Selective Application of Liturgical Law

Selective Application of Liturgical Law

I can’t help wondering if the mail bags going to Rome were extra heavy a few weeks ago after the funeral of a well-known surgeon in St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney.

Surely the “vigilantes” who shoot letters of complaint off to Rome at the slightest suggestion that a liturgical law may have been transgressed were scandalised at such a blatant breach of the rules about a Catholic funeral.

I refer of course to the fact that there were five lengthy eulogies at the funeral. The Order of Christian Funerals says:

“A brief homily based on the readings is always given after the gospel reading at the funeral liturgy and may also be given after the readings at the vigil service; but there is never to be a eulogy.” (OCF 27)

Surely such blatant and public transgression of this clear instruction would not have gone unreported. If not, I cannot help wondering why.

Is it because the rule does not apply to important people? Surely all are equal in the sight of God and the Church should treat all people with the same respect and dignity.

Does the rule not apply in a cathedral? It certainly does. Interestingly, the liturgical watchdogs often claim that what happens at a cathedral, such as the celebrant chanting the Mass or readers being required to wear ties, should be compulsory everywhere. In such instances, they make no allowance for liturgy to be adapted to local needs, resources and circumstances. They can’t have it both ways!

I have listened to people complain because a priest has not allowed them to have several eulogies at a family member’s funeral. How do they feel when they see instances such as this most recent ‘celebrity funeral’, and it is certainly not an isolated case, on the television news? Surely it undermines the efforts of those priests who try to follow the rule concerning eulogies at a Catholic funeral.

Why the ‘no eulogy’ rule in any case? Isn’t the church just being out of touch with what happens at the vast majority of funerals? Multiple, lengthy eulogies, often accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation, have become a feature of funerals. I know of people who will no longer attend a funeral because they know that it is likely to last for up to two hours.

A Catholic funeral needs to leave mourners with reason to hope, not just memories of the deceased. 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.”

So why is this particular liturgical law so often ignored? It would seem that the pastoral judgement which always must be applied suggests that allowing a eulogy or two will be of benefit to the immediate family and other mourners.

But if flexibility and pastoral judgement have a place in the celebration of a funeral, why is their application in other cases often the cause of bitter censure and angry outbursts?

Elizabeth Harrington