Fr. Kenneth Doyle
Fr. Kenneth Doyle
Q — I recently attended a funeral Mass for a friend. The pastor informed the family of the deceased that there could be no eulogy given in church, before, during or after the Mass. They were quite upset because they had already asked a family member to deliver the eulogy.

This same parish had for years allowed family members or friends to speak and eulogize their loved one during a funeral Mass; the change came with the arrival of a new pastor, who said that eulogies should never have been allowed previously, and he cited canon law in support of that. What is the official position of the church, or is it up to the discretion of the local pastor? (Mayfield, New York)

A — The pastor may have been referring not to canon law but to the Order of Christian Funerals, which is the church’s guidebook for such celebrations. The guidebook does say that “there is never to be a eulogy” (No. 27). But that section is meant to offer guidance to the priest-celebrant with regard to the homily.

It reminds the celebrant that a Catholic funeral is not to consist in the glorification of the deceased (even less, the “canonization”); the funeral Mass instead is meant to use the scriptural readings to highlight the redemptive power of Christ’s resurrection, to pray for the deceased and to comfort the mourners by reminding them that eventual reunion awaits in heaven.

The same Order of Christian Funerals says in a later section that “a member or a friend of the family may speak in remembrance of the deceased before the final commendation begins” (No. 170). Some dioceses have their own regulations, limiting the length of those remarks. (Three or four minutes would be typical.)

Recently, I have noticed that some parishes move these family remarks up to the beginning of the liturgy — perhaps feeling that if the speaker strays from the purpose of the Mass, the celebrant can “rescue” the situation by returning to the themes of resurrection and reunion. In the end, though, much of this does depend on the discretion of the local pastor, who I hope would take into account the feelings and desires of the grieving family.