A parish priest in Cork, Ireland, has hit out at “inappropriate” funeral customs including bringing bottles of beer and cigarette packets up as part of the offertory procession, along with lengthy eulogies.
Writing in his parish newsletter, Fr Tomás Walsh of Gurranabraher parish said: “Bringing things such as a can of beer, a packet of cigarettes, a remote control, a mobile phone, or a football jersey does not tell us anything uplifting about the person who has died.”
Fr Walsh also criticised lengthy eulogies which he said sometimes went on “for as long as the Mass itself, and sometimes longer”.
The priest, who is a member of the Society of African Missions, explained: “A Requiem Mass is essentially the coming together of the family along with the believing community to pray for the person who has died.”
He said that at the hour of death, “as we begin the journey home to God and to judgement, we desperately need God’s mercy and forgiveness, no matter how edifying the life of the person may seem”.
Speaking to the Irish Independent, Fr Walsh said the majority of people who offer “inappropriate gifts” are from families of little or no faith. “I find when there’s not much faith present you can get appalling things really. One day I saw a massive box of washing detergent being brought up to the altar.”
Most dioceses have guidelines or a policy for funeral ministry and some of these specifically address the issue of personal mementos as well as eulogies.
In relation to personal mementos, the Diocese of Cloyne’s funeral guidelines state that if a photograph, flag or personal mementos of the deceased person are brought to the church, these may be brought either at the time of reception of the body, or before the Mass, and placed on a table near the coffin.
“It is not recommended that these items be brought up as part of the offertory procession, which is reserved to the Eucharistic gifts of bread and wine,” the guidelines read.
Cloyne’s guidelines suggest that if a eulogy is desired by the family, it should be delivered “during the gathering at the home of the deceased person or the funeral home, at the graveside following the committal prayers, or even on a later occasion”.
In 2013, the Diocese of Meath issued guidelines directing that there should never be “any kind of eulogy” at the funeral Mass and that families should reserve tributes for the cemetery or family gatherings.
The Archdiocese of Dublin guidelines stress that a eulogy is “not actually a part of the Christian Funeral Rite”. Recognising that “a custom has begun at some funerals”, they say: “Sensitivity has to be exercised around this as occasionally insensitive, and indeed inappropriate, things have been said at funerals.”