Football, Faith and Funerals

Football, Faith and Funerals
There has been much discussion about funerals in the media in recent weeks, following the issuing of Guidelines for Catholic Funerals by the Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart.

There has been some of the usual “the Catholic Church is out of touch” criticism, with one journalist recommending we look to the Evangelical Churches that are so popular. I can’t imagine that beer cans on the coffin, bawdy stories from the eulogist or “Highway to Hell” as the recessional hymn would be considered acceptable at any Christian funeral!

I have been asked if Brisbane has, or is considering producing, a document like the Melbourne one. In fact, every Catholic Diocese has ‘rules’ for funerals in the form of the ritual book that guides their celebration – the Order of Christian Funerals.

For example, it says there that music at funerals should “create a spirit of hope in Christ’s victory over death and in the Christian’s share in that victory”. (#31) While a place might be found for an appropriate secular song at a Catholic funeral, it is this message of Christian hope that should predominate in the music chosen.

The Order of Christian Funerals stipulates that there should never be any kind of eulogy at a Catholic Funeral (# 141), but it does say that a member or a friend of the family may speak in remembrance of the deceased before the final commendation begins. (# 197)

Multiple eulogies have become a feature of funerals, including those conducted in Catholic Churches. Certainly, we give thanks to God for the one who has died, but a Catholic funeral is about giving thanks above all for Christ who died and rose “so that we might have eternal life”.

Rather than numerous eulogies extolling the deceased as a veritable saint, it might be more “real” and consoling to mourners to hear the message proclaimed that God loves the deceased despite their faults and failings, as do his or her family and friends. A Catholic funeral needs to leave mourners with reason to hope, not just memories of the deceased.

Symbols to be used in a funeral liturgy are listed in the Order of Christian Funerals: candles, holy water, incense, white pall, Book of Gospels or Bible, cross and flowers. Such symbols remind us of the gift of faith received by the faithful departed, their life in Christ and their hope of resurrection. Other symbols, such as those depicting the deceased’s favourite sports and pastimes, are best placed elsewhere, perhaps near the condolence book in the church entrance.

Lex orandi, lex credendi: the way we pray expresses what we believe. If a Catholic funeral is no different from a “secular” funeral, we can hardly blame outsiders from wondering what difference being a Christian makes.

A Catholic funeral offers worship, praise and thanksgiving to God, the creator of all life; it commends the deceased person to God’s merciful love; it affirms the bonds between the living and the dead in the communion of saints; it brings hope and consolation to the bereaved; it celebrates Christ’s Passover and our participation in it through Christian initiation.

Guidelines to help ensure that a Catholic Funeral is celebrated in all its richness and consoling power can be a useful tool – as long as they are applied to everyone equally, “celebrities” included!

Elizabeth Harrington