I Hope I Never Have to Attend a Catholic Funeral March 9, 2012

I Hope I Never Have to Attend a Catholic Funeral

There was a story the other day of a Catholic priest ruining a funeral because it was more important to him that Catholic tradition be preserved and a lesbian family member get denied communion than it was to have a service the family would have appreciated.

I didn’t realize Catholics have a habit of making funerals even worse than they already are.

Reader John‘s grandfather died earlier this week and he’s been working with his family to prepare the funeral. Because it’s being held at a Catholic church, there’s a protocol for how the funeral will be run — you get to choose which Bible verses are read and things like that. Otherwise, though, there’s not much leeway.

John took a picture of the last page of the church’s Funeral Rule Book. It’s hard to see, but the words are below (emphases mine):

Eulogy Guidelines

“A brief homily based on the readings is always given after the gospel reading at the funeral liturgy and may also be given after the readings at a vigil service; but there is never to be a eulogy” (#27 General Introduction — Order of Christian Funerals — National Conference of Catholic Bishops – 14 November 1985, 15 August 1989). However, if your family wants to have a eulogy, it has become a practice in our archdiocese to have ONE eulogy near the conclusion of the Mass of Christian Burial.

Eulogy means ‘speak well’. Thus, if the family decides to have someone offer eulogy, it ought to be brief (no more than 5 minutes) and most respectful. Past faults of the deceased are not to be mentioned and anecdotal references to drinking, expressions of anger, eating habits, and the like as well as any vulgarity will NOT be tolerated. (Sadly, the aforementioned list contains aspects of actual eulogies offered at prior services.) The eulogist is part of a sacred service and does not serve as a stand-up comedian or toastmaster of any sort. No props, recorded music or other audio tapes can be included as part of the eulogy. In an effort to avoid embarrassing situations, an outline or copy of the eulogy is to be presented to the Parish Office with the choice of readings for the service. Failure to comply with this request will remove the eulogy from the service.

Indeed, the more fitting place for a eulogy would be to have the speaker(s) make the presentation(s) at the conclusion of the viewing hours at the funeral home. In this way, the focus of the Mass of Christian Burial can be maintained as well as due respect for the Eucharist. Thank you for your consideration and sensitivity in this matter.

In other words, wanna tell a funny story about the person who died? Can’t do it.

An off-color joke (if the person would have appreciated it)? Don’t even think about it.

What about reading a passage from a secular book? That’s out of bounds, too.

What about playing their favorite song? You’re out of luck.

I’m not sure why anyone would *want* to have a Catholic funeral (or, at least, why you would want your family to do that to you…), but John mentioned one of the positive consequences of all this:

… it started a conversation with a few family members about the merits of staying within the Church. Or, as my uncle put it: “The Catholic church really is a pain in the ass sometimes.”

(Metaphorically, of course. Just metaphorically…)

Not that I was raised Catholic to begin with, but this is why I hope my funeral is a celebration of my life, not a depressing reminder to my friends that other people believe in nonsense.

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  • I am always asked to read a prayer or bible passage at family funerals. I do it because it is important to my mum, but I find catholic funerals to be bleak affairs with little to do with the person who died or the people who loved them. Usually it is all about Jesus.

  • As someone who was brought up in a Catholic family, I can assure you that the Catholics have a special gift for making pretty much anything as bleak and guilt-ridden as possible.

  • Thank God (wink) that my parents, sister, and husband are atheistic! I’ll get to celebrate their lives the way I want to, and they’ll celebrate mine right if I go first. 😀

  • Lauren E

    As bleak as my agnostic Great-Grandfathers Catholic funeral was (go figure), it was the baptist preacher who ruined it. GG’s youngest daughter (Aunt B) became Baptist, and forced us into letting her preacher give a talk at the funeral. The entire thing was about how GG was probably going to hell, since no one knew if her really accepted Christ. Thanks Aunt B!

  • That is true of the actual funeral mass, but every Catholic funeral I’ve ever attended (I’ve gone to lots) is paired with a wake–usually the night before. And those rules don’t apply to the wake. That’s where the storytelling, laughing and reminiscing can take place. 

    But agreed, I would a “celebration of life”-type ceremony as well.

  • Anonymous

    At least the rules outlined above prevent that kind of shit in theory

  • TCC

    I really hate to think about funerals at present. My mother has a number of health problems, and she just recently asked me to take power of attorney because she and my father are in the process of divorcing (and thus she doesn’t want him to have control over her medical decisions if she becomes incapable herself), and thinking about even her funeral and the fact that she will probably ask me to sing or play for it (and almost certainly a hymn: “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” or something similar) doesn’t exactly thrill me, even beyond the thought of having to deal with it in general. And if something were to happen to me right now, I strongly suspect that a religious service would happen, although I’m generally of the feeling that I don’t much care what’s done with me when I’m gone (I’ve told my wife that I want to be cremated, though). Funerals are a sorry affair most of the time, anyway.

  • Tony Tapay

    A story told to me from my now deceased and VERY Catholic mother. It occurred in the mid-70s:

    My grandfather (my mother’s father) had died and my mother was assisting my grief-stricken grandmother up for communion. The priest offered my grandmother communion and then proceeded to refuse communion to my mother. Why? Because he thought that my mother was my aunt who had had the audacity to have her husband leave her for another woman (after she had put him through med school).

    My mother let it go as she didn’t want to make a scene. It left a bitter taste in her mouth for years, but never enough for her to question the church directly.

  • Rb6k

    Same shit with their weddings. All about God instead of the happy couple. 

  • Maya Kulik

    I am Atheist, who was raised in the RCC.  I HATE to defend it, but, feel I need to give my experience

    The last Catholic funeral I attended all three of the deceased sons gave eulogies….that were heart-wrenching and hilarious.
    Also, we sang, “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling”, as the recessional.

    Maybe it’s different here in New York, but it may be the individual parishes do what they feel they need to accommodate their flocks.

  • Maya Kulik

     “Deceased’s sons”…sheesh 😉

  • gski

    The catholic church feels the need to control you, from your conception to your grave.

  • This blog post from the Archdiocese of Washington tells you everything you need to know about a Catholic funeral mass:  It is intentionally NOT supposed to honor the deceased or comfort the bereaved.  It’s just another opportunity to lick God’s butt.  Here we have a well-respected monsignor telling us that a funeral which honors the deceased is a funeral gone awry.  DESPICABLE.

  • Grrrowler

    Years ago I went to my (then) mother-in-law’s funeral, that was the typical Catholic affair. I had no idea what to expect, and my partner and his sisters said to just go along with it.  At one point when the priest was walking around the casket reciting some type of chant and waving incense, I finally had to ask in a whisper “What’s the guy in the dress with the burning purse?” The family around me happened to hear and started giggling, and the priest was not happy about it! Luckily they got it together and stopped laughing.

    Not to take more than my fair share of space here, but a few years earlier my grandmother-in-law had the bad taste to die the weekend before Thanksgiving. The local priest, whom she’s known for at least 40 years, refused to do the service since he had plans that week already and wouldn’t change them. I couldn’t believe how heartless and selfish this person who was supposed to be there to support the family was. 

  • As an atheist from a Catholic family, I’d also like to point tout that ones mileage may vary with this from church to church – maybe region to region? I, unfortunately, have been to far too many funerals in 25 years of life thus far, and they were all Catholic, and none of them followed these rigid rules. Yes, there was prayer and that incense thing and all that, but there was no lack of eulogy’s and I’ve never witnessed a priest refusing communion to someone at one.

    Catholics are also really good at ignoring the silly rules their church makes for them. 🙂

  • I’ve attended three Catholic funerals as an atheist–for my mom, dad, and the mother of a friend.  The only one that wasn’t an awful, proselytic affair having nothing to do with the life of the deceased was the one for my dad, which was celebrated by a priest who had known him for years.

    Too bad Dad had to miss it.  The priest even used one of my jokes.

  • There is variation between parishes.  Some are very by the book, others aren’t.  My parents’ parish is in a small, close-knit farming community, run by an old priest who pretty much lets the inmates run the asylum.  He’s (barely) in charge of Mass, and lets parishioners run virtually everything else.  The result is that rules like the ones Hemant quoted get ignored.  A fair number of the regulars aren’t even Catholic, they’re Protestants who like the community-run atmosphere.  I’ve never seen anyone be denied Communion.

    I despise the Catholic Church as a whole, and the parish my parents attended before this one embodied all the things I hate about it, but I really like their current parish because the focus is on being good people, not being good Catholics. 

  • Anonymous

    My grandfather passed away in 2008, and the responsible relatives had his funeral at an Eastern Orthodox Catholic church. It was awful. I don’t recall my Grampy EVER acting religious in any way, so this was particularly strange. The priest just kept going on and on about how we ask God to forgive the sinner for his sins and allow him to enter heaven. No mention of him being a husband, father, grandfather, lover of the outdoors and woodworking…..Just the Catholic dogma of everyone being a sinner who needs forgiveness from God after death. Then there was communion for the confirmed Catholics, where the (very fat, get gross looking) priest mashed up the wafers and wine into a mush and spooned them onto the tongues of each person.

    So, it was a creepy experience that felt completely disconnected from my grandfather. My siblings and I actually had to stifle giggles at one point when I noticed that the back wall of the church was painted with brown-robbed saints with flames over their heads…it looked exactly like the peasants being burninated by Trogdor. All I had to do was nudge my brother, gesture towards the saints/flaming peasants, and whisper, “TROGDOR!!”

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    I was going to say the same thing. I’ve been to many Catholic funerals and there were always eulogies at the wake.

  • Chris

    In  fairness, that may well be a general rule but wasn’t my experience. My grandfather died two years ago and I served as a eulogist at my grandmother’s request (after declining to read a biblical passage).   She’s heavily involved in that church and told me to make sure it was ‘respectful’ – okay, not really sure how I’m supposed to be disrespectful but whatever. I’m guessing she didn’t want me to use it as a platform to bash the church or something.  Anyway, I told stories, made some anecdotes, even cracked a couple of jokes about his driving and all that. I got nothing but compliments. Even from my sister which was the first time that’s happened in 38 years.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, I went to a Catholic mass wedding for a friend, and the ceremony was THREE HOURS LONG. I knew it was a bad sign when we walked into the cathedral and there were chairs up front for the bride and groom. After an hour and a half, the lisping priest pronounced them man and wife. I thought, “Finally, we can get out of here!”…..only to find another hour and a half of sermon, singing, kneeling, blessings, communion….

  • My family is Catholic and I was raised in the church.  I have attended dozens of Catholic funerals for family members.  The funeral itself is really dependent on the priest or church that its held in.  But even during full funeral masses I have never experienced such stringent rules.  During my uncles funeral mass his openly gay grandson performed at the piano and sang.  The family gave stories and it was closed out in about 45 minutes.  The priest knew the grandson and myself were gay.  But he did the job that was asked of him which is to offer support and perform the ceremony.  Which he did without judgement. 

  • Sinistr

    I have been an atheist for about 50+ years but grew up as a catholic.  My mother had requested to be buried with her father however we had her cremated, a no, no at the time.  Quite frankly my mother’s wishes were more important than the catholic church and so I sneaked her ashes into a hole I dug at the “feet” of her father in a catholic cemetary.  Quite illegal I suppose but ask me if i care.  In any case she has now been there since the 80s.  Recently I put up a stone marker which was permitted by the local  priest who believed I had simply spread her ashes.  They were his words and I didn’t correct him.

  • Anonymous

     It’s funny that they strictly prohibit props, because in their outline of the funeral the dead person is their prop.

    No music, no personal readings, no humanizing stories. Make it short and at the end and really we’d rather you not do it at all. Basically, this has the effect of depersonalizing the funeral. I have a strong suspicion that this is entirely on purpose.

    For this Catholic church, and likely many others, a funeral is not about the deceased. It’s not about celebrating a life, and brining together a community in mourning. No, the funeral is just another damn chance to reinforce the dogma of faith. The dead person is a convenient prop, there to remind the faithful of their own mortality and thus their own desperate need to prostrate themselves before God (or rather, God’s rather more existent frocked servants on Earth). The point is not honor the dead, it is to honor god and pull Catholics closer to their church.

  • Anonymous

    Bleak and guilt ridden, but don’t forget it’s all geared to make you feel small and worthless…..hence the grand cathedrals, designs to shrink a normal human being into worthlessness.

  • Anonymous

    Set things up for yourself NOW so that no one else gets a change to hijack your funeral in the chance that you do expire early. Simply telling your wife may not be enough.  I’ve filled out the paperwork to donate my body to science. I’ve also told everyone I know NOT to have a religious funeral of any kind. If I die in a fiery car crash, do NOT let anyone put a little cross on the side of the road. 

  • Anonymous

    That’s precisely what religion is about, Catholicism in Europes dark ages is why the Pilgrim Fathers fled to the new world.

    Whilst Catholicism is losing it’s grip in the west, it is gaining ground in third world countries.

  • Anonymous

    Seeing this description, I wouldn’t even want to be caught dead at a Catholic funeral.

  • Anonymous

    Catholic weddings (probably anythings): Stand up, kneel down, stand up, kneel down, lather, rinse, repeat. Worst wedding I ever attended!

  • Randy R.

    I have attended exactly one Catholic funeral and I left pissed. The person who has died is the focus of the funeral, not the pope! Pope this Pope that, unbelievable! The pope was mentioned as much as the person who died. It’s bullshit.

  • Elena Zuk

    Being from a Catholic-dominated country, I’ve attended a few of their funerals. My memory is hazy but in at least one of them the priest took a jab against some believers not being faithful or religious enough or something. Stay classy CC.

  • Anonymous-Sam

     Naturally. Your misery is irrelevant. You should be taking comfort from the fact that your relative is, in all likelihood, already screaming to an uncaring god in the blazes of the lake of fire. Don’t you just love religion?

  • Anonymous-Sam

     You’re supposed to feel small and worthless. That’s how they see the human race: disgusting abominable creatures who would descend into depravity at a moment’s notice, who utterly deserve to be crushed beneath God’s heel, and must spend every moment of the day in fervent observation of that fact in hopes of winning mercy from the Immortal Destroyer.

  • Anonymous-Sam

     I see what you did there.

  • I’ve been to one Catholic funeral.  It was rigid but there were a couple eulogies and they didn’t seem restricted.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve been to Catholic weddings and funerals, and neither was worse than those hosted by other denominations. My worst experience at a Catholic service was attending a friend’s confirmation; guy I shared an apartment with decided to become Catholic, and naturally asked me to be there. Trouble was, that was also my birthday, and more than a dozen friends had said they were throwing me a party that evening. My roommate assured me the ceremony would be over well before that, so I readily agreed.

    Of course, it dragged on for nearly three hours (lots of people getting confirmed, some other service thrown in, plus all the usual rigamarole). I got home to find a crowd of exasperated friends camped at my door. Funny in retrospect, and it wasn’t really the church’s fault.

    While I can’t disagree with the other comments about the church seeking to control lives in every detail and use the occasion of grief to coerce compliance, I have to say that’s hardly unique to Catholics. Every conservative church I’m familiar with does exactly the same: Baptist, Church of Christ, Assembly of God, Pentecostal, Lutheran, etc. The Catholic establishment has a couple millennia of experience in honing the routine, but the intent is the same across doctrinal boundaries. That’s what religion does.

  • Ashley Will

     same here. the viewing for my uncle had a lot of things associated with him and a video playing and after funeral there was a dinner where people drank and told stories

  • Mairianna

    Former Catholic here, too.  Usually the priest has no CLUE who the person is they are burying in the first place.  At my Aunt Joanne’s funeral, the priest kept calling her “Joan”.  My heart was breaking for her kids.  What a huge insult!  

  • Well, that beat the THREE DAYS of a Russian Orthodox wedding.  Although I think it’s down to two in modern times.

  • TCC

    Actually, I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me to donate my body to science. I really should look into that. (Does anyone know of any resources for that, incidentally?)

  • Reasongal

     his is a bit morbid but related to your thoughts. I recently read a fascinating and eye-opening news story about a forensics study being done by the University of Texas – they found that time of death estimates may often be wrongly assumed to be longer than thought, because of the exposed bones, etc.  The study involved leaving a donated body out in the desert, whereupon vultures cleaned it in a couple of days – they even broke bones jumping on the body.  I wondered who would give their body for such a thing, and as I read on, I found that it was a 72-year-old woman who had done so willingly, and her son commented that she would be pleased to provide so much important data.  He also said that their family was not squeamish, so there was no consternation about knowing what she was used for.  Wow, what a woman.

  • Reasongal

     I completely resent Baptist ministers for holding people hostage, who may not otherwise be in his company, in order to proselytize at funeral.  More time is spent on the script “accepting Jesus as your personal lord and savior,” blah, blah, blah, than on the deceased.  Happens every time.  As a former Catholic, I think it depends  on having a funeral mass as opposed to a short service without communion, which we did for my brother.  The priest was very kind, allowed music, and I even did a reading (no lightening strikes yet).

  • Anonymous

    Just like all the other ways they try to convert you, if you are a friend or relative of the deceased you are stuck listening to their pitch. Why don’t they also try to sell you a little Amway too? At least you could use the soap.

  • the captain

    My aunt died a year and a half ago, and at one point in the Mass the priest said something about how he was sure she wouldn’t spend long in purgatory, because she was such a great person.  People talk about how religion is important because it’s a comfort in difficult times, but when my grandparents were fervently praying over their daughter on her last night, praying that her sins would be forgiven so that she could go to heaven, it really didn’t seem like a comfort at all.

  • Anonymous

    The Pilgrims’ beef was with the Church of England, not the Catholic Church.

    And the majority of the immigrants to America in the early 17th century were Puritans – the later Massachusetts colony was far later. Who were tyrants and zealots. Just like the Catholic Church except without the power. That is unless they came to America, where they created a strict theocracy complete with banishment and execution for other sects and dissenters. The Pilgrims’ Plymouth Colony wasn’t any better in that regard by the way. People need to stop buying into the whitewashing folklore. These weren’t nice people and they weren’t victims

  • Erp

     Agreed Baptist ministers, at least some, go over the line.   One was at my grandmother’s memorial service not as a minister but as a friend of my grandmothers (my grandmother probably knew everyone in the village and her religious views were probably close to Christian universalism) ; he got to witnessing badly (in a CoE church  in front of that church’s vicar).  The only advantage was that due to misplanning we needed the memorial service to run over as the reception had to start later than expected (fortunately he was followed by an excellent local jazz group that my grandmother had been particularly fond of).

  • I have only 2 requests when I kick off the mortal coil:

    1) I want my body to be cremated.
    2) If my friends or family want to hold a memorial service of some kind that’s fine, but I demand that Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” be played at full volume.

  • Anonymous

    I’d never go to a Catholic funeral…………….. unless I was sufficiently STONED!!!!!

  • Anonymous

    I’m hoping the Pope dies soon…… What this country needs is a good excuse for a PARTY!!!!

  • Huh, last Catholic funeral I went to, I saw a ghost. (Yep, the guest of honor was hanging around.)

  • Jan

     I’m living in a largely catholic country. In most cases there is plenty of room in the proceedings for eulogies, playing the favorite music of the deceased etcetera. When my mom died 20 years ago the local priest openly mentionned my mothers objections against the views of the pope and praised her. So, it is not all doom and gloome.
    I can also add that the last few years almost all catholic funerals here are now done by women because the church doesn’t have enough priests anymore. According to the rules they can do a funeral service, only they can’t distribute hosties, so that part of the ceremony is skipped. 

  • Gunstargreen

    To be fair this varies depending on how strict the priest is as younger ones are usually willing to bend more than much stricter, older priests in my experience.

    Still, the Catholic church is very methodical and insane when it comes to procedures for everything. This should be a surprise to no one.

  • Joshua Fisher

    When I die I want my service to be whatever helps the people I love, and who love me,  to feel better about my passing. As for my body, I want it composted and returned to the earth to continue the great cycle of life.

  • Steve

    I just want to say that the funeral depends strongly on how well the priests knew the family and that a lot of the rules up there aren’t actually followed. But yes, the service is long.

    I gave the eulogy at my father’s funeral and we had belonged to that parish my whole life at that point. My brother and I attended the attached grade school for 13 years. They knew us. And the priests from my small Catholic high school came as well. Plus, I have an uncle who is a priest. They were very respectful and spoke of my father as a friend. No one ever asked me to see the eulogy beforehand and I did my best to stay true to my dad and told several jokes through it, lots of laughter and tears. It was a long service but no one said a word to any of us about what we could do.

    Since then, both his mother and one of his sisters have died and the priests at these other churches didn’t know us at all. The services were awkward and filled with Jesus talk and mispronounced first names and unused nicknames. I hated it. But I gave the eulogies for them as well and again, I was never asked to have them checked or given any time requirements or anything. 

  • LKL

    I’ve been to 4 Catholic funerals for various family members in the last 5 years or so, and they varied from nothing but bible-reading and harranguing the audience to come to church more, to mostly nice music, a little bit of the bible, and several family members and friends reading eulogies.  It varies from church to church – and maybe a little based on what the decedent wanted for their funeral. 

  • LKL

    We went whole-hog with ‘Danny Boy’ at my Grandfather’s (Catholic) funeral last February.

  • oli kenton

    I can understand why they have these rules. Mass is essentially a magic spell, its a ritual and must be performed precisely. Thats one of the reasons so many Catholics got shirty when it stopped being held in Latin. It was literally breaking the spell.
    Of course, its all prime bollocks but for folks that believe in god, magic rituals and so on, I can see how you’d not want to ruin the magic spell by having someone make folks laugh with stories of uncle Bobs flatulence.
    What I can’t understand is how anyone can believe such tosh.

  • quit it

    theres a place for everything dear

  • PSandt

    Just to be clear since everyone is bashing the Catholic Church here, is it not just done at Catholic Churches with the Euology Guidelines. You have people involved with the Funeral Liturgy who volunteer his/her time to be there to help make the funeral liturgy as caring as possible, why have someone who doesn’t know the person sit through a euology of their life?

    Not all Catholic Churches have guidelines of how a eulogy should be done, but would you get up in front of people and bash someone who has already died?

  • Halley

    Oh, the misery and discomfort of being part of a Roman Catholic funeral.  Oy!  When my father passed away over 20 years ago, the Deacon, a personal friend of his, mentioned that my father was now “in Heaven playing golf and looking down on all of us.”  I couldn’t believe that idiot said that!  My father was not in any heaven, neither was he playing golf.  He was dead and in a coffin.  The rest, none of us know.  But these stupid stories that are supposed to offer comfort just don’t.  They’re condescending!

  • Kenschaffer

    Went to a United Church funeral several years ago. Lots of participation and awesome eulogies. Several weeks later, off to a Catholic funeral right across the street from the United Church. Basically a “insert name here” sort of a service. Not at all personal nor comforting.

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