BCI has received a number of messages from readers calling attention to the funeral plans on Wednesday for former Boston Mayor, Kevin White.
Once again in Boston, it appears that the intended focus of a funeral Mass for a famous politician is going off course. Just to be clear, former Mayor White was, according to media reports, a Mass-going Catholic, and he had no history of public opposition to Catholic Church teachings, so there is no controversy (as existed with the late Ted Kennedy) over whether he should have a Catholic funeral. over him having a Catholic funeral.
That said, as we all know, the Catholic funeral liturgy is supposed to focus on the saving mercy of God which we pray will bring the soul of the deceased into eternal life. Hopefully that will be the case here, but based on the advance publicity that highlights the famous political figures who will give eulogies, it sounds like the Kevin White funeral will likely have some similarities to the Ted Kennedy funeral, in that there will be a significant focus on commemorating and celebrating the life of the deceased and some risk of politicization.
The funeral Mass is taking place at St. Cecilia Church in the Back Bay. Fr. John Unni will be the lead celebrant of the Mass; the Rev. J. Donald Monan, a former Boston College president, will concelebrate. According to the articles describing the plans, four (4) eulogies will be delivered–by Boston Mayor Tom Menino; US Representative Barney Frank; Robert Crane, a close friend and former state treasurer; and Mark White, the mayor’s son.
Perhaps Fr. Unni or those working with the family on the funeral plans have forgotten the revised “Order of Christian Funerals (OCF)” published by the Vatican in 1989. The long-standing prohibition of eulogies at Catholic funerals was again upheld and restated:
“A brief homily based on the readings should always be given at the funeral liturgy, but never any kind of eulogy.” [OCF # 141]
In the revised “General Instruction of the Roman Missal” promulgated by John Paul II in year 2000 (GIRM 2000), this prohibition of eulogies was again restated:
“At the Funeral Mass there should, as a rule, be a short homily, but never a eulogy of any kind.”
One might ask oneself, if the Church prohibits eulogies at funerals, how is it that we might have four speakers deliver a series of eulogies? There is a small loophole in that the Order of Christian Funerals does allow that, “A member or a friend of the family may speak in remembrance of the deceased before the Final Commendation begins.” (OCF # 170). However, if a family member or friend speaks, the ritual intends for this to happen after Communion at the conclusion of the Mass while the priest and ministers are standing at the coffin about to begin the Final Commendation. The words are expected to be very brief, highlighting an aspect of the life of faith of the deceased.
That is not what is in the plans for this funeral Mass. Instead, a number of politicians who publicly oppose the Catholic Church on moral issues of importance to the church and society will be giving eulogies.
Several readers sent us a link to an article by Fall River priest, Fr. Roger Landry, published in September 2009. shortly after the Ted Kennedy funeral. Fr. Landry predicted this problem would occur in view of what was permitted at the Kennedy funeral:
The funeral rites of Senator Edward Kennedy generated a lot of controversy…
The overall tone of the funeral liturgy — from the three eulogies, to the prayers of the faithful, to the homily, to the celebrity musicians, to the guest list, and to the nationally-televised gushing color commentaries — seemed to communicate that it was more a public, political apotheosis of Senator Kennedy than a humble, insistent prayer of the Church his mother for the forgiveness of his sins and the repose of his soul. This was probably not helpful to the Senator eschatologically, obviously scandalous to devout pro-lifers spiritually, and likely injurious to the Church both doctrinally and practically.
On the last point, since lex orandi, lex credendi — “the way we pray indicates what we believe” — the overall impression left by the tone of the funeral will likely influence the way Catholics and non-Catholics understand the purpose of the Catholic funeral liturgy for quite some time. It will, moreover, doubtless impact what some Catholics ask for in the funerals of their loved ones; if pastors are unwilling to allow what they observed Senator Kennedy received, there will be wounds to pastors and parishioners both.
This last controversy was totally avoidable; all that was necessary was to adhere to the letter and spirit of the Catholic funeral rite. And the Senator, pro-lifers and the Church as a whole certainly deserved that the Senator’s funeral be an unambiguous and undiluted expression of the Church’s faith.
As evidenced by the publicly announced funeral plans for former Mayor White, the overall impression left by the tone of the Ted Kennedy funeral apparently is very much influencing the way Catholics and non-Catholics understand the Catholic funeral liturgy. Before history repeats itself once again, BCI suggests that either Vicar General Msgr. Deeley or Director of Worship (and Secretary to Cardinal O’Malley) Fr. Jonathan Gaspar drop a dime to Fr. Unni and let him know that the Catholic funeral rite should be followed on Wednesday. That means no eulogies, and perhaps one person might be allowed to share a few brief words of remembrance of the former mayor, highlighting some aspect of his Catholic faith. (Hint, that is unlikely to be Rep. Barney Frank). If you agree, feel free to forward this post to Msgr. Deeley (firstname.lastname@example.org) .
That is what BCI thinks. What do you think?