Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

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The Good Word on Kennedy, Eulogies, and Catholic Funerals

Cardinal O'Malley Incenses the Body of Edward Kennedy

This past weekend’s funeral Mass for Sen. Edward Kennedy has been the cause of scandal for many people, but not necessarily for the right reasons.

Many question whether or not Sen. Kennedy should have been given the “honor” of a Catholic funeral. Given that no lawmaker ever did more to champion the cause of abortion on demand than Sen. Kennedy, it is understandable that people would be concerned that he would not be eligible for a Catholic funeral. If he had not repented from his position this would in fact be the case. However, the Church allows that, if one repents at the end of one’s life, he or she is entitled to Christian burial. It appears that Sen. Kennedy did call for a priest at the end of his life and did receive the sacraments. While this is certainly not the public repentance demanded by the very public sins of his life, the Church is very lenient and errs on the side of mercy if there exists even minimal evidence of “repentance.” I therefore concur with notable canon lawyer Ed Peters that Sen. Kennedy was entitled to a Catholic funeral Mass (go here for detailed information why).

That having been said, I do believe that the funeral Mass was a huge scandal. The reason the Church is lenient in allowing Christian burial for even minimally repentant public sinners is precisely because the central purpose of the funeral Mass is to implore God’s mercy for the deceased. To a point, you could say the bigger the sinner, the more appropriate a funeral Mass would be. Having a funeral Mass is in not intended to “honor” the person. The sadness of this particular funeral was that someone who very much needed our prayers instead received only praise. Tragically, the uncharitable pretended ignorance of the man’s grave sins cost him the one thing that could have really helped him, the potential prayers of thousands.

Perhaps the most serious scandal of this funeral Mass was that all this praise being heaped upon Sen. Kennedy was really not for him at all. The real purpose of so much show and ceremony was to provide reassurance to all those Catholics who, like Kennedy, reject the teaching authority of the Church. Can you still be a “good Catholic” and be in favor of abortion? Apparently. To the average person, here was “the Church” heaping countless praises upon the champion of abortion, homosexual activity, and scores of other moral outrages that the Church is supposedly against. What clearer teaching could there be? Actions speak louder than words.

Again, I am not saying that there shouldn’t have been a funeral Mass. I even think it should have been every bit as big and public as it was. I just wish it would have actually been a Catholic funeral Mass. What took place in Boston this weekend was a secular funeral shoved into a Catholic church. I actually hoped that the Cardinal would in fact preach and would use well the “teachable moment.” So many so-called Catholic politicians are leading lives in the same disastrous state as Sen. Kennedy. Here was a perfect opportunity to truly exercise the “care of souls” in an urgently needed way. Instead, more fuel was added to the already blazing scandal of Catholics in political life.

Might I suggest that much of the scandal of this weekend would have been avoided if an actual Catholic funeral Mass would have been celebrated according to the instructions for such a Mass. As I said, the central focus of the Mass is to pray for mercy upon the deceased. This is done with time-honored prayers and chants. The one thing that is not at all characteristic of a Catholic funeral is a speech. The Mass is for prayer, not making speeches, eulogies, remembrances, or whatever else you want to throw in. The instructions for the funeral Mass are clear:

“At the funeral Mass there should, as a rule, be a short homily, but never a eulogy of any kind.” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal #382)

Why were there not just one, but three eulogies at this so-called “funeral Mass?” Why were the General Intercessions perverted into political statements quoted from political speeches? The list of abuses goes on and on. If you just follow the instructions for Mass, most of what took place this weekend would not have happened.

The ancient counsel of the Church is evident here; lex orandi, lex credendi- the way we pray reflects and shapes what we believe. The manner of prayer this weekend (if you could call it prayer) clearly states that we believe that the good deeds done in life are sufficient to outweigh any sins, no matter how great and, most tragically, that the dead do not need our prayers. That is obviously what the people assembled in Boston believed as evidenced by how they prayed. The final scandal is to think about how people might have been helped to believe correctly if they had just prayed correctly.

May the soul of Edward Kennedy and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

1 Response to The Good Word on Kennedy, Eulogies, and Catholic Funerals

  1. Emily

    Fr. Shawn,
    I enjoyed your insights into the funeral Mass of Sen. Kennedy. You are brave for speaking out on this.
    Pax,
    Emily

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