Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Barney over the Funerals Guidelines

I was not aware that there was any "backlash" against the Archdiocesan Guidelines on Catholic Funerals, until someone told me that at Mass on Sunday they heard a priest say in the homily "we will do funerals the way we have always done them: following the rite of the funeral mass but with sensitivity to what the family wants." Well, yes, was my reply, that is rather what the Guidelines say, don't they? But, said my informant, who had not read the guidelines, everyone is saying how insensitive and unpastoral the new guidelines are. Have you read them? I asked. No, I'm just going by what I read in the paper.

Ah yes. The papers. The source of all wisdom and knowledge... I had a bit of a laugh at something John L. Allen Jnr wrote the other day on this: he described religion journalists as "pundits who "know how to write better than anyone else, but who seem to have a problem with reading".

Which brings us to Barney Zwartz's piece in todays Age. Barney isn't Catholic, but that has never stopped him having an opinion about how Catholics really should be doing things. Actually, his article isn't too bad for the most part. He points out what a Catholic funeral is understood to be, and therefore concludes:
The Catholic guidelines basically highlight that a church funeral service is still a church service. Its purpose is to commend the deceased to God and proclaim the Christian hope; it is explicitly not a secular celebration of a completed life. Such a celebration is a natural, proper and desirable thing, but the occasion for it, according to the church, is a separate gathering. According to traditional Catholic thinking, the main priority at a church funeral is prayer for the deceased, and nourishing the grieving with the word of God and the Eucharist.
And if he had left it there, that would have been just fine. But he then does a complete 180 degree turn and gives his own two-pennies worth:
But times move on. The alternative view, shared by Father Bob, Melbourne Anglican Archbishop Philip Freier and others, is that it is about the living, and the main priority is pastoral.

Father Bob says he prefers to think of funerals as ‘‘family affairs attended by clergy, not a clergymen’s affair attended by family’’, suggesting only about 10 per cent of Catholics feel comfortable with these ‘‘sanitised’’ rituals. The rest want the ritual to reflect their lives.

There’s also the practical question of whether the deceased was a churchgoer. As Archbishop Freier says, ‘‘Often we first know the family through the death of a loved one, and that a very different ministry from someone who has been a regular congregation member. The funeral is about the grieving and the living."...

For myself, I think funerals are for the living, and that you cannot separate the church from the culture. While I sympathise with the thinking behind the guidelines, I wish they were more flexible.

But with respect, Barney, no one asked you (or Father Bob, or Archbishop Freier) what YOU think "a funeral" is. The point of the Guidelines is that a Catholic Funeral should be what a CATHOLIC Funeral is. Of course protestants, like Archbishop Freier or Barney, who do not believe in those funny Catholic doctrines like Purgatory or offering the mass for the dead, wouldn't get that a Catholic funeral is precisely about those things.

The Archdiocesan guidelines are not trying to restrict people in their practices of farewelling the dead. They are just about what the Catholic funeral rites are. The funeral mass is not a party put on by the Church for the family (as Fr Bob seems to think), it is something the Church does for the deceased person. That doesn't rule out in anyway the grieving family doing what they think is appropriate, but (as Barney acknowledges) the Catholic funeral IS a service of the Catholic Church.

My friend, who told me about the homily mentioned at the beginning of this piece, asked "But can't the funeral be both? Why do you have to be so strict about it?" The answer is fairly straight forward: because the Church has a message - the hope of Resurection to eternal life - which she doesn't want garbled at this crucial moment by the inclusion of other messages which compromise that proclamation. Christian funerals, from the very beginning, were always counter-cultural. It was the witness to the Resurrection hope over against all the other pagan religious rites and beliefs around it, which proved to be a powerful persuasion to to those pagan cultures. We all know how fuzzy people's thinking on the Christain doctrine of the afterlife is - the funeral is the most important point in time to get that message clear: Christ will raise the deceased to life again!

And, I pray, that "time" will never "move on" in regard to this central doctrine of the Catholic faith.

19 Comments:

At Wednesday, September 15, 2010 3:17:00 am , Anonymous Tony said...

How would you incorporate HELL into a funeral service without distressing the loved-ones, Matthias?

 
At Wednesday, September 15, 2010 5:01:00 am , Anonymous Matthias said...

I would not if they were Christians because we have the Hope of the resurrection, and I would concentrate upon that , and for unbelievers , as my once upon time clergyman brother said, he concentrated upon the good things about the deceased. I think i would agree with Fr Bob and say it is a family affair,and follow that aspect. Both of my parents ahd Christian funerals where the resurrection was freely talked about. Other funerals i have been to most recently have been conducted by civil celebrants ,and it seems that people are being at least honest arguing that as they did not go to church ,it would be hypocritical of them to have a church funeral.

 
At Wednesday, September 15, 2010 12:19:00 pm , Anonymous Jeff Tan said...

David, it is fascinating how the comments of your friend, and Mr. Zwartz's piece, and Fr. Bob's opinion, are precisely why the clarification from the archdiocese was warranted and spot on. It's another case of Christ offering more and people settling for much less.

 
At Wednesday, September 15, 2010 6:20:00 pm , Anonymous Tony Bartel said...

"While I sympathise with the thinking behind the guidelines, I wish they were more flexible": Archbishop Freier.

What an odd statement. Why would he wish that another Church's guidelines were different? How does it impact on him and his Church? Why does he even care?

 
At Thursday, September 16, 2010 12:41:00 am , Anonymous Alfredo Watkins said...

I wonder what this guy would think if they put the Dies Irae back..

 
At Thursday, September 16, 2010 1:15:00 am , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

It's Barney Schwartz who wishes they were more flexible.

 
At Thursday, September 16, 2010 4:25:00 am , Anonymous Matthias said...

Pastor my father in law was a member of the Returned Services League (like the AMERICAN lEGION)- having servied in Papua New guineau and in the British Occupation forces in japan- in fact attached to general omar Bradley 's HQ unit (He actually forgot to salute the Soldiers Soldier when passing him in the corridor)..When he died we had service according to the Rites of the uniting church of australia ,and after the final hymn the RSL did their bit- ,gis record of service in the Second Australian Imperial Force ,the reading of the ode to the fallen,poppies of remembrance placed on his australian flag draped coffin by all Returned servicemen -ie WW2 veterans,and the sounding of the Last Post. That is apparently how the UCA does it re military funerals over here. I note that of the 4 young aussie soldiers killed in afghanistan recently,i thought 3 were accorded Catholic funerals.

 
At Thursday, September 16, 2010 7:25:00 am , Anonymous adam said...

I agree. What the heck does it matter to the Anglican bishop? This matter has nothing to do with him - it is purely a catholic diocese matter and the last thing ought be to take any advice from a communion sect that is not in unity with the Catholic faith.

 
At Thursday, September 16, 2010 10:24:00 am , Anonymous Schütz said...

Actually, this is (as Barney correctly points out in his piece) a "reissuing" of Melbourne's guidelines. They have been issued before. The Archbishop must have thought there was a communication problem so he has reissued them again. Thanks to the Herald Sun and the self-appointed spokesman for the Archdiocese in St Kilda, this time he got people's attention. Now if only people will read the guidelines, we might start getting somewhere!

 
At Thursday, September 16, 2010 10:29:00 am , Anonymous Schütz said...

But the same difference. Barney (nb. Zwartz, not Schwartz) isn't Catholic.

 
At Thursday, September 16, 2010 10:31:00 am , Anonymous Schütz said...

Oh yes, bring it on! Actually, here's a surprise, there is an English paraphrase of the Dies Irae in the Australian Lutheran hymnal... not used very often, admittedly.

 
At Thursday, September 16, 2010 6:39:00 pm , Anonymous Tony said...

I think there is a difference between 'offering advice' and having an opinion, Adam.

If it was, for an example, a pre-condition that only Catholics need offer opinions on Sentire, half (or more?) contributors would be shown the door!

 
At Thursday, September 16, 2010 7:26:00 pm , Anonymous Matthias said...

I agree Tony right on there mate.

 
At Thursday, September 16, 2010 10:31:00 pm , Anonymous R. J. Stove said...

Mark Twain once wrote:

"The awful power, the public opinion of a nation, is created in America by a horde of ignorant, self-complacent simpletons who failed at ditching and shoemaking and fetched up in journalism on their way to the poorhouse."

But of course, compared with the average Australian journalist in 2010, the average American journalist in Twain's day possessed a truly Cartesian intellect.

 
At Friday, September 17, 2010 10:08:00 am , Anonymous adam said...

'I wish they were more flexible' seems to me and any intelligent reader (especially catholic) to be offering an opinion and advice, otherwise why say 'I wish' - thus seemingly to want his view imposed on the catholic Church's funeral rituals.
Best for him just to maintain silence.
Besides, what would happen if Catholic bishops started their own 'wish list' of how Protestant liturgies ought be celebrated? Huge outcry I think - QED.

I think we ought not beat around the bush on this matter - its bad enough that many priests run 'their own liturgical shows' and that's been a major problem of the past 30 years. No wonder +DJ is reissuing guidelines. Good on him, that's what leaders are meant to do.
PAX

 
At Friday, September 17, 2010 10:38:00 am , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

I repeat, Archbishop Freier did not say that he wished anything; Barney Zwartz did. Reread Zwartz's article with a bit more care. Archbishop Freier is not quoted as saying anything at all about Catholic funeral liturgies, or the Archbishop's guidelines.

 
At Friday, September 17, 2010 5:39:00 pm , Anonymous adam said...

Fine. So it was not the anglican leader but Barney - so it is still giving advice to the Church - he wishes it, so its opiniated advice. Just playing with words saying its not advice only opinion. And since its a journo, probably ought be discounted even more as they always want to give their own biased advice and opinions.
hard but true. Just read the the British press or the NY Times.
PAX

 
At Friday, September 17, 2010 7:20:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

You can discount his views as much as you like, Adam, but you have no reasonable basis for objecting to his having views, or expressing them.

 
At Sunday, September 19, 2010 12:16:00 am , Anonymous Pax said...

It is all a beat up by the press yet again. The guidelines were issued some time ago but we only have a little artificial controversy whipped up now.
Having attended some funerals where the choice of music with disconcertings lyrics and just plain awful music any guidelines would be a welcome relief.
The trend towards long eulogies from family members some with accompanying slides can range from simply tasteful to simply awful.
The Church has a beautiful treasure of superb sacred music to draw on classic and contemporary.
The guidelines were long overdue and hopefully will see a return to dignity and a real reminder that life does not end with death but is a journey towards the real destination heaven or hell with purgatory as the waiting room for heaven.
As to denying people their football anthems once the coffin leaves the Church there is ample time to drape it with footy colours and give a rousing rendition of the team song.Funny stories and reminiscing about the departed one can occur over a cup of tea or something stronger afterwards!

 

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