Diocesan News

Diocese Issues new Policy for Eulogies at Funeral Masses

(SNR) - In order to prevent any misunderstandings about the timing, purpose and length of a eulogy when associated with Catholic funeral rites, the Diocese of Lincoln has issued a new, carefully defined policy.

"We are making people aware of it before that very delicate time when a person has died," clarified Msgr. Timothy Thorburn, vicar general of the diocese.

Traditionally, eulogies have not been part of a Catholic funeral Mass (see Order of Christian Funerals, #27).

Msgr. Thorburn said, "The purpose of the funeral Mass is to give worship honor and glory to God first of all, and second to pray for the deceased and to give consolation to the family of the deceased."

During the homily, a celebrating priest will often make a few appropriate comments about the deceased, but the primary purpose of the homily is to expound on the Scripture readings about Christ’s victory over death.

It has become the practice in some places for a eulogy to be given by a family member or friend during the closing remarks, as allowed by the General Instructions on the Roman Missal (#89). Msgr. Thorburn mentioned that this was primarily a Protestant practice, carried into Catholic funeral rites by those who had attended non-Catholic services for family or friends.

"Oftentimes, the eulogy is the central element of a Protestant funeral because they don’t have a funeral Mass in which the service revolves around the various elements of the sacred liturgy," he explained.

Msgr. Thorburn noted it’s perfectly understandable that family and friends would like to have a eulogy.

"I think there is something in us that wants to tell the story of the loved one who died, but as mentioned in the policy, that would be most appropriate at the vigil or rosary service, previous to the funeral itself," he said.

The diocese had been relying on a less formal policy which indicated a preference that eulogies be delivered either at the vigil service the night before or after closing remarks during the Mass. However, because of questions posed to the Chancery and previously unforeseen possibilities, such as video and audio options offered by some funeral directors, Bishop James D. Conley and the diocesan Presbyteral Council decided to provide more detailed instruction because of some difficulties that have come about in recent years.

For example, at some funerals, an "open invitation" has been extended for anyone present to come up to say a few words. This can cause the funeral to last much longer than originally intended, which is a hardship on those who have taken time off work to attend the Mass. It also makes things difficult for funeral home managers who may have other funerals to tend to, for those preparing a meal or reception afterward, and so on.

Another difficulty is that sometimes inappropriate comments have been made at eulogies. Perhaps someone might tell a humorous anecdote about the deceased intending to alleviate grief, but instead causes more pain for the person’s family, or even scandal.

Bishop Conley and the Presbyteral Council reviewed policies from several other dioceses and discussed the issues at length before defining a policy for the Diocese of Lincoln. The new policy urges eulogies to be given at the vigil, rosary or reception. If delivered at the Mass, the policy limits the eulogy to one speaker, a maximum of five minutes in length, without music or video accompaniment. Pastors are to review the eulogy beforehand to be certain that all of the remarks are appropriate.

All Catholics in the Diocese of Lincoln are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the policy now (provided below), rather than during the highly emotional time following a loved one’s death. Any questions may be directed to their pastors, who can clarify the policy as needed.


Guidelines for Eulogies at Catholic Funeral Rites Celebrated Within the Diocese of Lincoln

Catholics celebrate funeral rites in order to offer worship, praise, and thanksgiving to God for the gift of a life which has now been returned to God, the author of life and the hope of the just. In the face of death, the Church confidently proclaims that God has created each person for eternal life and that Jesus, the Son of God, by his death and resurrection, has broken the chains of sin and death that bound humanity. In order to maintain the reverence necessitated by the sacred character of a funeral Mass, the following policy is to be maintained within the Diocese of Lincoln:

1. Eulogies are not considered a part of the Catholic liturgical tradition for funeral rites. If a eulogy is requested, the most appropriate place for a funeral eulogy is at the vigil, rosary, or a reception before the funeral Mass.

2. However, for a compelling reason, with the permission of the pastor and the celebrant, it is permitted that one eulogy may be delivered by a family member or friend after the Prayer after Communion of the funeral Mass and before the prayers of final commendation. The person selected to read the eulogy should be one who would likely be able to maintain composure at this often emotional time.

3. To show consideration for those who have taken work time or traveled some distance to attend the funeral Mass, the eulogy should be brief (no longer than five minutes) and should be limited to describing the life of the deceased and how he/she lived the Christian life. The text of the eulogy should always be written out beforehand.

4. Profanity or unseemly anecdotes have no place within the eulogy for any reason.

5. The pastor/and or celebrant will normally meet with the one giving the eulogy to review the text of the eulogy before it is delivered. The final decision to permit the presentation of the eulogy will be based upon its content and adherence to this policy.

6. When a eulogy has been permitted at Mass, it should simply be read, and not be accompanied by music or video presentations.

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