Today, Ellyn von Huben comments on a recent article in the Wall Street Journal about the "trend toward increasing humor in funeral customs." Read what she has to say about it here.
It’s Not Actually My Party - But You Can Cry if You Want To
They could remember me well: the child who licked a hot frying pan, the sister who returned from a youthful night on the town and collapsed atop her sister’s occupied bed, the mother who forced her family into matching orange shirts plus khaki shorts, the mother of the tofu cookies and agonizing Proust Questionnaire cards at holiday dinner. So many quirky stories… just don’t expect to hear them at my funeral.
There was an article in the Wall Street Journal on March 31 about the trend toward increasing humor in funeral customs, commenting upon “...how many families are turning to humor and an honest account of the deceased’s life rather than strike a more traditional, religious tone.” There were only a few voices of disagreement quoted. They spoke of an unhealthy distancing from the reality of death, impiety - “a good funeral is now marked by the level of laughter” - and the plain potential for disaster.
As Fr. Barron often reminds us, “your life is not about you.” And, may I add, neither is your funeral. It is a rite that belongs to the Church: “The community assembling in prayer also awaits the "words of eternal life." The death of a member of the community (or the anniversary of a death, or the seventh or thirtieth day after death) is an event that should lead beyond the perspectives of "this world" and should draw the faithful into the true perspective of faith in the risen Christ.” (CCC 1687) A eulogy, even one of the quality “of a David Sedaris essay,” has no place in this liturgical celebration.
I have been present at more than one funeral which deteriorated into an uncomfortable farce of bad anecdotes, premature declarations of canonization, and the concomitant loss of opportunity for evangelization. (Though I’ve been spared theatrics such as Tony Danza interrupting a priest “claiming he was talking too much about God.” Good theatre; very bad funeral.)
The WSJ article quoted an Episcopalian priest who backed down in his resolve to enforce the no-eulogy policy when told that his prohibitions would have alienated some family members from the Church. I would think that anyone whose relationship with the Church is so tenuous that the denial of an open mic sets them adrift is probably already quite far gone. Not beyond salvation, of course, but remember, the funeral is likewise not about them.
For those who rarely cross the threshold into a church, the beauty and truth of the funeral liturgy is a potent opportunity for evangelization. But, this won’t be accomplished by giving the grieving a stage for theatrical catharsis. Not only does the Church give us proper consolation, the rules also offer a protection against gaffes at a time when the bereaved may be in shock and not in possession of the best judgment.
Do I bristle when I see funeral programs headlined with “A Celebration of the Life of...?” I certainly do. That is not what we are there for. It is a time to “illumine the mystery of Christian death in the light of the risen Christ.” (CCC 1688) (Oh, and I must admit that I am puzzled by the custom of expecting a grieving family to make some sort of craft project for the funeral. And I like craft projects.) While I’m being all bristly, allow me to comment that I see some of this as a natural outgrowth of the personalized wedding trend of the past several decades. One can only wonder how long it will be until the simple memorial holy cards are replaced with “goody bags.”
The giddy eulogizing that I have heard is not only inappropriate but a total distraction from the necessity of prayer for the soul of the deceased. (Words fail me when I ponder the funeral at which the deceased’s daughter read aloud her mother’s “letter from Heaven.” Absolutely fail me. Epic fail.) So if my family wants to make up a funeral program, may I suggest they leave off the “celebration of life” stuff and, under the obligatory photo of me from ‘better days,’ just caption it with “Help a girl out. Pray for my soul.”
The Church has, unfortunately, become a place that people seek out for weddings and funerals. They look for the Church to provide a (small ‘c’) church when what they really want is a venue. Funeral homes can accommodate these needs. They offer the place for eulogizing, story-telling and an array of personal touches. But the Church “. . . expresses her efficacious communion with the departed: offering to the Father in the Holy Spirit the sacrifice of the death and resurrection of Christ, she asks to purify his child of his sins and their consequences, and to admit him to the Paschal fullness of the table of the Kingdom.” (CCC1689) I wouldn’t expect Comedy Central to pray for my soul, and likewise I don’t expect my parish to host a “roast” in my honor.
So, when the time comes, save the stories for the wake. Please do not forget to pray for me. And, I suppose you could go ahead and book David Sedaris for the after-party.
Ellyn von Huben is a regular contributor to the Word on Fire Blog. She also moderates her own blog, Oblique House.