do eulogies belong in a catholic mass?

Do eulogies belong in a catholic mass? I posed this question in a recent NCR Today blog post. Ottawa Archbishop Terrance Prendergast has decreed that eulogies will no longer be allowed during the mass in his diocese, though a few words of remembrance may be given before the mass begins. Eulogies, according to this decree, should be limited to wakes, receptions and grave-sites.

The eulogy was an important part of the funeral for my father-in-law. We were blessed to have an understanding and supportive pastor. The eulogy was presented before the mass, according to liturgical guidelines, but it was done in such a way that the personal reflections flowed seamlessly into the Eucharistic celebration.

For some, liturgical rightness is non-negotiable and trumps pastoral considerations. Their argument goes something like this. Eulogies are secular and focus too much on the person. The Mass is sacred so the focus must be only on Jesus. Therefore, eulogizing the person detracts from Jesus and somehow sullies the Divine beauty and purpose of the Mass.

For others (and I’m in this camp), rules and regulations are made to be creatively bent towards pastoral needs and sensitivities. Catholicism is an incarnational faith. We believe that God took on the lowliness of human form so we may be united with God for all eternity. Our sacramentality believes that God works in the earthiness of our lives, making sacred the earthiness of God’s creation. We are flesh and blood, created in God’s image. Our lives were lived within that same flesh and blood and it is these lives that need to be remembered as we pray that our souls will be welcomed into eternal glory. How can our focus NOT be on the loved one we have lost?

The NCR blog post garnered more discussion responses than any other post I’ve written. The discussion, sadly, sometimes degenerated into left and right wing arguments over liturgical correctness. But, I was heartened with the many personal stories shared about the importance of eulogies. For many, as it was for us, the eulogy becomes a moment of love filled memories and healing. When we remember our loved ones, it is a chance to weave their life story into the mystery of salvation that we celebrate in the Eucharist. Being thankful for the past helps us transition into hopes for future eternities.

11 thoughts on “do eulogies belong in a catholic mass?

  1. Well said as usual Isabella. I believe if Jesus were with us today he would not only allow but encourage eulogies as a way to present not so much the life of a person but to explain how that person lived out his/her baptismal call. So many times after a eulogy is heard the murmur, ” Gee I never knew that about them”. So many times we hear stories of great works of mercy, great compassion or simply fidelity that was hidden for the most part but once aired serves as an example to emulate . How much better that then when the priest doesn’t know the person or the family and the homily is the generic,” he/she lived a good life and is in paradise.” I was even at one funeral where the celebrant called the deceased by the wrong name!
    Some wise person once said , “God is in the story, our story.” If we don’t tell the story, we could possibly miss an encounter with God and He with us.

    1. Some wise person once said , “God is in the story, our story.” If we don’t tell the story, we could possibly miss an encounter with God and He with us…..

      Wisdom indeed and a big AMEN! Thank you so much for this, Joanne.


  2. First, I would say that our stories are the “Jesus story”. In the beautiful words of St. Paul, we are “the Body of Christ” each of us with our unique gifts and life events are manifestations of the Mystical Body of Christ. I guess it is a secret, and only a person of faith, who listens to people’s stories and perhaps “smells like the sheep” would know this in their gut. It is very sad that our clergy need to be affirmed as “priests” by having the focus at a funeral liturgy be on themselves, and not allow these holy stories of the saints to be proclaimed by those who knew them.
    I am almost embarrassed to tell you had badly this can backfire when only the priest can speak of the departed when he does not know the person – but here it goes. A close friend’s father was accused of sexually abusing children in his neighborhood and committed suicide . In the rigidly conservative diocese of Philadelphia eulogies by a family member are strictly forbidden. In the homily/eulogy the priest repeatedly spoke of the deceased “love of little children”.

    1. Yikes! This shows the importance of the priest knowing something about the person before they attempt to speak about them.

      On the other hand, tasteless comments and awkward moments are a risk we take with all eulogies – regardless of who is saying them. (How many wedding toasts have made you squirm in your seat?) The funeral home we dealt with provided an excellent outline and simple guide-line for writing a respectful eulogy.

      Thanks so much, as always, for your comments Ray. It’s good to hear from you! 🙂

  3. Thank you again for this opportunity to enter into this dialogue.
    We join our prayers with those of the many others who follow this blog – especially in light of the loss of your father-in-law. He and your family have undoubtedly been in the thoughts and prayers of many – and remembered at many, many masses this past week – including ours.
    Here are my thoughts.
    If the intention of the Bishop’s directive on eulogies is to move our focus from being primarily on ourselves and our loss in order to focus on Jesus’ response to our pain, suffering and loss – the focus which the Bishop claims is at risk of being lost today – then he has my full support. And from my reading of the Ottawa Citizen article – that does appear to me to be the case he is making.
    There is no doubt that the Bishop and clergy have attended many more funerals than I will ever attend in my lifetime; and I suspect that collectively they have very likely witnessed many instances where the focus on faith in Jesus’ resurrection and ours was in danger of being side tracked.
    From my own cursory reading of scripture passages where Jesus encountered death and mourning, it is apparent to me where Jesus’ focus was – that it was not limited to ‘mourning and loss’ – or even to remembrances of the deceased. Jesus was moved to act. It seems to me that Jesus’ very quickly moved past the mourning phase – even in that situation where He openly weeps for His beloved Lazarus – He wastes no time bringing the dead back to life to end the pain and suffering of all involved.
    For me this is a message and prayer that bears repeating – in fact, for me – because it does not come naturally – it requires repeating every time I attend a funeral – at death, through the love and compassion of Jesus – life is changed not ended. That is my hope for me and for my loved ones; and for all the deceased mourned by those who love them. And this is what is professed in the Creed every Sunday. My memories of those I love will fade, but my faith that they are alive in one of the many mansions prepared for them by my Father is a hope that I will take to my own grave. Praise God!

  4. Thank you so much for both your kind condolences and thoughtful reflection, Paul. You give us much to ponder.

    I agree that we must not lose sight of the spiritual aspect of death during the funeral mass. It is more than a simple memorial service for the deceased. Our faith and hope in eternal glory IS our ultimate comfort and it is this that we celebrate at each Eucharistic liturgy. As with many things, I believe that it is a matter of balance.

    For me, the ideal funeral mass will weave together the life of the deceased with the promise of salvation given to each of us through Jesus Christ. This depends on a prayerful and respectful approach to the eulogy, and a personal, pastoral approach to the homily. I think that having both (eulogy and homily), when done well, brings a balance to the funeral mass that responds to the human need for remembrance and the spiritual need for prayer.

  5. I can understand that priests, who say many funeral Masses, may grow tired of listening to eulogies. However, the Mass is being said for the repose of the soul of a particular person and is meant to bring comfort to the family members and friends. Why would it not be OK to have a brief eulogy or two, or three by family members, or close friends? Why would the eulogy not be seen as a prayer of thanksgiving for the life of that person?

  6. My cousin Emma died last spring and as expected Fr. Norman (another cousin) said the funeral mass. But he made a place for Emma’s parents to talk about their daughter, which was absolutely necessary. I can’t remember where exactly it was, but it made sense in the place they did. Fr. Norman gave his homily about how we are resurrection people, and my aunt and uncle spoke about who Emma had been while she was alive.

    The funeral mass is supposed to be a source of comfort to the family and friends of the deceased, but in this day and age people have a lot of friends and family who may not share their belief in the resurrected Christ, If we want the funeral mass to be a source of comfort and an invitation to those people to continue to find comfort in the church, I think we need to include a short eulogy from someone who knew the deceased well. It makes the experience more accessible for the non-Catholics and non-Christians in attendance by acknowledging that while yes, we are having a mass and focused on Christ, we’re having this specific mass because that person died.

    1. Meredith, I really like what you said here. Other Christian churches allow family and friends to do brief eulogies and their services are just as focused on Christ. Again, I see spiritual adolescence in our Church on this issue; “our funerals are holier than others”, “we do it the “right way”, “ours is a sacrament yours is not”. Behind it all is, “keep our Catholic lay people co-dependent on the priesthood”; and, “have your spiritual fly swatter ready, lay people may say the wrong thing”.

    2. I agree with Ray…spot on and beautifully said, Meredith. I especially like your comment about funerals being a “source of comfort and an invitation to those people to continue to find comfort in the church…” Funerals really are a graced moment to show sincere and compassionate hospitality to all who have gathered to mourn the loss of family and friends. The best evangelization happens in simple gestures.

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