Q. Why wasn’t I permitted to give a eulogy at my grandfather’s funeral? Aren’t eulogies important?
A. The purpose of a funeral Mass is to pray for the soul of the deceased, to comfort mourners and to pray for God’s ongoing comfort, and to praise and worship God, who is victorious over death, and our hope for eternal life, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The purpose of a funeral is not to celebrate the life of the deceased, or to offer a tribute to him and to his virtues. Those things are important, and they should be done. But the Mass has a sacred purpose, and its focus is on God Almighty, and our prayers for the salvation of the deceased.
The Church’s rites do not permit a eulogy—a formal speech about the person’s life—in the funeral Mass. The celebrant may express a few words about the person’s life during his homily, and, at some times, it may be appropriate for a relative or friend to say a few words—offer a brief remembrance—for the deceased at the conclusion of the funeral. But at other times, and for various reasons, this option is not plausible or appropriate.
We want to honor the dead, and we should. We should find ways to recognize a good and virtuous life, and to express our grief. But at a funeral, we have an important task to do—an act of love, and of mercy—in praying that our beloved dead will spend eternity with God.
Q. My non-Catholic family often attends Mass with us on Easter. They always say that they’re unsure of what to do during the Mass. What should a non-Catholic do at Mass?
A. Holy Mass is an act of worship; we are gathered together to worship Almighty God. And all human beings are made to worship God. So when non-Catholics attend Mass, they should join in the community’s worship, to the extent that they are willing and able.
This does not mean that they should receive Holy Communion—this is only ordinarily appropriate only for Catholics, and even then, only for Catholics who are not conscious of unconfessed grave sin. But it does mean that non-Catholics should join in the prayers of the community, and offer their prayers: for Christian unity, for the salvation of souls, for their families, and for their needs. And they should especially join in prayers of praise and thanksgiving to God.
Non-Catholics are our guests at Holy Mass, and they should be made to feel welcome. Of course, Holy Communion is reserved for Catholics. But joining in our prayers is appropriate and beautiful. And if non-Catholics are not comfortable joining in our prayer, they should still be welcomed to feel comfortable sitting in God’s presence, assured of our gratitude for their presence, and our prayers for them.
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