Monday, January 21, 2019

Why eulogies within the funeral Mass are out of place.

In 2014, the Archbishop of Ottawa, Canada, made a very bold but prophetic and liturgically correct move when he issued a formal decree which banned eulogies at Catholic funeral Masses.  This is deemed bold because issuing this as a decree showed that he was making it crystal clear that there is something intrinsically wrong about eulogies taking place within the celebration of the funeral Mass. "But what is wrong with eulogies?" I hear some of you asking.  First of all, let us ask ourselves what eulogies are, and what is their purpose.

A (an?) eulogy is a speech or a written article that praises the good works of legacy left behind by the deceased.  It is usually something that is delivered by a close friend or a member of the family of the deceased, and it brings to the fore the fond memory of the one who had passed away.  Certainly, when a person dies, it is a good time for the memory of the life of the deceased to be regaled and celebrated, especially when it is done in good taste.  But as in all things, there is a proper time and a proper place to do this.  Within the celebration of the Catholic Mass is not one.  Why is this so?  This then brings me to the second point.  The Mass cannot be about anything or anyone other than Our Lord Jesus Christ.

It is principally because every Mass, be it a wedding Mass or a funeral Mass, is and should always be about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.  It is a celebration of the wonder and goodness of God who has caused the being of everything and everyone in and through Jesus Christ.  It is an occasion for the believers and followers of Jesus Christ to gather as one, where we love, worship and adore the Holy Trinity.  It is a place and a time for the faithful to come and to be fed and nourished by God, both in word and in Sacrament.  It is not, and it is never about us.  It is not the Bride's day nor the Groom's day at a wedding Mass, and neither is it about the deceased at a funeral Mass or service.  It is about God, plain and simple.

When we do not get this right, it is no wonder then that we begin to introduce other elements into the Mass, taking away, as it were, God's thunder.  The result can be seen in the way that many faithful cannot give a firm and clear response as to why Catholics come for Mass on Sundays, or even on weekdays.  Many can say that they come to ask God for his blessings, and many, especially the younger generation, may even respond that they don't really want to come, but that they are there simply because their parents have insisted on it each week.  But very few Catholics can readily say with strong conviction and without skipping a beat, that they come to Mass because they want to adore, worship and love God.  If this is not the prime reason we are at Mass, we are really missing both the forest and the trees.  Perhaps we have made it more about us that it is about God.

This becomes very clear and evident when at funeral Masses, a eulogy is delivered within the celebration of Holy Mass.  Sometimes (and this is not an exception) the length of the eulogy given is far longer than the homily preached by the celebrant.  I have been a priest for 18 years, celebrating and concelebrating at many funerals, and at quite a few of them, there have been not one, not two, but even a string of eulogies, delivered one after another, and each one waxing lyrical about the glories and praises not of God, but of the deceased, almost canonising the person in the casket.  As much as I want to be compassionate at a tender time like the death of a fellow pilgrim, I could not help but sense misplaced intentions on grand display.

I know that I may seem cold in wanting to belabour the point.  And I know that writing this piece today risks offending many of my parishioners, and even dear friends who have themselves given such eulogies at the funeral of their loved ones.  But I am quite sure that these were done in vincible ignorance, because if this reflection was written before those funerals, they would most likely not have been delivered.

I am not saying that we should not be grageteul for the many things that they deceased had done when alive.  They should just not be done within the celebration of the Mass because the Mass needs to be about Jesus Christ, and the way that he lived his life, and not the way the deceased lived his life.  Love and appreciation need to be expressed, and the death of our loved ones is a good time for this.  But there are certainly other more appropriate moments for this.  We could and should do this at the funeral wake.  This is a time where friends and relatives come together, to pay their respects, show their love and support for the deceased, and in that space, it really can be about the deceased, where words of loving remembrance can be delivered, and even a string of them, without taking away what ultimately belongs to God.  It can even be something that may take the whole night.

And if one is concerned that only a few people would hear these words, it could be arranged that before the Mass begins, when everybody is gathered and seated, these words can be said, and then following that, the Mass can begin where the emphasis is on worshipping God, listening to God's word and receiving God in Sacrament.  We can inform the people who come to the wake the time that this would take place in the Church, perhaps 30 minutes to an hour before the Mass starts, and this will prepare everyone adequately.  We then prevent giving a mixed message to our non-Catholic friends and relations who turn up for Mass and wonder whether the Mass is about the deceased or about the worship of God.

Like I mentioned, I am quite certain that this blog will unruffle the feathers of more than a few people, especially those who may have given eulogies at the funeral Masses of their loved ones.  This is certainly not a critique of them, but rather, my hope is to be able to raise the awareness of right worship, something which is perhaps understood in a very weak way by the faithful, or worse, by priests themselves.

I have noticed quite right as of late that there have been more and more spiritual writers and theologians who have made it clear that our lives are not about us.  When we remember this well, we will spare ourselves a lot of spiritual anguish that leads to almost every sin thinkable.  And if we are clear that our lives are not about us, w must be just as, if not even more clear, that our deaths are also not about us.  

In the gospels, Jesus makes it so clear that when others see and praise us for our acts of righteousness, we would have had our reward.  Remembering this will give us even more reason to not trumpet the good acts of our deceased loved ones before others, because our Father's reward has a preference for acts un-trumpeted.  Surely we wouldn't want their reward from God to be diminished or nullified because in and through our waxing lyrical of them, they already have had their reward.

I am quite certain that the Bishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa did not make himself liked nor popular when he made that official decree.  But being popular isn't why anyone becomes a bishop, nor should it be the reason he is made one.  A bishop is first and foremost ordained to lead his flock, and in issuing that decree in 2014, he was doing just that.  He was leading the way to proper worship and proper adoration of God.  It certainly takes moral and prophetic courage for a bishop to be this bold, and it must be because he truly loves God.

The onus is then on the faithful to realise what the bishop is trying to teach, and to refrain from accusing him of not being compassionate towards his flock.  He must have had true compassion for his flock for him to do what he did.  For the faithful to see this beyond just a bishop's wielding of his episcopal power is where the real challenge lies.


  1. Thank you Fr Luke for carrying the torch of truth n justice.
    Truth about my ignorance
    Justice for our God

    I thank God Abba for creating such Beautiful beings thru whom your love was meditated. Your glory Abba. It's all about you.

  2. God bless Fr.Luke for taking tis opportunity to clearly explained that the EC is for God n God alone prayfully we parishioners should take into our concern as we who r helping out do not want to offend or hurt especially at their moment of grief.

  3. Totally agree with you. In the old days, Wakes were longer and mass was usually said at the Wakes.The emphasis was to pray for the deceased and the Church funeral was just the “final” mass offered.It is no longer practised for some reason and there is only one funeral mass allowed now. I also notice many Churches no longer announce mass intentions for the deceased at the start of each mass.

    Few priests nowadays preach about the “last things” too.Think you made a similar point before of people presuming the deceased is in heaven.

    On this note, I once read a quote that two things will surprise you when you die:

    1) where you fInd yourself(heaven,hell,purgatory)
    2) who you find there with you

    Just some food for thought. Do keep up your writing. I will definitely miss it if you stop.

  4. Thank you, the clear explanation helps one to know and accept that the EC is for God Alone and to place the eulogy at another suitable time. Pax, God Bless.

  5. Agree with the bishop of Ottawa.

  6. From a perspective of the church, I believe in order not to offend the grieving families, priests often overlooked this issue and did not stop anyone from delivering eulogies. From small when I used to serve at funeral masses back in the 70s and 80s, eulogies were not the norm. However, over time this has become something like a norm today. I wonder at times, what is the point of delivering a eulogy when nothing was said to the deceased during their lifetime. Say what you want during the dearly departed's lifetime rather than eulogising him/her when they are gone. And this becomes "hearsay" rather than directly to the deceased. Clearly we are not getting out priorities right. The celebration of the Holy Mass is the highest form of prayer in the catholic church and the focus should always be on the sacrificial feast. Clearly eulogy should be reserved at events outside of the funeral mass.

  7. I agree with Rev Fr Luke Fong

    Also to me having eulogies heaping praises after praises is akin to the behaviour of the Pharisees

    If truly one loves the deceased, praise and thank him/her when he/she is still alive not when departed

    Once again I wish to reiterate its my own personal opinion

  8. Thanks for bringing this up and clarifying. I didn't have any opinions on this before but when i witnessed eulogies being delivered, I did feel like it felt out-of-place, like an interruption in the mass.