Addressing suicide at a funeral Mass

Question: Recently, I attended the funeral of someone who had committed suicide. The fact of the suicide was never mentioned during the homily or other parts of the Mass. Was this approach appropriate? It seemed like no one was facing reality. 

— Name and address withheld

Answer: Facing reality does not tend to come easily to everyone — even including homilists at funerals. In my experience, it is pastorally appropriate to mention in the homily the fact that the deceased person committed suicide. Otherwise, there is, as you say, a sense of unreality about the funeral. 

A funeral homily is not the time to go into the fact that suicide is not morally acceptable. But it is a time to make clear that suicide does not automatically exclude the deceased person from God’s saving grace. 

This point is especially important, since many Catholics of an older generation continue to believe that those who commit suicide cannot be saved. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives” (No. 2283). 

The purpose of a funeral homily is to grasp the reality of death in general — and the death of one particular person — with the aid of the word of God and the prayers and rites of the Church. The most challenging part of a funeral homily is that which seeks to grasp wisely the particular circumstances of someone’s death. The homilist must not be afraid to deal with any uncomfortable facts surrounding a person’s life and death in the conviction that the Resurrection can overcome all that is most painful. This does not mean that a homily has to go into all the details; but it does mean that a homily at a funeral must be grounded in reality. 

One of the most important parts of the preparation of a funeral is picking the Scripture readings that will be used. The repertoire of readings is rich with choices that grasp any human situation. 

Prayer and concentration 

Question: I have been praying the Rosary almost every day for many years, and I am beginning to feel that all the repetition is too much. I cannot concentrate for the 20 minutes it takes me to say all the Hail Marys. Is it wrong to feel this way? What do you recommend so I can pray better? 

— Name withheld, Duluth, Minn. 

Answer: You should not feel guilty about distractions in prayer. These seem to beset the prayer life of virtually everyone (except, perhaps, the mystics). One way to handle distractions is to turn them into the objects of prayer. 

Regarding the Rosary, if you find that this prayer is becoming too much for you, you can pray it less frequently or just pray one decade a day. Prayers are not ends in themselves, and they are pleasing to God only when they have a positive spiritual effect on the life of the one praying and arise from a true conversion of heart. 

In my experience, people often become frustrated when they take on too many prayers or recite prayers that take a great deal of time. It is much better to pray from the heart for a few minutes a few times a day and to put one’s energy into these short prayers than to battle the spiritual frustration that can come from a more extensive prayer regimen. 

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 mfmannion@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.