she loved each of us, to her final day. The celebrant, who knew her well and me not at all, congratulated me on a eulogy which truly reflected who my grandmother was.

  33. Tim says:

    Msgr, I have wondered for a while about a priest wearing white at a funeral. I know it is an option according to the GIRM, but I think of the two days that starts off this month of November, All Saints and All Souls. Could people make the conclusion that these are one in the same, i.e. a happy day, because white is worn for all days of joy, i.e. Christmas, Easter, and any saint that is not a martyr. I do not want to be a downer, but I would think that people would or could make that conclusion. I would be interested to know what your thoughts on the matter.

  34. Melissa says:

    Dear Msgr.,

    It might be helpful to mention that a part of this process also includes the Vigil service, or Wake. For example, a time for a family member or members to speak about the deceased is specifically noted in the Rite of the Vigil following the concluding prayer.

    Also it is noted in the instruction for the Rite that family members “should be encouraged to take an active part in these ministries, but they should not be asked to assume any role that their grief or sense of loss may make too burdensome.” par 15.

    Although the Rite does mention (par 171) that “a member or a friend of the family may speak in remembrance of the deased before the final commendation begins”. I have to say that I object to the practice. It has been my experience that the Lituryg has been structured beautifully to help those who are grieving to let go of their loved one. Through the course of the Mass they are introduced to their new relationship with that person, a relationship of prayer and an experience of communion with them through the Mass. Then, if you have someone get up at the end and share old memories, it has the effect of ripping a bandaid off a new wound, and any healing that might have started seems to be undone. That’s just my personal observation.

    I am the Liturgist at my parish, and when we meet to plan with the family, we explain that there are three parts to this Liturgy, the Vigil, where we pray for the deceased and one another, the Funeral Mass, whose focus is directed to God and His mercy and forgiveness, and the Rite of Committal.

    Many good points in your article. Thank you!

    • Yes, but another interesting phenomenon in many parts of the Church is the disappearance of the wake service altogether. Increasingly people do one day services which feature a visitation at the Church, followed directly by the funeral Mass. At any rate, there are still in many places what you describe in that the wake service is a place to minister as well. Here in DC, of the 50 funerals I did last year, only one had a wake service. Big change from 25 years ago when I was ordained.

      • Melissa says:

        I didn’t realize that was happening. I’m in North Dakota, and I’d say it’s rare here not to have a wake. We average about 40 or so funerals a year at my parish, and maybe 2 or 3 of them do not have a wake. I find it sad that many people are opting not to have this, because I think it’s pastorally really beneficial for people to have an evening of prayer and then the opportunity to rest and come back the next day for the Funeral Mass. One change I have noticed is that when I started working about 15 years ago, the wake was pretty much always preceded by praying the rosary, and that is less and less common.

  35. Tracy says:

    I understand and agree with what is being said but isn’t there a compromise in having both. I lost my 18 year old son 4 years ago and it is important to me to remember him, keep his memory alive and all the good he did and was himself. Making the funeral a little personal to his life felt right. But yes I pray for his soul, that god will forgive him of his sins and that he will live in God’s heavenly kindgom and do great works in heaven as he did here on earth. He touched so many lives I to this day am in awe. I also agree and would be so pleased if at his funeral at least one person in attendance would come to know God how wonderful. I would have to say since loosing my son although I know what I should be doing and know what is right I struggle and do miss mass I just don’t feel moved to attend mass some days and get very emotional while I am there. I just feel lost some days and don’t even always know exactly what to pray anymore. I found this article very interesting.

    • Yes, balance, that is the key

    • freddy says:

      Tracy,
      God bless you. You are in my prayers. Keep going to Mass as much as you can, even when nothing makes sense. You don’t have to pray, just let Our Lord hold you. Our Blessed Mother will care for you in a special way, I’m sure, since she knows what it’s like to lose a Son! My mother-in-law always said that Mary and praying the rosary helped her so much when one of her sons died young. May God grant you healing and peace.

  36. Mike says:

    Thank you, Monsignor. One hopes soon, through the good offices of the Archdiocese and those like yourself, to start hearing more about mortification and penance from the pulpit — and not just at funerals.

    It’s not cold-hearted to remind us poor souls still in the Church Militant of what we need to do, and Whom we need to turn to, to be shriven of sin and self-obsession and thus to make room for grace and an awareness of the Presence of God.

  37. Maria Antonia Mariscal de Zabiega says:

    Thank you for posting this!!! I 100% agree with you, especially, “Purgatory and the concept of purification after death are almost never mentioned, but they should be.” When you have priest wearing WHITE chesables, it is as if they are also saying that the person has gone to heaven. I think only when children die, should the priest wear WHITE. Otherwise, they should wear PURPLE or please bring back the BLACK!!! It’s a time for mourning and prayer and REFLECTION. Thank you…thank you.

  38. RichardGTC says:

    “Jesus says, You must be perfect as the Heavenly Father is perfect. (Mat 5:41). This is a promise, not a threat.”–Excellent point. Those words often cause difficulty for people, me included. Excellent post, overall. Thanks.

  39. Greg says:

    If it is 80% of people at funerals are in mortal sin…what is the % of the deceased? Obviously you can’t know for sure if the deceased is in mortal sin but it probably isn’t too hard to make an educated guess. Do you ever wonder as you celebrate the funeral Mass if the deceased is in Hell?

    • Well I don’t know if 80% are in mortal sin, but 80% in many funerals denotes those who have fallen away or are largely unchurched. Mortal sin requires full consent and due discretion so I don’t absolutely equate unchurch with mortal sin. However, I am not all that confident either that the unchurched are in a state of grace. Point is that they are in grave condition, quite likely.

  40. Bill Russell says:

    Superb. A few years ago in the Archdiocese of New York, an instruction went out to all priests stopping eulogies. The Cardinal was the first to break his own rule and it has been downhill ever since. It is difficult for a parish priest to maintain liturgical decorum when abuses take place in the cathedral itself.

  41. Ree Guerra says:

    The Msgr. wrote a blog offering his professional perspective on funerals and his style of writing showed his passion for the subject matter. But, as I have learned some times we can be “dead right,” pardon the pun. He may be correct but his argument for the proper balance for funerals was delivered with a 2×4. Persuasion is a more effective tool. And, sometimes it’s also best to let time pass before responding.
    My parish priest has done both funerals for my parents. He has the appropriate balance both in comforting those left behind and honoring the deceased with kind words. (Eulogies are given either at the parish hall after the funeral or at the grave site.) By having the casket at the front near the altar the statement is made that we are handing the deceased over to God for His judgement. The family has laid down their burden of grief at the foot of the Cross. The imagery of this is a beautiful form of evangelizing for those who are not churched or are non-believers. The liturgy of the funeral Mass becomes our collective prayer for the deceased and worship for God.
    Regarding communion, our priest invites those who are non-Catholic to come for a blessing by crossing their arms across the chest. Why? Because this is a time for compassion. Imagine a non-believer having a priest, like Jesus, touch his/her head in their hour of grief. My non-Catholic friends always comment how beautiful and meaningful a Catholic funeral is. Our priest is a letter from Christ as all of us should be. 2 Corinthians 3:2-5

  42. Gerry McMurray says:

    Well done Msgr. Pope. All our parishes need this direction. I am so saddened by what Catholic funeral Masses have become with no talk of sin, forgiveness, and redemption, becoming almost canonization services! I plan to give this wonderful piece to our priests in our parish .I recall the homily that our pastor delivered at my mother’s funeral 53 years ago that we all need God’s mercy and forgiveness and that was what we were praying for at her funeral Mass.
    Keep up the great work!

  43. Fr. George says:

    With reference to Communion, I’d like to hear your critique, Monsignor. Since a funeral is often a mixture of persons, I always say something like this: “As a Catholic priest, I have the obligation to see that the Eucharist is distributed to those who are Catholic. Unfortunately, the day has not yet arrived where we Christians can fully break and share bread together, but hopefully the Spirit will lead us to that day soon. Nevertheless, if you are not Catholic, and wish to receive a blessing, please come forward with your hand on your heart to signify that and I will gladly do so. Thank you.”

    For the most part, this has been received well. I’ve only received, over the years, two negatives––one from a fellow priest who said he’d never do anything like that (and suggested I stop), and from a parishioner at my previous assignment who thought it cruel and uninviting. Yet, I’d like to hear what you think, if possible. Thanks.

    • Hegelian Dialectic says:

      Those who think it “cruel” and “uninviting” haven’t a clue of what it means to live as a Catholic.
      Why would those in attendance feel a desire or a need to receive a blessing from a priest if they haven’t converted to the Faith? I mean, if it isn’t important enough to learn about the Faith (or to follow it if they were born into it in the first place) then why the need for a blessing from a priest at a funeral? I’m not sure I get this. And why get up from the pew and approach the altar as if the person is going to receive Communion? The whole idea is ecumenical silliness. It debases the Faith and those of the faithful in attendance. We are not breaking bread together. We are obeying Christ’s Commandments and receiving the Sacraments as faithful Catholics in (hopefully) full knowledge of what that means for our eternal souls. I’m not sure we can say that about everyone in attendance at a funeral. And all of this assumes a validly ordained priest and valid Sacraments are available.

  44. Margie says:

    Thank you and God Bless you for this discussion. I am the music director in my church, and I speak with families about the music for their loved ones funerals. Sometimes it can be more like planning a stage show than a liturgy. One of the things that drives me crazy is the need to have every family member “involved” in the liturgy. This sometimes means asking people who are not comfortable doing something like singing or reading or having 15 grandchildren bring of the gifts. There is so much time spent on the “planning” there is no time to reflect on what is really going on. There is that feeling among us who work with families that you do not want to confront them too much when they are grieving. Unfortunately, many families who come for a Catholic funeral are basically “unchurched” and really don’t know what they are supposed to ask for. By giving them so many choices we are giving them the opportunity to avoid what really needs to be said with the music. I have often joked with my husband that “the Requiem mass is looking better and better”. I unfortunately had the opportunity to attend a requiem for a dear friend of mine who was lover of the Traditional Latin mass. I had never been to one because the only funerals I went to pre Vatican II were in the Ukranian Catholic Church,which has its own beauty. I found it to be more uplifting and more reverent than many of the funerals I sing for.

  45. Justin says:

    Msgr. with all due respect, I agree with what you have said in this article. However I take great concern in how your points about the location of the deceased’s soul plays out in practice. We tell young children who are still in a state of innocence with no concept of sin that they are in heaven as a comfort. Many who are in the position to comfort the grieving take the easy way out because they lack the knowledge of how to successfully articulate the theology in a caring manner, not lacking the theology itself. I look forward to your sermon to see how you accomplish this.

  46. Mary Ruth says:

    Thank you Msgr!

    I have been singing at funerals in a number of parishes in the last three decades (I would estimate 400 funerals). Let me suggest I have seen and heard a lot from the loft, and have been appalled at most of the messages from the pulpit, family members offering eulogies (before Mass) without proper direction, Holy Communion offered without instruction, and untrained family lectors. I would add that 90% of homilies are eulogies, and this is often difficult because the homilist does not always know the deceased, so the “eulily” is based on a few culled (occasionally trite) stories from meeting with the family.

    About ten years ago I wrote to the Ordinary of the diocese about the repeated Universalist “we’re all going to heaven” messages from the funeral pulpit and the penchant for homiletic eulogies. I received a short reply, but nothing has changed. In the last three decades, I would estimate I have heard the word Purgatory at the most, three times. I have been blessed to hear about six breath-taking homilies which hit all the right grace notes and called the congregation to right relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church. It is very surprising to me; if I were a priest, I would salivate at the opportunity to proclaim Jesus Christ to funeral attendees, a group that would clearly be asking themselves the big questions. If not now, then when?

    Ralph Martin bravely addresses the Universalist message in his 2012 book “Will Many Be Saved?” It is clear that top down instruction is desperately needed for funerals. As my husband always says with a grin: “Time for the bishops to start bishin’.”

  47. Cissy Rampino says:

    Dearest Monsignor,
    My mother passed away on June 21st of this year, and if I may make a presumption, you would have loved her funeral. We had a 1 hour visiting time before the Mass where I lead the prayers from the Office of the Dead, then we prayed the rosary. My pastor wore black vestments, which we had to borrow from the SSPX because there were none to be fond in this diocese. Then my mother’s casket was draped in a black funeral pall.
    My pastor did the readings, it was ad orientem. My son sang the Salve Regina, and my daughter sang Ave Maria after communion. I had 2 Nashville Dominican sisters there because I am a Lay Dominican. I can tell you this Monsignor, I have gotten more compliments on my mothers’ funeral than I can count. I was pleased the give my mother the tradition of a beautiful funeral that did not paint her as a saint. She has had so many masses ,rosaries and adoration hours for the repose of her soul, and I will continue to do so until I die.
    Also Monsignor, since the funeral, I have bought my pastor a full set of BLACK vestments, fiddle, burse etc. the whole holy enchilada….respectfully saying and it took his breath away. Preach your fire and brimstone Monsignor because like the old saying goes…..” The road to hell is paved with the skulls of dead priests”. If you don’t try to save us and get us to Heaven, who will. God bless you!
    Sincerely in Christ!

  48. Mary Jo says:

    I’m a church organist and have sat through many a homiliy at funerals. Some make me feel quite uneasy. I expect to spend time in purgatory and like someone else said, “Who will pray for me?” I might have to print out your homily and put it in my file for MY funeral someday. ; -)

  49. Hegelian Dialectic says:

    Douay Rheims: narrow gate passages– Matthew 7:13-14; Luke 13:24
    My mom died this past August 16th. Her casket was draped in white. The pastor of the N.O. church (of which I’m not a parishioner) gave a decent enough homily but purgatory was never mentioned, nor was a reminder to pray for our beloved dead ever uttered. It wasn’t quite as bad as another homily given for another family member some 18 months ago where all the priest could say over and over again was, “he was a good man”. It was horrible. In fact, at one point, he asked everyone in attendance to extend their hand toward the casket to pronounce a “blessing”. I wanted to scream out, “This isn’t even approaching Catholicism”. I half expected him to ask those in attendance to speak in tongues. AND OF COURSE, communion was offered at both of these funeral “masses”. Now, not for nothing, but communion, pre-Vatican II, was not part of a Catholic funeral Mass because the priest couldn’t be sure who was in attendance at a Mass and who would sacrilegiously take the consecrated Host, the unbaptized, those not disposed because of the state of their souls, or even worse (I’ll leave it to your imagination). Her passing was made less traumatic for me and my husband because our priest from the Ukrainian Catholic Church came and gave her last rites before she died and was present to pray for her at the funeral home (the same prayers said for a deceased before all the ecumenical changes were made in the 1960s.). If I had had an independent priest nearby I would’ve called him in but unfortunately, we do what we have to do in this age of apostasy.

  50. Jo Anna says:

    How about a post on appropriate music at Catholic funerals? :-)

  51. Michael says:

    Thank-you for addressing this subject. There was also this recent blog on cremation, http://www.catholicuniversebulletin.org/THEOLOGY13/theology1.php, which I have seen abused. At my brothers “memorial service” his cremated remains were distributed in small glass vials and people were encouraged to spread his ashes in his favorite places. Can you imagine handing out body parts and doing the same thing?

  52. Jerry says:

    Your funeral Mass homily today was a catechetical masterpiece! Thank you for your service to God’s people. I hope to meet more “cold SOBs” like you on the other side of this life. :)

  53. Jack says:

    Thank you, Monsignor. We really appreciate your message, especially after going to two funerals this last weekend where the “remembrances” went on and on, and then the deceased was canonized! This has long been one of our favorite complaints. We would appreciate some suggested readings, having heard the full gamut. And I am so tired of hearing “On Eagles Wings!” Loved the recordings you posted. I m planning a black Requiem Mass for myself (if my wishes are followed).

  54. @fmshyanguya says:

    Msgr. Pope, Fr. Wilson and Fr. George, may G_d bless you and your ministry.
    To Msgr.’s point of taking into account the whole of Scripture:
    Cf. Lk 13: 1-5 Examples inviting repentance (after death has occurred) from the LORD himself:
    “It was just about this time that some people arrived and told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with that of their sacrifices. At this he said to them, ‘Do you suppose these Galileans who suffered like that were greater sinners than any other Galileans? They were not, I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did. Or the eighteen on whom the tower at Siloam fell and killed them? Do you suppose that they were more guilty than all the other people living in Jerusalem? They were not, I tell you. No; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did.'”

    My thinking is that much harm is done, especially to the young, when Uncle Joe is ‘instantly canonized’ when it is known by those present that his Sunday Football took the place Mass and family. And how beneficial and sobering when a priest speaking the truth in charity courageously states that Uncle Joe, a sinner like us, has met his judgment (we too will and we do not know when), and that we should pray for him and entrust him to G_d’s mercy, and the occasion of his death is a G_d given (like the Gospel quote above) opportunity for us examine our lives and…repent!

    Msgr. Pope and Fr. Wilson, please pray for me and my family.

  55. Rev. Stewart Schneider says:

    Of all the things I do pastorally, I am convinced that I do funerals the worst. The Monsignor’s words are more than instructive, but I cannot divorce myself from the grief of the family and the need to minister to it.

    I attended a Baptist funeral for a suicide once in which the pastor looked at the grieving widow and told her, “Of course we know where Bill is now, but we hope you can be saved.” A teaching, but inappropriate.

    I’m looking forward to reading the Monsignor’s Sermon tomorrow. I am really interested.

  56. Bill Foley says:

    Great article, Monsignor! When my wife died, I asked the priest to please mention purgatory and to ask the people to pray for her.

    I am still waiting to attend a funeral that has the three essentials: (1) comfort the sorrowing; (2) explain purgatory and ask for prayers for the deceased; (3) remind the congregation about the last things, which they will have to face some day.

  57. LizEst says:

    Thank you, Monsignor Pope. Our pastor also puts the “words of remembrance” before the Mass. It’s a great place for them…they tend to be appropriate and also stay within the time guidelines. I wish all did it that way. No liturgical complaints about the way he runs things.

    More need to know that the funeral Mass is intended for the soul of the deceased. I’ve even heard a priest (not in our parish anymore) say it is for the family. Ugh! Yes, it’s important to show mercy and compassion. But, ugh! Can we get rid of the term “celebration of life” from our obituary write-ups? That’s part of the problem right there, fostered by those who have no sense of why we come together to pray and little sense of a life after death.

    Thank you…and God bless you! And, Happy Veteran’s Day to all who have served and sacrificed for our country.

  58. JohnR says:

    I have long said that I want a sung requiem at my funeral. Somehow I don’t think that will happen. I always remember singing a full requiem Mass for Pope Pius XII. I was in a seminary then and it really moved me. Of course, it goes without saying that this was a Latin Mass and the priest, deacon and sub-deacon all wore black. This was a proper requiem and the words are beautiful. I was receiving organ lessons then as well and my teacher informed me that the plainsong of that Mass is some of the earliest which we have and goes back to North Africa in about the second century. If you look at it, it is so simple, and this bears out the claim that it is of very early composition.
    You may also gather that I am one of those who did not complete my seminary training! I am one of the pre-Vatican II seminarians.
    Another thought though….a friend of mine was in the last stages of cancer and I said to him at the time “Kevin, you are bearing up so very well” and his reply was “John, I’m in a state of grace, what have I to fear?!”

  59. anniem says:

    OH, how this is so much needed. Msgr. Pope. I just returned from the funeral of a youngish man, son of a friend. No one in the family knew where he was for a year before he died, because he was an alcoholic and could never conquer that addiction. The presiding priest at the Mass offered some words of comfort, in effect saying that the Lord had called him home because the poor man had suffered enough. At least he did not canonize him, which is what happens at every deacon’s funeral in this diocese. So-and-so is now with the Lord, enjoying all the happiness he deserved as a good deacon. At one funeral each of the grandchildren brought up a hat at the Offertory Procession to represent what their Grandpa (deacon) liked or did in his life. Ten in all. The Church was recently rebuilt after a fire, and it looked like a Mormon meeting house…as I can only imagine as I have never been in one. Everything was on the diagonal, including the unrecognizable chapel chapel to the rear of the altar. I could add many paragraphs about the choice of English hymns, especially from OCP. And pianos-no organ music allowed. We need to pray for our Church that we get back to reverence; we may end up with two Churches: the American Catholic church and the Roman Catholic Church, the one that listens to Rome and values real sacred music at all the liturgies. We will either have a Requiem High Mass or…

  60. dominic1955 says:

    Msgr. Pope,

    All of the points you make in this post are correct. I’m in the funeral business, and I will tell you, I would NOT be in the funeral business if I had to sit through every one of these banal “celebration of life” things that pass for a “funeral”-we usually end up hanging out somewhere else until its “our turn”.

    Anyway, what I also find striking is that we have the anecdote to this nonsense in our liturgical quiver-the old Requiem Mass! Honestly, it is like the perfect type of wrench in the exact right size and the serviceman (i.e. the Church) is trying to make a go with about anything BUT the right tool! Its profoundly silly, like New Coke. Read through the text of the traditional Requiem and the points you make are right there, liturgically. The black (and violet for the tabernacle/altar frontal), the unbleached candles, the Dies Irae, the various other additions and subtractions as compared to a regular Mass all make the exact point you’re making.

    I know you are not opposed to the TLM, rather, I’m saying this for the Western Church at large. The general malaise we see at most Catholic funerals these days, I would say, is the direct result of the liturgical change from the old Requiem Mass to the “Mass of Christian Burial”.

    It is true, the NO can be made to be quite similar to the old Requiem (black vestments, use of the Introit which is the “Requiem aeternam…”) but those are about as rare as hen’s teeth and dependent solely on the good liturgical practice of the individual priest. Fr. A might do a bang up job saying the NO in line with Catholic liturgical tradition but down the street Fr. B has the same ol’ mini-canonization service that most Catholic funerals end up being.

  61. David L Alexander says:

    When I handled the funeral arrangements for my Dad a while back, I spent several minutes explaining to the music director why “In Paradisum” was the appropriate choice for recessing out, even though the cantor would sing it, and everyone else would have to listen. such being a foreign concept to her. I got what I asked for, but it helps to be a pushy guy — and to do some homework.

    Most people whose loved ones has died are given a sheet of hymn selections (most of the ones in my case were inappropriate, some were even theologically unsound), and guidance from people who are themselves very ill-informed. It is not hard to imagine why most funerals are a “celebration of life.”

  62. Brigit Barnes says:

    Thank you Father. That is why my will explicitly states that the funeral be performed by Priests of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, who will not muck it up, and provides enough cash for 30 days of Masses for my soul. I am under no illusions that i will be canonized before I am cold. If family and friends want to have an Irish wake afterward and get plastered that is all fine and good– but my funeral is the time for DeProfundis.

  63. Annette Strachan says:

    We.know where there is good there is evil; could the next image be another choice please. Some saving grace,
    Maybe. Thanks. We all need it.

  64. Cindy says:

    Dear Msgr. Pope, I read your blog gratefully as a catechist and am happy to tell you that the link came from one of the priests of my parish. Thank you for educating me! In addition to your blog, I have benefited from reading the many thoughtful comments.

    Sad to say, a lot in your article were things I never knew or had never considered. Not to pat myself on the back, I have 2 certificates in church ministry (1 from Education for Parish Service there in DC and another here in my current AD Phila) and have tried in many more ways to constantly build my knowledge of our Faith. I am embarassed how little I had known/considered about funeral Masses and wonder how little the average parishioner (no less inactive Catholic) knows. The way you explained it made total sense. But I foresee a lot of catechesis from parish priests when a family come to them to celebrate a funeral Mass. I have been to so many funerals that were “canonizations” and typically people always do speak of the newly dead is “being in a better place” with no mention of purgatory or why we need to pray for the dead. You hit that nail squarely on the head!

  65. Donna L. says:

    Excellent.

  66. sylvia kordish says:

    A post on appropriate music at Catholic funerals sounds like a good idea. I have been an organist and cantor for thirty+ years, and I dearly love my ministry,but most times I am handed a sheet of paper with a list of requested hymns and no discussion of appropriate selections or placement…………sadly I see some people who seem to think they can customize a liturgy…………like using a hymn as the memorial acclamation !!!!!!! I never comply but often never get the opportunity to explain why this is not possible. Thank you Msgr. Pope for all your posts and God Bless YOU !!! BTW, although this subject matter is serious, after reading a few of the many and lengthy posts, I offered a prayer up for you !!! Hope you didn’t sustain too many bruises !!!

  67. Colette says:

    Thank you Msgr Pope…just Thank you! Beautiful column! I have forwarded this to my husband and children so that they know what I want at my own funeral (I’m only 48, but we must be always ready, correct?)

  68. Craig says:

    Thank you, Monsignor, for true Charity towards all.

  69. Jennifer says:

    Thank you.

    What about funerals for very young, baptized Catholics? Would it be appropriate to speak of the little ones as being in heaven? If so, up to what age?

    When my Gabriel died (age 2) an elderly priest told us that we have the unique honor of being the parents of a new saint. We tend to be very theologically minded, so the comment really struck us. He went on to suggest that we ask Gabriel to intercede for us.

    • dominic1955 says:

      In the old days, a baptized child who died before the age of reason (~7 yrs. old) had the Missa de Angelis said instead of the Requiem Mass because, as your priest said, the child would necessarily be a saint. Not in the formal canonized sense, but by logical necessity. Baptism removed Original Sin and a person who does not have full use of reason cannot commit a personal sin. Thus, without either-sainthood. They would be dressed in white and crowned with a wreath of flowers or something similar to symbolize their status. I’ve been to one such funeral, it was quite beautiful.

  70. Michael Marsili says:

    This was a much needed article. As one studying to be a Catholic Deacon, this aspect of the ministry is a little intimidating to me. I truly want to walk the line with respect to the family and friends and still remain true to the faith and tradition of the Catholic Church. The priest at our parish does a wonderful job of calling ones attention to the mercy of God, the need for prayers for the dead and the reasons for hope. He never misses an opportunity to teach not only the Catholics in attendance but also those outside the faith. Thank you so much.

  71. Andrew Bloomfield says:

    Perhaps this is why I’ve always been struck by the profundity of the black vestments and formality of the Extraordinary Form expression of the Requiem Mass. That, and the final words of the Dies Irae: “That tearful day upon which guilty man arises from ashes unto judgment: spare him, therefore, O God; Merciful Lord Jesus, grant them rest.”
    It’s impossible to miss the necessity of intercession for the faithful departed — and for ourselves — and to exercise the virtue of hope. Thanks for the great article!

    • ric says:

      Its warm and dark on the other side. You are in the presense of Christ. When given the command to open your eyes, you will receive one of two instructions: “Come, enter into the home of My Father”, or “Away from me evildoer, for I never knew you.” My message was clear. Stop sinning, and live the Beatitudes. It was that simple.My ministry is now clear. The Holy Spirit told me that He will bring others to me and I am to bring them to Him…

  72. Rebecca says:

    Msgr. Pope,
    Thank you for the informative blog regarding funerals in the Catholic Church. This blog is very helpful.

  73. Pete McNesbitt says:

    With a very recent death of an aunt, this seemed a little off the mark today and yet I know she would agree with the sentiment of the article completely. When I die, I’ve already mentioned to my nieces and nephews that I would really like them to pay an extra fifty dollars for extra incense. As a former altar boy, I really love the smell and texture and significance of the incensing the remains. Casket will probably be optional as I plan on donating my remains to a medical school.

  74. Matt says:

    Great post! I hope to hear a good funeral homily some day in my life.

  75. Germain Grisez says:

    What Father Pope says about funerals seems to me sound, and I wish every bishop would teach his priests these things.

    Still, it seems to me that the sample homily is far too long. I don’t think a good homily (in the wealthier nations of the world) exceeds 1,000 words–ever. With the media forming people’s expectations about communications in general, their attention span has shrunk. No matter how well formulated and delivered a homily is, it will fail for those who quit listening, and they are likely to need it most.

    • Thanks. As for length, there are cultural variances as to what is a “good” homily. In my parish setting (African American), homilies are longer. This particular homily came in at 20 min, live. That’s about average for a funeral. Sunday Homilies are closer to 30 min. At Sung Latin Requiems esp. with polyphony, the overall format is longer as well since the propers, esp the libera, + Dies Irae etc go on for some time. People who ask for this form know the format is longer. Of course even in situations where length is more accepted, it is not length per se, but length plus content that is desired. But that’s my real point, good does not equal short or long. Content is the essential matter. Short = good is a value in some settings, but not all. Also, in presenting this material I realize that everyone must adapt it for their setting. I am privileged to preach mainly among those who appreciate longer and rich fare at the homily moment. For those not so lucky some of this material could be selected or shortened.

  76. Nicholas L. Rosal STD, PHL, MSJ says:

    An excellent pastoral piece every Catholic Bishop should distribute to their clergy.

  77. Abram Muljana says:

    Well.
    I don’t believe in day of judgement or purgatory. I am deeply Agnostic (and a former Catholic).
    BUT.
    It is absolutely true that a Requiem is performed to prepare the deceased for the next journey. It’s not an auto biography. For that you need an editor, not a priest and his acolytes.
    The many ‘kumbaya’ style, loosy-goosy funeral service performed these days are not only tacky but also useless (for the purpose of praying).
    If we want to be sincere with the structure of the ‘new’ Pauline Mass, there is no place in the ‘Missa in commemoratione Onmiun Defunctorum’ a family member should speak. If one can sing properly, may be he or she can perform a few verses from Dies Irae. That’s it!

  78. Some guy says:

    I attended my very first Catholic funeral today and was very taken aback and confused. After reading this blog I understand why things happened the way they did.

    It has also 100% convinced me to never have anything to do with the Catholic Church ever again. I will support religions and organizations that help people, rather than prey on grieving and spiritually weak people in their times of need.

    Thank you for this eye opening article.

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