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.