Requiescat in Pace

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My grandmother died on 16 November 2004 and I, along with her other three grandsons, was a pallbearer at her funeral. One thing that was moving was a photo of her as a young woman on her coffin. The Catholic Church is now moving to restrict such personal touches:

Placing mementoes such as football guernseys or photographs on coffins and playing popular music during funeral services are likely to be discouraged under Catholic Church guidelines. Catholics’ final farewells have become increasingly personalised and irreverent, according to the church’s National Liturgical Commission, which wants funerals to regain their significance as acts of worship.

There’s two sides to this story. One of the most moving funerals I’ve been to was a sung Requiem Mass. One of the worst was a funeral in a chapel where the priest began his homily with “I didn’t know Greg” and that horrible early 90s song about meeting you in heaven was played, which he would have hated. But surely there’s some room for negotiation between the family and the Church. In the past, formalised and ritualised funerals helped people cope. Perhaps they don’t so much these days. It’s necessary to recognise that “an act of worship” is not all that a funeral is.

About Mark Bahnisch

Mark Bahnisch is a sociologist and is the founder of this blog. He has an undergraduate degree in history and politics from UQ, and postgraduate qualifications in sociology, industrial relations and political economy from Griffith and QUT. He has recently been awarded his PhD through the Humanities Program at QUT. Mark's full bio is on this page.
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C.L.
2022 years ago

Interesting one.

One thing I have noticed is how relatively informal funerals have become. Perhaps too much so. I usually wear a suit to a funeral and was amazed last year at send-off when a couple of fellow mourners asked teasingly outside if I was a pall-bearer.

I thought it was weak and unmanly for them to follow the casualness of others just because they wanted to be good gormless Aussies.

I think Australians have a tendency to casualise solemnity – sometimes in a way that speaks more of denial and immaturity than it does of egalitarianism or admirable inner depth. Though I concede the line is fine.

Maybe that’s why the NLC is taking the thick texter-pen to the cartography of what can and can’t be done.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Yes, I think it’s possible to combine reverence with personalisation, C.L.

I wear a black suit, a plain white shirt and a plain black tie to funerals.

Francis Xavier Holden
2022 years ago

I find my self agreeing with C.L.

People confuse the funeral service with the wake. Many funerals have become informal, badly organised and embarrassing. And a decent wake non existent.

I do remember when I first went to these things with my wife. I was horrified that these methodists had no respect or love for the dead and would have a simple service in a plain church then a lukewarm cup of tea and dry small sandwiches in a cold church hall, chat formally with a few relatives only for about 30 minutes then go home. She, on the other hand was horified that these catholics had no respect for the dead, but had elaborate services in a church and a big party, where anyone and everyone turned up, for 2 days back at the home with lots of alcohol and food.

Ron
Ron
2022 years ago

“One of the worst was a funeral in a chapel where the priest began his homily with “I didn’t know Greg””

At the funeral of an aunt, the priest got her name wrong throughout the service. It was horrible.

ctd
ctd
2022 years ago

Well said CL.

This seems to be an issue the Church(es) face across many areas – women or gay or married priests, for example, is another area.

The Church takes the view that it sets the rules and rituals by which a Catholic (in this case) is entitled to worship the Catholic god. To many the manner of the ritual is an essential means to the end and so these rules are not only acceptable but desired. ‘Leave it to the experts’, perhaps.

But a growing number of people take the view that, while they believe in the Catholic God, it is not the Church imposed rituals which define that God and, as such, if a believer wants to have a different ritual or worship their God in a different way to the ‘official’ way, the believer should be entitled to do so. So if the believer considers a woman or a married or gay priest will provide satisfactory guidance and leadership in their worship, then there is no real reason not to allow that to occur.

Many churches have adopted the second policy – the Uniting Church, for example, is generally pretty liberal on the way things are done. The Catholic Church is following the first policy, and with the backing of its history and power perhaps that is the correct way to go. But how strict the Church should be is a fine line – witness the indignation over gluten free bread last year.

I am not a Catholic, but my view is that treating a funeral simply as an anonymous body being send to God, rather than as an actual person people are there to pay respect to, is going too far. Most people – particularly if they don’t share the faith – are not there to hear a religious tract or obtain comfort from being told the person is now with God. A personal touch surely is essential.

That said, its hard to think of many pop songs that can say more than the great requiems.

Ron
Ron
2022 years ago

“One of the worst was a funeral in a chapel where the priest began his homily with “I didn’t know Greg””

At the funeral of an aunt, the priest got her name wrong throughout the service. It was horrible.

Ron
Ron
2022 years ago

Sorry about the three posts. When I clicked ‘post’ I got some message about a PHP problem on your server which appears to have triplicated my post.

Brendan Scott
Brendan Scott
2022 years ago

Mark,
Belated sorry for the loss of your grandmother.

I quite like the sung Requiem Mass (traditional, not post-Vatican II), but the lack of space for a eulogy bothers me a bit. What I would want when I die is the proper sung Requiem Mass, but then an opportunity at the wake for a eulogy and playing of my Nick Cave collection.

Pax,
Scotty

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Cheers, Brendan. I’ve always thought that Nick Cave was rather funereal :)

Polly
Polly
2022 years ago

what could be more appropriate than the weeping song.