• I'm looking for some advice on how to handle funerals as a Music Director. I want to incorporate the proper antiphons (in English at least at first), but I'm not sure how to best educate/communicate why this is preferable to just having the family select hymns. Our pastor is very hands off when it comes to music and entrusts all decisions to me. I appreciate not having to argue with a "liberally-minded" pastor like I know many MDs do, but it also means I lack support when I try to make changes that elevate the sacredness of the liturgy and parishioners/other staff have questions or concerns about it.

    I got a copy of The Order of Christian Funerals, but I'm finding it to be of little help. When giving instruction on the prayers and texts for the liturgy, it is frustratingly vague: "...or another song" "...or another suitable option" etc. Is there any Church document I could reference when needing to explain why we should sing the Proper texts instead of hymns?

    I also feel conflicted about what is truly a "pastoral" approach. The Order of Christian Funerals seems to place great emphasis on involving the family in the funeral planning process, but where do you draw the line? For example, is it "better" to sing Amazing Grace instead of Requeim aeternam/Eternal rest grant unto them for the Entrance because since the family chose it, this hymn might more effectively "support, console, and uplift the participants"???
  • Make the proper chants the first option that the family is presented, perhaps with a choice of Latin or English (TAG or Palmer/Burgess) texts. Many times they'll agree to that rather than push the issue further. If there are particular requests like Amazing Grace that are not quite up your liturgical alley, they may be more suited as preludes.

    I'm unsure why the family, grieving the lost of their loved one, should have the onus placed on them to manage and organize the funeral. That seems like one of the least pastoral ideas the Church has never come up with. Making the appropriate choice the easiest and most streamlined option available solves both problems admirably.
    Thanked by 1sydney416
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 1,221
    I would change (simplify!) the funeral planning sheet you're using to something like this, indicating those choices we would like them to make:

    First Reading: __________
    Responsorial Psalm: Psalm No. __________
    Second Reading: __________
    Gospel Reading: __________

    Hymn Requests:
    1) __________
    2) __________

    ====================================================

    That way they're not selecting a setting of the psalm, but only the text they'd like. That way also, you are given more discretion over whether or when the hymns they'd like are sung. It also makes clear that they are requesting something, which might not be granted. You could provide a short (short!) list of appropriate hymns from which they might choose.

    Something which should be made clear to them at the outset is that it is okay for them not to make a choice on any of the blank lines. They should feel free to leave things up to the discretion of the pastor/music director; they are not obligated to "choose" something for everything.

    This article by Andrew Motyka might be of interest to you: https://www.ccwatershed.org/2014/02/26/setting-example-through-funerals/
  • Sydney,

    The liturgy (public worship) of the Church isn't designed to encourage options. The modular liturgical environment of the Missal of Paul VI is an anomaly.

    While it is true (theoretically) that one could request (for example) a polyphonic setting of the Dies Irae, this is a specifically narrow request. It doesn't involve replacing the text of the Dies Irae with something (alleged to be) more pastorally sensitive. Giving the family time to grieve, rather than focusing their collective attention on how to structure a "meaningful" service, is pastoral, while the inverse is unpastoral.

    Weddings are planned months in advance. Only when the deceased had a long, slow decline and much interaction with the choir is it reasonable to ask a choir to put together polyphony outside of their usual repertoire for the funeral.
    Thanked by 1sydney416
  • USCCB " Since the psalms are songs, whenever possible, they should be sung."
    Thanked by 1hilluminar
  • TCJ
    Posts: 779
    At my parish, we used a sheet with limited options. The propers of the Mass were listed as the first option, but in four years NOBODY picked them. We had a short list of hymns, but about 33% of families would add write-ins on the list (which would not be used) or would want to take the time to argue with me or the pastor. This past year, the pastor made the decision to remove any kind of input from the family regarding music. So far, it has been much better and we have actually had fewer complaints than before.
    Thanked by 1sydney416
  • Of all the new liturgies, the funeral is the pig most in need of lipstick, and the least amenable to having it applied.

    Sorry, I got nothin' but "Requiem aeternam"
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 1,221
    Are you replying to me, @mattebery?

    USCCB " Since the psalms are songs, whenever possible, they should be sung."


    To clarify, I was not suggesting speaking the psalm, but just allowing the family to choose the text/number of that psalm which will be sung. This allows the music director discretion over the musical setting of the psalm while still permitting some input from the family.
  • Thank you all! Allowing minimal to no input from the family for funeral music definitely feels like the best thing to do. Honestly, no one is going to remember or care what was sung at the funeral, but people WILL remember any conflicts, arguments, or stress involved.

    I could still use some help on how exactly to explain this to other parish staff (particularly bereavement ministers) who have their hearts in the right place but are not knowledgeable on liturgical or musical matters. @TCJ, how did your pastor introduce/announce this change? Any resources or references I could share besides "people on this forum agree with my opinion" would be helpful :-)
    Thanked by 1cesarfranck
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,374
    "Honestly, no one is going to remember or care what was sung at the funeral"

    Not sure if that's an assumption or a conclusion. I would suggest a rather soft bite on it - that is, be ready to drop the bone when evidence to the contrary presents itself, eventually.

    Thanked by 1Richard Mix
  • Are you replying to me, @mattebery?

    Irishtenor - no. I was posting the link for the original poster who requested a Church document.
  • ryandryand
    Posts: 1,640
    You could explain to your parish staff / bereavement ministers that there is no need to burden the family with one more responsibility at this time, and that thankfully the Church provides everything we need for planning the music at a funeral Mass.

    “The music selection is something they don’t need to worry about. They have enough to deal with during this somber time in their family.”

    But what will we sing at Communion? How will you know what to sing for the procession?

    “Not to worry, that music is already selected by the Church for funerals. I’ll take care of preparing the musicians, just let me know which of the psalm texts the family would prefer.”
    Thanked by 1rich_enough
  • TCJ
    Posts: 779
    @TCJ, how did your pastor introduce/announce this change? Any resources or references I could share besides "people on this forum agree with my opinion" would be helpful :-)


    There was no general announcement to the parish made. He discussed his decision with me in private after which I talked to the two local funeral homes which previously had given suggestion sheets to the families. I merely stated that all music selections fall under the governance of the pastor and are not the responsibility of the family. He chose not to go into detail, but rather deal with families on a case-by-case basis if necessary. He did discuss this in a talk we had on sacred music, but we had only about 30 people there, so it certainly wasn't an all-parish announcement.

    As for resources? We just say that we use the propers of the Mass which are selected by the Church and are very appropriate for a funeral.
    Thanked by 1sydney416
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 987
    The family will have a favorite song or hymn of the deceased that they would like to hear. The deceased may have had a favorite psalm the family would like read. It isn't just the funeral service the family has to deal with (that's usually the least stressful thing they have to deal with). They also have to buy a funeral plot and casket, pick out music and pictures for the viewing, make arrangements for a deacon for the rosary, etc. And they will want to make all these selections. It's one of the last things they can do for the deceased. It may even help them through the grieving process.
  • Honestly, no one is going to remember or care what was sung at the funeral,


    Are you having a laugh? Some people won't care. But some most definitely will. And they will remember if there are service leaflets or similar, because the leaflets will tell them. Maybe your situation is different - but in mine, I'd expect that most would care, and care very much indeed.

    If you really want to follow this approach, then involve your pastor in telling the bereavement ministers - because they will be the ones explaining to families why granny's favourite hymn cannot be included in the funeral.


    (Have you been through any family bereavements yourself? If not, then maybe spend some time with the bereavement ministers, learning what they've found helps families.)
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,374
    In the case of my late parent's funerals, it was only my persistent involvement in planning that prevented the hymns and psalm and "song of farewell" from defaulting to Joncas-Haas-Haugen. Fortunately, I had assisted at Mass many times in that parish during my parents' last years, and knew the hymnal edition and what the organist and cantor were capable of if given the necessary tools and encouragement. My mother's funeral prep (for which my father wanted me to lead with my experienced input) was a hash because of classic Catholic parish low-tech communication obstacles (including work habits) over Friday to minor (Columbus Day) holiday weekend, but nevertheless we persisted - there was a back-and-forth by cell phone with the organist finally responding to Friday's morning's email on Monday morning as we concluded the visitation at the funeral home before departing for the church.

    For my father's funeral a while later, I was better prepared, and mercifully the bereavement committee was less armed bureaucratically under a new pastor and I even managed to have "I Heard The Voice of Jesus Say" sung as the communion meditation to THIRD MODE MELODY (suitably plaintive, and more appropriate for a funeral than the more insistent KINGSFOLD), which I think surprised cantor and organist a bit from their usual practice (and both times chanting In Paradisum - I provided chant and accompaniment - but asking for Requiem Propers would have been way many steps too far for the staff and not something my parents would have cared about in the overall scheme of things).

    When the deceased are in their 90s, and having few living friends nearby and family dispersed, so that the parish staff who attend the funeral as their daily Mass are dominant in numbers, it's an odd situation, because the habits of the staff will roll over the family unless the family comes prepared, as it were.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,713
    You can find some English adaptations of the funeral Mass chants (entrance, offertory, communion) in:

    Prof. Paul Ford's book By Flowing Waters (Liturgical Press), an English-language adaptation of the Graduale Simplex
    Adam Bartlett's Simple English Propers (CMAA)
    and his Lumen Christi Simple Gradual (Illuminare Publications)


  • My advice is to have as much determined beforehand as possible. With the agreement of the priest, set the opening, closing, and song at the "Final Commendation": I do the chants "Requiem aeternam" and "In paradisum" plus a dignified setting of "Saints of God" (I like the one by Theodore Marier in Hymns, Psalms and Spiritual Canticles.)

    The family can then choose two hymns for offertory and communion from a set list. I have been pleasantly surprised at how few families object if they know that most of the music has already been set. Sometimes they make no music requests at all in which case I do almost all chant.

    There have been a few cases where the family made a big fuss, but the pastor and I held the line, figuring that nothing will change unless we are firm at least with this issue. That and disallowing "eulogies" is the last best hope we have of making the funeral mass more than a "celebration of life."
  • G
    Posts: 1,391
    Have you considered, as a last resort for the properphobic, metric paraphrases of the proper antiphons in the most often used meters, so that favorite hymn _tunes_ could be accommodated, without inappropriate words?
    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 2,728
    Metric paraphrases of the proper antiphons‡ would be a good idea, but do they exist? Even better, metric settings of the proper psalms with their antiphons, perhaps as refrains so that the structure is also preserved.
    ‡ or at least some of them, I have not counted them but altogether there are around forty in GR and GS, plus processionals 'from the house', and 'to the cemetery'. I fear metric paraphrases is the only way I could get these texts used at my funeral.