Less Eulogy, More Resurrection

Something that a priest said at the funeral of a fellow parishioner a few weeks ago really struck me. “We all have our memories of Eileen”, he said, “but she is more than memories. We are gathered here to celebrate the new life that God has called Eileen to share”.
Perhaps these words had an impact on me because some funerals seem to overlook the important fact that we give thanks not only for the life of the deceased but above all for Christ who died and rose “so that we might have eternal life”.
Recently I attended a funeral Mass in a Catholic Church and a memorial service for a non-Christian at a funeral chapel in the space of a few days. Sadly there was not a lot of difference between the two! At both, the central focus was on sharing memories of the deceased, with three people giving a eulogy. Other similar elements included the placing of symbols of the deceased’s favourite sporting pastimes on the coffin and the playing of their favourite songs. Both services left the mourners with only memories of loved ones who had been eulogised into sainthood!
I’m sure many people will be surprised to learn that the Order of Christian Funerals (OCF) has this to say about the eulogy:
A brief homily based on the readings should always be given at the funeral liturgy, but never any kind of eulogy. The homilist should dwell on God’s compassionate love and on the paschal mystery of the Lord as proclaimed in the Scripture readings. Through the homily, the community should receive the consolation and strength to face the death of one of its members with a hope that has been nourished by the proclamation of the saving word of God. (OCF 141)
The role of the homilist in general, and at funerals in particular, is to witness to Christ’s saving activity and so help the congregation enter into a deeper experience of the paschal mystery, the source of our “sure and certain hope”.
We confront our loss and sadness by affirming the pattern of Jesus’ dying and rising revealed in the life of the deceased person. We offer praise and thanks that this person has been caught up in God’s saving love. The homily can be personal but is focussed on God and God’s gift of redemption.
Symbols used at the funeral liturgy should also proclaim our belief that life is changed, not ended. Some of the symbols are baptismal, referring to our first and decisive encounter with Jesus’ death and resurrection: we sprinkle the coffin with water and we clothe the coffin in the white pall of our new life in Christ. Some of the symbols are paschal: the Easter candle, symbol of the risen Christ, is placed beside the coffin. Other symbols speak of our life in Christ: a bible or cross is placed on the coffin and, at the final commendation.
The funeral liturgy affirms that “in Christ, who rose from the dead, our hope of resurrection has dawned. The sadness of death gives way to the bright promise of immortality” (Preface of Christian Death I).

Elizabeth Harrington