Fr Patrick Rushe, Chaplin of Dundalk Institue of Technology (DKIT), writes on the controversy surrounding funeral eulogies announced by the Bishop of Meath.
“A funeral is supposed to be a solemn and touching occasion to recall the Christian life of the person and articulate the hope in the resurrection.
However, due to the decline in religious practice, this aspect of the funeral is diminishing and the communal/societal aspect is growing in significance. People want ‘to say goodbye’, and to ‘remember’ the full life of the person. A eulogy is not the most important part of the funeral mass for the Christian, rather it is the emphasis on praying for the rest and peace of the soul of our loved one, and for the mercy and forgiveness many need at the ‘hour of their death’.
As we are in a time of transition, there isn’t yet an established practice of ‘alternative’ end of life rituals, the normal funeral service is the way in which most people try and merge these two desires - to recall the deceased’s life and to acknowledge the Christian faith. Unfortunately, it does neither well enough.
Most priests and people have been at funeral masses where the eulogy delivered is of poor quality, inappropriate stories told or language used. The person speaking is sometimes so upset that their words are just a mess of tears and sniffles more than anything else.
Most priests I know incorporate some elements of eulogy into their homily and I find that many times the family are very happy. There are some occasions when the priest may not know the person directly, but some good preparation will help him get a sense of who the person was.
But this is also a timely reminder to priests of the importance of really connecting with a family at a time of bereavement - if not, they risk ‘getting it wrong’ too.
We also have to remember that many families do not want to speak at a funeral. We must be careful not to put any family under pressure to do something like this, especially at a time of grief and bereavement.
If they do, I think they should be allowed to, with the proper supports.
Perhaps what the bishop should have highlighted was to encourage funerals to be held with greater dignity or respect rather than just outlawing the use of the ecology altogether. The Mass is a wonderful prayer for the person who has died. A Funeral Mass can bring great comfort and consolation to the members of the family who are left behind.
I believe there is a place for a eulogy - perhaps after the funeral mass and before the coffin leaves the Church.
For the Christian, it’s much more important that the hope of eternal life and the resurrection is highlighted; and if a eulogy is being done, that the speaker is well prepared, can speak slowly, clearly and loudly and that it is appropriate in its emphasis on the positive and wholesome aspects of the deceased’s life.”