Eulogizing the dead

If friends and family want to speak of deceased, the most appropriate time is toward end of funeral vigil

Question: At some funerals I have attended in recent years, one or more members of the family have given eulogies after Communion at the funeral Mass. Is this practice officially allowed by the Church, or is it up to the pastor?

—Name withheld, Seaside, Fla.

Answer: First of all, the practice of eulogies at Catholic funerals is officially discouraged. In the General Introduction to the Order of Christian Funerals we are told that a homily is to be given, “but there is never to be a eulogy” (No. 27).

What is meant by a eulogy is an elongated narration of the human achievements and qualities of the deceased. Certainly homilies have to have a personal quality, and the homilist has to connect the readings to the life and death of the deceased. The primary emphasis is always, however, on the readings and the symbols of the funeral rite.

There is certainly a place for the whole genre of presentations that fall under the heading of a eulogy, and this is outside the funeral Mass. The Church prescribes that before the end of the funeral vigil “a member or a friend of the family may speak in remembrance of the deceased” (No. 80). Also, when the vigil is completed, there is, in my opinion, a place for additional talks. Another obvious place is at the luncheon that follows the funeral.

When I meet with families to prepare the funeral and the question of talks by family members or friends come up, I always try to steer them toward the vigil. This usually works. If they persist in saying something at the Mass, then I ask that only one person speak, that the talk be kept to five minutes or less, and that the content be reverent and appropriate. This is sometimes tricky; the last thing a pastor wants to do is upset the family on the occasion of a funeral. Hard feelings can be long lasting.

No U.S. diocese that I know of has banned eulogies at the end of funeral Masses, but I am aware that some in Ireland and Australia have.

Liturgical dance

Question: Is liturgical dancing permitted during Mass? Why is liturgical dance still allowed in some places?

— Name and address withheld 

Answer: In 1975, the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments issued a statement recognizing that while various kinds of dance have had their place in biblical and Oriental Christian worship, “the dance has never been made an integral part of the official worship of the Latin Church.”

The statement recognized the validity of “religious dance” outside the liturgy, but held that as far as the liturgy itself goes, dance “cannot be introduced into liturgical celebrations of any kind whatever.” The Holy See has said remarkably little about the matter since then.

My hunch is that it does not want to close off completely the possibility of dance in non-Western areas of the Church. Liturgical dance was used at various papal Masses outside Europe during the papacy of Pope John Paul II. And during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Australia for World Youth Day an elaborate danced form of the Gospel procession was used.

I think that what appears to be a wait-and-see attitude on the part of the Holy See is wise. However, I concur with the perception of the 1975 Vatican statement that dance in Western cultures generally lacks a religious quality, and so is unsuitable for the liturgy. 

Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.