Scottish Catholic bishop bans family poems and readings from funerals

Bishop of Motherwell, Jospeh Toal. Picture: TSPL
Bishop of Motherwell, Jospeh Toal. Picture: TSPL
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A SENIOR Catholic bishop has banned family members from giving eulogies at all funeral services in his diocese.

The Bishop of Motherwell, Joseph Toal, issued a directive to priests to refuse requests from relatives who want to pay tribute to their loved ones during the funeral Mass.

Friends or relatives have in the past contributed to services with personalised poems, readings and stories about the deceased.

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The bishop said he did not feel the church was the appropriate location for eulogies and suggested they may be more suitable at the funeral reception afterwards.

He stressed that the only person to speak at the service should be a priest or deacon and insisted it was “not a time for anyone else to be getting up to talk about the deceased, whoever they may be”.

The Diocese of Motherwell is one of the largest in Scotland with 66 parishes in Lanarkshire and parts of Glasgow, serving more than 160,000 Catholics.

In a letter issued to all priests and deacons in the diocese, Bishop Toal said: “Most questions seem to arise around requests made for eulogies at the funeral liturgies.

“In that respect the instruction given in the introduction to the Funeral Rites clearly states that the priest or deacon celebrating the funeral should preach a homily as on other occasions on the Word of God.

“The instruction specifically says the homily should not be a eulogy. It is a homily therefore spoken by the priest or deacon. It is not a time therefore for anyone else to be getting up to talk about the deceased, whoever they may be.

“It is appropriate for the preacher though to integrate some detail about the deceased’s life into his homily so that it is personal and recognises the family’s wish to recall their loved one in a sensitive way.

“Since the Liturgy has its own structure and rhythm, especially the Requiem Mass, it should not be interrupted to add in extras.

“It is not appropriate to add a tribute to the deceased before or during the Final Commendation. We move from the Mass to the Final Commendation at the Coffin and then to the Rite of Committal at the grave-side or crematorium.

“Often what families want to hear and share can be offered in a more appropriate and less formal manner at the reception afterwards. Those closest to the deceased gather for this part of the funeral and it may well be better to share their happy memories about the deceased in this setting.”

Bishop Toal also urged priests to discourage family members from performing other tasks at the funeral such as Bible readings or prayers.

He said this would spare grieving relatives the “ordeal” of speaking at the funeral and avoid people who don’t regularly attend church from taking part.

He said: “Sometimes at funerals families feel they need to do particular tasks themselves. However in regard to the Liturgy it may be better to leave liturgical tasks to those who do them normally in the parish.

“I am thinking in particular of readers and those who say the prayer of the faithful. It is an ordeal for people to come forward to read if they are not used to doing so, or perhaps are not even regular attenders in church.

“Here too I think the members of the deceased’s family should be guided by the experience and wisdom of the priest or deacon celebrant, whose responsibility it is to decide on who should proclaim the Word of God and offer the prayers of the faithful.”

The bishop added that “we need to accept that it is what the Church offers us that counts most of all, rather than our own words.”

Bishop Toal was appointed as the Bishop of Motherwell by Pope Francis in 2014. He was previously Bishop for Argyll and the Isles.