Speaking in Remembrance of the Dead

These things will I remember as I pour out my soul: how I would lead the rejoicing crowd into the house of God, amid cries of gladness and thanksgiving, the throng wild with joy.

Psalm 41

What is the difference between a ‘eulogy’ and ‘speaking in remembrance of the dead?’

A eulogy recounts some or all of the significant events in the life of the deceased. Words of remembrance do not attempt to give a biography, but to share some insight into the faith and values of the deceased as seen in one or two examples from his/her life. A eulogy by its very nature tends to be lengthy, while words of remembrance are brief.

Do the Guidelines mean that all eulogies are forbidden at Catholic funerals?

No. A eulogy is only forbidden at the funeral Mass, in accord with no. 141 in the Order of Christian Funerals, which states: A brief homily based on the readings should always be given at the funeral liturgy, but never any kind of eulogy. However, no. 170 of the OCF does permit ‘words of remembrance’
at the end of Mass: A member or a friend of the family may speak in remembrance of the deceased before the final commendation begins. Both eulogies and words of remembrance may be offered at a vigil service on the eve of the funeral, or at the cemetery or crematorium. These are also the appropriate places/times for playing favourite secular tunes or showing slides or PowerPoint displays of photos of the deceased.

What other aspects of the Guidelines are significant?

The words of remembrance are:

  • Delivered after the Prayer after Communion and before the Final Commendation
  • Brief – no more than 3 to 5 minutes
  • Prepared in advance and given to the priest for review in advance
  • Limited to one person.

Are there any exceptions?

There may be particular circumstances that would require more than one speaker, for example, a state funeral. In such a case a certain protocol of allowing a member of the government, member of the opposition, and perhaps others is to be expected. But normally other speakers should be directed to speak at the vigil or internment/cremation.

Why are the Guidelines necessary?

For several reasons:

  • some Catholic funerals are losing their essential nature as an act of worship of God and prayer for the soul of the deceased, and becoming settings for a series of eulogies;
  • while the funeral is a time of support for the bereaved family and friends, there should also be consideration of other factors: people taking time off work to attend, funeral directors having difficulty with scheduling multiple funerals on a given day, parishes having need of their churches for other liturgies, etc.;
  • if one speaker becomes emotional and has great difficulty delivering his/her words, the situation becomes uncomfortable for the assembly and often results in more grief for the bereaved at a time in the liturgy when they have hopefully been lifted a little beyond grief through the Eucharistic celebration; this possibility is compounded when there are several speakers;
  • it has happened that, when there are several speakers, some in the congregation think that anyone is free to walk up to the sanctuary and speak, resulting in very lengthy funerals;
  • on not a few occasions, inappropriate remarks glossing over the deceased’s proclivities (drinking prowess, romantic conquests, etc.) or about the Church (attacking its moral teachings) have been made at funeral Masses, embarrassing the priest, the family and the congregation and becoming the focus of the service.

How do the Guidelines compare to those of other dioceses?

The Sydney Guidelines avoid extremes. Some dioceses (all of Ireland, much of the US) are forbidding any words by the laity at all, allowing only the priest or deacon to speak in church. Other dioceses have no guidelines, with negative results.

Our Guidelines allow a place for ‘words of remembrance’ at the time designated by the Church’s liturgical books. They also uphold the principle that the funeral Mass is an act of worship and prayer that should not admit elements foreign to its intrinsic nature.

  

Download the Guidelines Document 

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