There are two versions of the same joke in this article: one pre-Vatican II, the other post-Vatican II. Undoubtedly there are other versions: you might know one or two yourself.
first is set in the days before Vatican Council II when the Mass was in Latin,
when on a Sunday there was a sermon – usually a talk on some doctrinal or
moral or devotional theme with little or no reference to the scripture passages
that had been read at the
But it was customary at a priest’s Requiem Mass for the Bishop to deliver a panegyric, as it was called in those days. The story has it that at one of those Masses, after the Bishop in the panegyric had been extolling the virtues of the dead priest for quite some time, a priest in the rows of priests whispered loudly to the priest beside him: “There is a priest lying in the coffin, and a bishop lying in the pulpit!”
Now at Requiem Masses, or funeral Masses, as at most other Masses with a congregation, there is a homily after the gospel. Or, according to the intent of the ritual, it ought to be a homily: a reflection on the word with some reference to the immediate reality of the death and burial of a member of the community. The homily is not a eulogy; if the words spoken are primarily a eulogy they do not amount to a homily.
It is appropriate enough to have a brief eulogy at the very beginning of a Requiem Mass, to put everyone in the picture, as it were. However, it spoils the balance of the ritual of a Requiem Mass to have an introductory eulogy that goes for more than five minutes; it certainly is out of place to have several (long) eulogies as a part of a Requiem Mass.
There is real value in telling the story of a deceased person: to share memories as people engage in the grieving process. This sharing of memories is done informally but it can also be organised within the context of a Funeral Vigil Service before the day of the Funeral Mass. The ritual format of a Funeral Vigil is much more flexible and can allow for much input from friends and relations of the deceased. In most places we are still learning how to do the Vigil well. Perhaps some members of the community could specialise in developing the skills required for leading good Funeral Vigil Services and for ministering to the bereaved.
The nature of a Funeral Vigil Service needs to be explained well, including a convincing description of the spiritual and psychological benefits, so that the community can come to accept, support and appreciate this ritual.
though multiple, extended eulogies are out of place in the middle of a Requiem
Mass, you probably know that it has sometimes happened. On one such occasion,
according to the second story, the Requiem Mass was being celebrated with a
large congregation of people. As was the custom in that place, the coffin was
left open during the
Whatever about the perfection or imperfection of the rituals at the time of death, it certainly is important to remember those who have died. We might say that the dead expect us to remember their good achievements and virtues – to continue them and develop them further. But it is not out of place, at some time, to clarify our awareness of the imperfections, failings and shortcomings that were manifested in the life of the deceased. We might seek to understand the causes and attitudes behind those failings. More importantly we might ask ourselves what can we do to eliminate the same failings from our lives. We might say that the failings of the deceased will only be atoned for and their “purgatory” completed when the consequences of their failings have been overcome in the community of the living.
So we remember the virtues of the deceased; we hold on to them; we continue them and try to develop them further. We remain aware of the failings of the deceased and we work to eliminate that inheritance from the surviving community.
Only when the inheritance of all is fully purified and goodness brought to perfection will we all be able to enter fully into the Realm of God. That will be the Parousia, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, the time of fulfilment of God’s plan.
The liturgy for the first two weeks of Advent draws our attention to the end of the world, to the Second Coming of Jesus, to the time of fulfilment: the Parousia, as it is sometimes called.
Advent reminds us that Jesus has come into our world, that he still comes amongst us, and that he will come again at the end of time.