After assisting at my third funeral in a week and suffering through my FIFTH dreadful eulogy (Yes, some funerals have more than one) I was wondering why the funeral liturgy is the only mass where lay people are allowed to speak. If family members have something to say at a wedding, that’s what the reception is for. If someone has something to say at a baptism, they save it for the after party. Imagine how long first communion, first penance, or confirmation would take if every parent got up to talk. Only at the funeral liturgy, when family members are in a poor emotional state, do we allow them to speak.
Here’s what Catholic Answers says about eulogies:
According to the Order of Christian Funerals, there is never to be a eulogy at a funeral Mass (OCF 27), although the celebrant may express a few words of gratitude about the person’s life in his homily, or he may allow a relative or a friend to say a few words about the deceased during the concluding rite (GIRM 89). The remarks must be brief and under no circumstances can the deceased person be referred to as being in heaven. (emphasis mine) Only the Church has the authority to canonize.
Contrary to common assumption, the purpose of the funeral Mass is not to celebrate the life of the deceased but to offer worship to God for Christ’s victory over death, to comfort the mourners with prayers, and to pray for the soul of the deceased. Relatives or friends who wish to speak of the deceased’s character and accomplishments can do so at a prayer service to be held in a home or funeral home or at the graveside following the rite of committal.
Here’s what typically happens. The priest or deacon homilist has done exactly what the rite calls for us to do, that is to offer comfort to the mourners, to celebrate Jesus’ victory over death, and to pray for the soul of the deceased. Having done that and offering Holy Communion to the Catholic’s in attendance, the rite calls for silent reflection followed by the final prayers.
Sadly, at many funerals, family members think it’s a good thing to stand up before those assembled and to try to speak. Often they end up making fools of themselves, becoming a teary mess. Who ever thought this was a good idea? Besides making themselves look foolish, they destroy the moment. Whatever peace Father or Deacon has brought to the family is replaced with sadness and sympathy for the eulogist. We humans are a sympathetic bunch. When the speaker breaks down, chances are we’re going to do the same.
If a person has been a faithful Catholic all of his (or her) life, shouldn’t their last interaction with the Church on earth be the best it can be. We have professional clergy who have been trained to do the job. Let’s save amateur night for some other occasion.
One last thought, notice the sentence in the Catholic Answers quote that I put in bold type. Without getting into too deep a theological rant here, the Church teaches that when we die in a state of grace we will go to heaven after a period of cleansing which we call purgatory. We have no idea how long this period is, it could be minutes or it could be years. We just don’t know. That’s why we pray for the dead. If we thought that our loved one went directly to heaven, what’s the point of praying for them?
While we don’t want to talk about grandma being on the outside looking in, it’s not accurate to just assume she’s in heaven. Father Benedict Groschel once said, “The worst day in purgatory is better than the best day on earth.” Plus, once we’re in purgatory, we know we’re going to heaven. That’s what the Church teaches. That’s what we believe.
Our HOPE is that we will get to heaven one day. There are no sure things. In fact, (gasp!) some of us aren’t going to heaven. Sorry, but it’s true. It’s just another reason why it’s best to leave these things up to the pros.
Don’t our loved ones deserve the best sendoff we can possibly give them? I think they do.