Hymns at funeral masses
  • I'm curious

    Why do people pick the same hymns for Catholic funeral masses such as I Am the Bread of Life, On Eagle's Wings, Be Not Afraid, etc. It's not that I have anything against those songs, it's just that I wonder why it's those particular songs that get picked over and over again?

    Also, how did Ave Maria get thrown into the repertoire? It's not really a hymn but a solo aria from a German lieder.
  • davido
    Posts: 725
    Don’t forget how great thou art and amazing Grace
  • Cmanfro
    Posts: 16
    To complete the ‘top ten’, throw in Here I am, Lord & Prayer of St. Francis

    Let’s start a string of more appropriate alternatives:

    The King of Love my Shepherd Is
    I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say

  • rich_enough
    Posts: 967
    I've heard that Schubert's Ave Maria became especially popular after it was sung at JFK's funeral Mass at St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington.
  • MarkB
    Posts: 899
    Often, the family members choosing music are lapsed Catholics who haven't been regular Mass-goers for two decades or more. They choose the songs they remember from when they used to attend Mass because (1) the songs are nostalgic and comforting to hear during a time of grief, and (2) it's just about the only Mass music that they know about to choose from. Also, at the last Catholic funeral they attended they probably heard those songs, so they conclude that those must be Catholic funeral songs, and the belief that they are Catholic funeral songs becomes more reinforced with each repetition.
  • Conor,

    They choose these songs because they misunderstand the purpose of a requiem. The requiem exists to offer prayers on behalf of the deceased. It's not a celebration of his life.

  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 3,205
    Chris Garton-Zavesky - are there any hymns which would be appropriate (NO)?
  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 2,265
    I'm attaching our current funeral music planning guide. It is in need of some revision (its current incarnation dates to the period of time where we were phasing out our hymnals, so there are still a few pieces on there that I never schedule if I can help it), but it gives you a launching point.

    I echo Cmanfro about I heard the voice of Jesus say, which is particularly nice when paired to Tallis' Third Mode Melody. This is my first go-to for funerals whenever I'm left to my own devices. ("...lay down, thou weary one, lay down thy head upon My breast. ...I came to Jesus, as I was, so weary, worn, and sad; I found in Him my resting place, and He has made me glad.”)

    A few other interesting alternatives are:
    Be Still My Soul ("...Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain; leave to thy God to order and provide—In every change He faithful will remain.")
    What wondrous love is this ("...What wondrous love is this that causet the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul...)
    Soul of my Savior [Sanctify my breast]
    Jesus, Lord have mercy (can be paired with Adoro Te; "Jesus, Lord, have mercy, on the souls so blest, who in faith gone from us now in death find rest. Here ’mid stress and conflict, toils can never cease; there [heaven] the warefare ended, bid them rest in peace.")
    My Song is Love Unknown ("O who am I that for my sake, the Lord should take frail flesh, and die? He came from His blest throne salvation to bestow...)

    To the OP: I recently balked when a friend mentioned a particular hymn he was going to use. He wasn't keen on it either, but it was his proverbial "bone" to be thrown to the people. I jokingly told him to "knock it off with that type of music!" He retorted, "No; it's not great, but why do you care? I live in another state! It's not like these people are going to show up at your parish!"

    This was all in jest, but without missing a beat, I quipped back, "It is precisely people like you 'throwing bones' that keeps people like me from being able to bury this music for good. And while you may be in another state, it is precisely the parishioners from parishes like yours who fly in for Mimaw's funeral and INSIST on having ________ 'because we sing that at every funeral at my church!' ...so, in fact, it does actually make it more difficult for the rest of us!"

    The fact is, people have become very attached to some of this stuff, and as MarkB points out, people want familiarity in times of grief. But that's precisely what makes it so hard to break the cycle, and it's also why I believe that churches need to have hard/fast rules about what is and is not approved. I have a few friends who are able to enforce their list. I'm regularly asked to work around mine which drives me nuts; it defeats the purpose of the list to begin with, so I push back all the time. I'll give the family one, perhaps two of their requests if they are benign enough, but no more. You cant turn the ship around without forcing the rudder in a new direction.

    The other reason is simply that people don't think this stuff through. They just pick music they like, rather than music that is appropriate for the situation at hand. And in a certain sense, how can we fault them? These random people have never had to think about planning a liturgy before! And even if they've been asked for input on a wedding or funeral in the past, it's very rare, and they weren't informed those times either. (There is much public discourse about the "death of the expert" and that would seem to apply, at least in part here.) This is why they need guidance.

    People also don't really think about what hymns say, in an academic sense. I avoid the Prayer of Saint Francis like the plague (in general, but at funerals in particular) because the text is a prayer that is supposed to be spoken by the living... but then it's being sung for the dead... "Make me a channel of your peace... etc." sure sounds like we are singing it on behalf of the deceased, which will do them little good at this point, as their particular judgement has already come to pass. (Yes, yes... purgatory, pray for them, etc. I know.) But in a certain sense, this prayer needed praying a few days prior to the funeral, if you get what I mean. So even if it is a fine-enough song in other contexts, it makes little sense at funerals.
  • Hawkins,

    How about these:

    Lead Kindly Light

    Help, Lord, the souls

    Once to ev'ry man and nation (which I sang to a tune called "Ton y Botel", if I recall.)

    Lord Jesus, think on me

    The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended

    Turn back, O Man, foreswear thy foolish ways
  • As for the Ave Maria (specifically the Schubert version), how did that get thrown into the repertoire also?
  • MarkB
    Posts: 899
    I would propose that the Ave Maria at funerals derives from a naive yet common view that the music at Mass is for entertainment or is just filler. Under such a way of thinking, the offertory is a musical interlude between acts while they set the stage on the altar for the second act. So it really doesn't matter what is sung there, Mom likes (or liked) the Schubert Ave Maria, so let's stick that song there.
    Thanked by 2ServiamScores Elmar
  • If it were my funeral mass I would have:

    Entrance: Alleluia Sing To Jesus (or if it takes place during Lent, then it would be Heard the Voice of Jesus

    Offertory: The King of Love My Shepherd Is

    Communion: Eat This Bread

    Final Comendation: Song of Farewell (Sands) (I actually really love this song and its the one funeral song that I really love playing over and over again)

    Recessional: Sing With All the Saints In Glory
  • TCJ
    Posts: 866
    We sing the chant Ave Maria instead.
  • from "Cmanfro"
    Let’s start a string of more appropriate alternatives:
    The King of Love my Shepherd Is
    I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say
    Regular rotation at my parish is:
    Lift High the Cross
    Ave Maria (not always Schubert - I sometimes do Arcadelt, or even my own)
    Jesus, Son of Mary (tune: Adoro Te, Mode V)
    The Strife Is O'er (in PT)
    Jesus, Lover of My Soul (tune: Aberystwyth - especially in Lent)

    We've also honored requests for Holy God, We Praise Thy Name, Alleluia, Sing to Jesus, and Nearer My God to Thee.

    While we do allow "Amazing Grace" and "How Great Thou Art" (I only play those on request), I'm fortunate that my pastor does not allow "Eagle's Claws", "Here I Am, Lord", "Be Not Afraid", "Gentle Woman" (because Aunt Mabel was such a gentle woman - I ACTUALLY HAVE HEARD THAT EXCUSE!!!) or other similar love ballads that are musically far more fit for a "soft rock" or "beautiful music" radio station than any Catholic repertoire, regardless of anyone's ecclesiastical or political status! It will be 12 years at my current parish (God willing) come Low Sunday 2023, my longest stay at any job, church or otherwise.
  • rollingrj
    Posts: 330
    For your condiseration, I have used "Jerusalem, My Happy Home".
  • From Chris Garton-Zavesky:
    Once to ev'ry man and nation (which I sang to a tune called "Ton y Botel", if I recall.)

    Yes, also known as "Ebenezer". (I assume you're referring the tune in F minor laden with triplets)
  • Brian,

    Yes, that's the one.
    Thanked by 1Brian Michael Page
  • Bri
    Posts: 76
    ServiamScores, thank you for sharing your funeral planning guide!

    Might you have this in Word or another editable format that you could share?

    I'd love to adapt for my context.

  • What a lovely thread this is!

    >> Let’s start a string of more appropriate alternatives:

    We sometimes sing “O Jesu Christe” (Jacquet de Mantua, or whatever alternate name you use for him)

    and once, the “Cor Arca Legem Continens” from the feast of the Sacred Heart - a rare request of the family, as we all knew that the departed had a great devotion to the Sacred Heart.
  • MarkB
    Posts: 899
    Coincidentally, today a widower asked me to suggest songs for his wife's funeral Mass. I had thought of proposing the chants from the Mass for the Dead, but I don't think he and the guests in attendance would be ready for that. I proposed the following:

    Entrance: I Heard the Voice of Jesus
    Offertory: Keep In Mind
    Communion: I Am the Bread of Life (preceded by Lux Aeterna for a few verses)
    Recessional: Be Thou My Vision

    If he agrees to those, it will be progress to have avoided the cliche song choices and to have gotten Lux Aeterna in there.

  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,624
    Funeral planning forms often ask people to fill in hymns to be sung, and they write down whatever they can remember ("one's Yankee Doodle and the other isn't"). It would be better if they were asked instead if there were any hymns they or the other attendees would sing themselves: few things are sadder than congregational music sung as a cantor solo, and when no one joins in on a 'request' I tend to wrap it up after one verse and switch to chant if more music is needed.

    Serviam, "Jesus, Lord have mercy" sounds a lot like an altered second verse of Palmer's "Jesus Son of Mary" in H82 (no. 357, also to ADORO TE). We use it on All Souls, along with "Abide with me".
  • Lately at our ordinariate parish the only choice is English vs Latin, the complete propers chanted by 2 hired cantors. We sing the burial sentences composed by myself. At communion after the antiphon is sung, we sing the De Profundis in translation to the mode iii Sarum variant of Pange Lingua.

    Christ, enthroned in highest Heaven,
    Hear us crying from the deep,
    For the faithful ones departed,
    For the souls of all that sleep;
    As Thy kneeling Church entreateth,
    Hearken, Shepherd of the sheep.

    King of Glory, hear our voices,
    Grant Thy faithful rest, we pray;
    We have sinned, and may not bide it,
    If Thou mark our steps astray;
    Yet we plead the saving Victim,
    Which for them we bring today.

    That which Thou Thyself hast offered
    To Thy Father, offer we;
    Let it win for them a blessing,
    Bless them, Jesu, set them free;
    They are Thine, they wait in patience;
    Merciful and gracious be.

    They are Thine, O take them quickly,
    Thou their Hope, O raise them high;
    Ever hoping, ever trusting,
    Unto Thee they strive and cry;
    Day and night, both morn and even,
    Be, O Christ, their Guardian nigh.

    Let Thy plenteous loving-kindness,
    On them, as we pray, be poured;
    Let them through Thy boundless mercy,
    From all evil be restored;
    Hearken to the voices pleading
    Of Thy Church, O gracious Lord.

    When, O kind and radiant Jesus,
    Kneels the Queen, Thy throne before,
    Let the court of Saints attending
    Mercy for the dead implore;
    Hearken, loving Friend of sinners,
    Whom the cross exhalted bore.

    Hear and answer prayers devoutest,
    Break, O Lord, each binding chain,
    Dash the gates of death asunder,
    Quell the devil and his train;
    Bring the souls which Thou hast ransomed
    Evermore in joy to reign.
    TRANSLATION: Richard F. Littledale, 1906

    Usually no other desire is expressed, but we occasionally will sing a hymn out of the 1940 at offertory if worthy choice is specified by the family. There isn't even a meeting with the family to "choose music." The pastor will communicate with me personally if the family comes with preconceived desires for the music.
    Thanked by 1ServiamScores
  • MarkB
    Posts: 899
    Here are livestreams of funerals from this past week at a couple of parishes whose video Masses I keep tabs on, mostly because they consistently are examples of how not to do music at Sunday Masses, and I am curious to view the weekly train wreck. Both funerals use heavy doses of the cliche funeral music choices. Note, too, that nobody sings except the accompanist, not even on the responsorial psalm or the Mass ordinary. It's really sad that Catholic funerals are generally liturgical rites at which the family and guests sit and watch.



    For an even more ridiculous example of funeral Mass music, watch this one:


  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 2,265
    MarkB, that last example is horrendous. That is a cantor (more likely DoM both playing and singing) who has an ego larger that sanctuary… that is so sad. (To say nothing of the abuse he’s done to the original hymn anyway.)
  • Elmar
    Posts: 475
    What also worries me - on an other level - how the congregations are in view.
    Would they all have agreed to be shown in this way on a public youtube channel?
    Those videos are not even 'private' but figure on the normal public livestream lists.
  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 2,265
    Elmar, at least in the US, you have no "right to privacy" (as such) in a public space. I hear what you are saying, but practically speaking, there's nothing 'wrong' from a legal sense. Prudentially, is another matter, especially a funeral where visible signs of grief (which tend to not be flattering) can be difficult to control. At least in this case it is just their backs.

    This is why I very much appreciate when filmed masses refrain from showing people receiving communion (especially from the side or closeups). That little moment of privacy seems warranted.
    Thanked by 1Elmar
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 1,953
    Why do people pick the same hymns for Catholic funeral masses

    For the same reason brides at TLM weddings request the same few motets: it's all they know.
    People who say "Sing THE Ave Maria", as if there were only one, should get the chant, since it's the only one present in the Church's liturgical books. Though I'd be happy to give them all (15 so far is it?) of Daniel Knaggs' Aves
    Sing "God of mercy and compassion" or some other sin-aware hymn. The worst thing to happen to the Catholic funeral liturgy was the suppression of the Sequence.
    Thanked by 1ServiamScores
  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 2,265
    The worst thing to happen to the Catholic funeral liturgy was the suppression of the Sequence.
    Yes. People have completely lost all understanding of what a funeral is actually about. The Dies Irae leaves little room for doubt.
    Thanked by 1hilluminar
  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 2,265
    And Knaggs deserves to be better known. Some of his music is absolutely stunning. I grew up with him and took piano lessons from him when I was a kid. I never would have guessed at the time that his career would take such a dramatic and transcendent turn.

    And he's up to at least 18, lol.
    Thanked by 1Jeffrey Quick
  • oldhymnsoldhymns
    Posts: 202
    I was at a wedding ceremony (not a Mass) recently at the Providence Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul. "The" Schubert Ave Maria was sung. It was absolutely awful on all counts. At one time, this Ave Maria was not allowed in Catholic services since it was "considered more suitable to the concert hall, rather than liturgical functions." In fact, it was on the "black list."

    As for my own funeral Mass, I would like the parts of the Gregorian Requiem sung (with organ accompaniment): Introit, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, Lux Aeterna) and these hymns:
    Prayer for a Perfect Life (Cardinal O'Connell)
    Mother of Christ (the original Sisters of Notre Dame melody [not the melody from St. Gregory's] with its closing lines, "When the voyage is o'er, oh stand on the shore, and show Him at last to me)
    O Take Me To Thy Sacred Heart/Heart of Jesus, Hear
    O Jesus Christ Remember (Aurelia)
  • Don9of11Don9of11
    Posts: 638
    There is a beautiful hymn "Sweet Name Which Makes the Dying Live" that was sung at my Granfather's funeral many years ago that I would like sung at my funeral. In fact, I did a short write-up on the hymn's author and the melodies not to long ago. Here have a look: Sweet Name Which Makes the Dying Live
  • Felicia
    Posts: 99
    In December I attended the funerals of two friends who had died, and sang in the choir for one of them. Both of them were held in a neighboring parish.

    The funeral with the choir was for a musician and music teacher, and the selections reflected that:

    Schubert Deutschemesse, in D major, in English (Kyrie, Sanctus, Agnus Dei)
    When in our music God is glorified (ENGLEBERG)
    Gelineau Psalm 23
    The Lord is my Shepherd (John Rutter)
    So the day dawn for me (David Ashley White)
    In paradisum (chant, in Latin)

    The other funeral was a little more typical of that parish:

    Heritage Mass by Owen Alstott
    Two verses of Amazing grace as a violin solo (the DM had planned it as a congregational hymn, but the young priest wanted a more solemn atmosphere)
    Shepherd me, O God (Marty Haugen)
    I heard the voice of Jesus say (KINGSFOLD)
    The Schubert Ave Maria sung by the cantor
    In paradisum
    How great Thou art

    Many of the attendees at this funeral were non-Catholics, so they had trouble following what was going on. I had expected more of them to sing the closing hymn, but they didn't.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • fcbfcb
    Posts: 315
    We had the funeral for my father (a 20-year Navy veteran) today, and the final hymn was "Eternal Father, Strong to Save." Strikingly appropriate for a funeral.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,727
    Deacon Fritz

    Eternal rest and memory eternal for him, and may God bless you and your family and his other loved ones with comfort and strength.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 5,048
    Adam Wood's "Eternal rest grant them we pray" is set to my harmonization of EISENACH in this thread:


  • francis
    Posts: 10,256
    but I don't think he and the guests in attendance would be ready for that.
    They’ll never be ‘ready for that’. The church does not exist in waiting for its members to arrive at perfection while they struggle along on the way to figure out which way to go. It exist to lead and guide them into the proper way. The problem is so many people have heard this same crappy milktoast philosophy over and over that they think it’s the right way to go. They are ignorant and don’t know any better. show some backbone and give them what they deserve …the Requiem mass. This is their only shot. You only die once.
  • davido
    Posts: 725
    You only die once

    Hey, I think I saw that James Bond movie!
  • francis
    Posts: 10,256
    So, point is... do you want everyone at YOUR funeral mass singing about Eagles and thinking happy thoughts about you while you are standing before God at your particular judgement wondering if you are going to heaven or hell? I sure don’t. I want everyone to be praying the words of the Requiem proper for the salvation of my soul in hopes that I will be with God for eternity.
  • G
    Posts: 1,396
    I once learned that a local funeral director (the first "official" person the bereaved are likely to contact,) was handing out a list of suggested songs for Catholic funerals, based on the taste of my predecessor in the job thrice removed. Some seriously trashy settings of liturgical gems like May the Road Rise Up To Meet Ye.
    That kind of thing may be part of the problem.
    The Christophe Tietze book of Introit hymns has one for All Souls that is very useful (set to LAND OF REST.)
    Save the Liturgy, Save the World!
    Thanked by 1ServiamScores