Sunday 18 January 2015

Bishop Egan’s Pastoral Wisdom on Funerals

A comment from ‘Shocked’ who had occasion to attend a funeral in this Diocese is now published on Father Dickson’s previous post below. I had been reflecting upon my own experience of funerals, so I use the comment of Shocked to introduce my thoughts.

I attended a funeral recently in Hexham and Newcastle diocese and was dismayed at what took place. For a start there were no candles around the coffin: there were two small candles on the altar and that was it. The 'Mass' was introduced as a celebration of the life of the deceased. The eulogy was delivered immediately after the sermon. During the sermon the priest said quite emphatically that we do not know if there is a heaven; we hope there is but we do not know because no one comes back to tell us. The emphasis was on the word 'know' and that all we had was hope. I was astounded. At the sign of peace the priest left the sanctuary in order to shake hands with everyone in the font row, and those in the rows behind were given a cheery wave. Then we arrived at the Communion. Those who did not wish to receive holy Communion were told that they could come forward for a blessing. This blessing could be given by the priest or the 'Special' ministers because the blessing comes from God and not the individual. If this is the case then all we need to do is to turn to our neighbours in the pew and bless each other.

But worse was to come: we were told that because people were in mourning then anyone who wished could come forward to receive. It seems to me that the sacred liturgy in this diocese is no longer seen as sacred and 'anything goes' seems to be the rule. It really is about time that our priests were given specific instructions on how to celebrate the liturgy and the limitations on their creativity. I can excuse the younger priests to a great extent because it is quite obvious that they have been badly formed and they know no better, but there is no excuse for older priests who should know better.
The great tragedy was that so many people, cradle Catholics, thought that it was wonderful.

I want to share my experience of Funerals which demonstrates the wisdom of Bishop Egan in reminding his Diocese about the norms.

Having been involved in the serving of funerals for ten years I recall being surprised when setting up the Church for a funeral and asking Father if there was an Order of Service and which readings to prepare, to discover he did not know. The deceased’s family had undertaken all the planning with their guest Celebrant, and Father had been unsuccessful in trying to contact the said priest by both phone messages and emails.

We have had folk disappointed over the years at not being permitted to give eulogies; not have photographs on top of the coffin; no playing of CD’s (one funeral was booked then cancelled next day because Father had said no to playing Fields of Gold).  On the morning of another funeral the deceased’s family, naturally anxious that all should go as planned, came into Church an hour before hand to check all was as they had asked. They reminded Father that he agreed to make the altar people-facing, and stipulated that the altar should be people-facing and that the ‘big six’ were to be removed. Father pointed out that the altar had was arranged people-facing as they had requested, but declined to remove the big six (he did however, remove two of them, and wondered later if people think six is part of the Extraordinary Form and that by agreeing to make the altar people-facing the family had presumed the six would be ruled out). Father told me later he was profoundly saddened that such a misunderstanding should occur on the very morning of a funeral. That said, all of this could have been avoided had we access to an official restatement of norms for the people. We had a funeral this week where two candles were removed, and as you can see from the photographs, either way the altar looks impressive enough to house and honour the Sacred Mysteries for the deceased.

Funerals are a tense time for a bereaved family (who naturally need to feel in control of their loved one’s final service) and for the priest (I’ve witnessed that no matter how sensitive a priest is in saying ‘no’, the refusal can be offensive).

To all you priests out there, I can see how difficult your care of the bereaved must be. I think it would be useful if all the Bishops followed Bishop Egan and issued simple reminders of the actual norms which can be given to the people. Father Dickson does this in the parish as you can see from his previous post where he includes a pamphlet he designed and makes available in our parish hall but being Father’s own production, it appears to some as ‘Father G’s way of doing things’. To prevent any major differences between parishes -and upset between the bereaved and their priest- I think a common, clear policy spelling out the actual norms (and not just a local Bishop’s partiality) is needed for pastoral reasons.


  1. @ Collar and Tie,

    What “shocked” has reported, i.e., a priest saying that we don’t know if there is a heaven because no one came back, (after all Christ came back) is heresy, and Sacrilege, i.e., inviting non-Catholics and presumably some Catholics not being in a state of Grace, to receive Holy Communion.

    That cradle ”Catholics” thought this was wonderful shows just how much in the last fifty years the Church has Secularised, and been allowed to. Of course those are the cradle Catholics that have remained. Most have long since walked away from all this.

    This is the direct responsibility of the bishop, who I understand is Bishop Seumas Cunningham. He should now put a stop to this priest otherwise he, the bishop, assumes responsibility for heresy and Sacrilege.

    The Requiem Mass acknowledges that the soul has gone to Judgement, resulting in either Heaven or Hell, and is a mourning prayer for Mercy. The bereaved may be a bit tense, but I bet the deceased is even more so as he awaits the Judgement!

    Father, you should take this up directly with your bishop whatever diocese you are in. He’s not going to sack you. With the rapidly crashing number of priests, you are too valuable!

    Tie, good to hear from you again!.

    1. Thanks for the comment.
      The experience of 'shocked' contradicts the homily I heard recently where three times the priest said the deceased 'is now in heaven'. One of these priests doesn't know if he believes in heaven; another does but doesn't seem to believe in Purgatory. What a mess we are in.
      PS I don't blog often because Father does so well, and I'm not sure if I want to say anything that might end up not worth saying.

    2. "He’s not going to sack you. With the rapidly crashing number of priests, you are too valuable!"

      Jacobi, that is far too rational - the real world is not so logical. If I were to tell you that one of the fastest growing new religious orders in the world with over 300 priests has been decimated in months, simply because they rubbed the ideologues up the wrong way, I think that would illustrate that nobody is indispensable.

      Whenever the prevailing ideology in an institution laughs at logic, reason, truth, goodness and beauty, it is impossible to deal with it in a logical way. I am sure that is not the case in Hexham and Newcastle, but nobody can afford to make assumptions these days. One should always prepare to encounter irrationality at every turn.

  2. @ Deacon,

    Cheer up. The priests have not been bumped off, I hope ?

    They can always go and join the steadily growing Traditional orders - which is probably where they will eventually end up anyway!


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