• henry
    Posts: 239
    I've decided not to ask families what songs they want at funerals. I've decided to choose the music, based on what the Church desires for funerals, as best as I can discern. If a family really wants a song or two, I'll try to accomodate. The other day a parish asked me to substitute for a funeral. I said I would as long as they would entrust the music to me. They said they have a bereavement minister who meets with the family to choose readings and music. The music is from a booklet they prepared and does not contain funeral music (I've seen it). I said there would be no hard feelings if they wanted to hire another organist, so they did. I know I'm going to lose "jobs", but how else can I help to change the music used at funerals? I'm not a human jukebox!
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I side with you Henry. In fact, I'd say it's totally pastoral (see, the word DOES have meaning) to not demand the family choose 4 hymns. I take a similar route as you, although my boss still mandates that I call every family to see if they have any requests. One thing I've done is to institute that at Communion the proper chant is sung (by myself or the cantor) and by default the Requiem chant ordinaries are sung (most people don't even know to ask for a different ordinary, so it's an easy step). Frankly I think we should be more open about music for funerals than at Sunday Masses, since there's no point in giving offense to a family if it's not absolutely necessary. When someone's family member has died is the WRONG time to start teaching them.
  • john m
    Posts: 134
    My pastor and I are working on a written parish policy for the funeral liturgy, copies of which will be supplied to all the local funeral homes. In essence, it will state that the choice of music for funerals is the pastor's and will normally be made by his delegate, the music director. Every funeral follows a set formula of the proper texts from the ritual, either in Latin or English, at the Entrance, Communion, Subvenite and Recessional, and it is all printed out in an Order Of Worship in the pews. If the family really desires a certain hymn, it may be sung at the Preparation Of The Gifts. A second hymn request, if they must have it, may be accommodated in the period after Communion.

    We have had enough of funeral Masses being treated as vehicles for the wearisome funeral hit parade of Eagle's Wings, Be Not Afraid, Amazing Grace, How Great Thou Art and Prayer Of St. Francis. It is time for the music of the funeral rites to return to the order that the Church has given it. However, we also acknowledge that a funeral is no time to start a fight, that the turnaround will be slow, and that formation and example are better agents of change than bitter confrontation.
  • Lawrence
    Posts: 123
    Based on my experience, my gut feeling at this time is that the front lines of this battle are at the funeral home. We've got to get the right message out to the funeral directors, who seem to plan everything with the families almost before the organist even knows about the funeral, and perhaps even before the clergy has had the time to weigh in. I might also say that way too many priests are hands off when it comes to this. They even let lay "ministers" visit the families in their stead!

    Right now there are way too many funeral directors who seem to assume that anything goes in any parish. By "anything goes" I don't necessarily mean liturgically inappropriate music, but rather the insipid stuff that people are used to. Dear funeral directors: We would like to sign Requiem aeternam.
  • john m
    Posts: 134

    Also, we must bear in mind that the funeral directors not only deal with various Catholic parishes whose liturgical standards are as different from each other as apples and oranges, but with Protestant churches in many of which anything goes and there are in fact no rules at all. I wonder sometimes if funeral directors simply use a one-size-fits-all approach with families. My pastor and I are making it our mission to clarify to the funeral directors that a] the Catholic liturgy has rules; and b] the fact that other Catholic parishes don't necessarily follow them is irrelevant.
  • G
    Posts: 1,396
    Well, I have a little (a very little,) success to report in this area with the funeral directors. (Though you may not account it as such.)
    I have been doing funerals at this parish for four years.
    From the first, I sang the In Paradisum (albeit in English, unless there was a specific request from the family for Latin,) which met with an enormous amount of resistance from the pastor and the choir, (even though i followed it with any hymn requested for closing, per the practice before i arrived.)
    I sang the Agnus Dei in Latin, but was absolutely forbidden by the pastor from singing the Latin Sanctus, (even several times when a family specifically so requested,) but at least we now sing an Ordinary setting which conforms to some valid English translation of the Missal. (We do receive many requests for ordinaries, and various Alleluia settings.)
    I decided to draw my initial line in the sand on the chant between the readings. Psalms, I refused to program anything as the "psalm" that played fast and loose with the actual scripture. If requested by a family, I never had any trouble explaining and getting them to understand and agree (and I was always willing to program, say "Shepherd Me, O God" as the Offertory, or whatever.)
    If an inappropriate request came through the priest or a funeral director I did not make trouble, (and either go to the family myself or simply refuse,) but the priest didn't really back me on any of this.
    Well finally, just this month, the most prominent local funeral director called me for a funeral, with a horrible program of requests, (Gentle Woman, Be Not Afraid, etc., Let There Be Peace On Earth) and said that the family would like the 23rd Psalm, "they wanted 'Shepherd Me, O God,' but i told them that wasn't really a psalm and they could have it somewhere else if they wanted."

    So, it only took 4 years with him, maybe another 4 and I'll have the pastor on board, with that one minor point...

    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I should add that whatever you CAN do for a funeral, DO IT! After my parish learned the chant ordinary, I instituted a rule that it was to be used as a norm. My boss chants the "In Paradisum" at every funeral without exception. So even if the family requests 4 hymns (and I only say no to that which is outlandishly bad) and I'm stuck with bad music, the ordinary will at least be good.

    For example, at my last funeral the family asked to have a relative cantor the funeral. Apparently she cantored for a regular Americana parish (quite superb voice too) and selected the typical four songs. I elected to sing the "Lux Aeterna" at Communion. We used the Jubilate Deo ordinary, and my boss of course chanted "In Paradisum" And I informed the cantor that it was my parish's practice that the cantor NOT lead the singing from the microphone at hymns. The funeral was so packed that people even sang for "Be Not Afraid" at communion (we had 3 pieces for communion in fact). Anyway, my boss tells me that people were SHOCKED and thanked him for the solemnity of the Mass. Even though the 4 songs were "trash" (although I love How Great Thou Art), everything else about the liturgy SCREAMED "This is important." So every little bit will help, and when people visit your parish for a funeral they're not going to return home and talk about how they sang the Prayer of St. Francis at the funeral. They're going to talk about the Latin, the chant, and maybe even say "that was nice.. maybe we should try that sometime."
  • Liz
    Posts: 6
    I created a list of 25 approved funeral selections (including the dreaded "Be Not Afraid" and "On Eagle's Wings") with a very simple sheet to fill in to aid me in organizing the funeral. As much as I dislike many selections on the list, I, too, feel that it is unfair to rob the family of these familiar pieces at this emotional time. My biggest problem comes from what I can only assume is a not so veiled rejection of my efforts by the bereavement minister (a religious person) who continually chooses selections off the list and refuses to fill in my sheet but hands me scrawled pieces of scrap paper with the line-up. My pastor disapproves but has no backbone and unfortunately leaves me dangling many times. I hold my nose, hope for the best and carry on. I've decided to start saying a rosary for the deceased to deflect my annoyance at this blatant hostility. It keeps my mind off the moment.

    As an aside, I really question the need for the families to chose the music anyway. I went through a traumatic death this past year and quite honestly, I have no idea what music was performed. I didn't want to make any decisions at that time and was focused on just getting through the ceremony in one piece! Most families seem so rattled by all the funeral details that we are just straining them to provide the "perfect" funeral when they are least able to make decisions. BTW, before I made my list, the bereavement minister would hand the person a hymnal and say "pick something". I can't imagine how overwhelming that would be not knowing what is appropriate or not.
  • My father died back in 1985. I had a dream during the time we were making our trip from Texas to Illinois. It was like I was totally in control, working things out, going around in a daze - until the Mass started. At that point I saw a musician friend of mine, whose musicality I highly respected, starting to play traditional music for a funeral, at which point I finally broke down and cried. When I awoke from that dream, the first thing I did was contact the Cathedral organist back in Illinois, a long time friend of mine but not the one in my dream, to request he play for my father's funeral, which he did. My mother and I worked out the music/hymns. My younger brother was somewhat offended that I was coming in from so far away and dictating what was being done. But he had stopped attending church on a regular basis years before. When I stopped at the home parish church to see what books were in the pews then, one of the priests pointed out "Glory and Praise". When I told him that we would not be needing anything from that, he was quite offended. I didn't care one bit!

    Some months later, my mother and I picked out everything for her future funeral and she gave the whole list to the funeral director to hold for the occasion. She didn't want another squabble over her music. Ten years later, the same organist was employed to do all that she requested. The only thing we added that she was not aware of was "Amazing Grace" after Communion, which her grandson, my son Joshua, performed on his bagpipes with the organ accompanying.

    Now, I'm sure that this whole story can be turned around to argue for exactly the music I/we abhore. But when the Requiem Mass was jetisoned, we lost our compass for working through bereavement. The Pandora's box of musical selection was then opened, and we're pretty much stuck with it. The Liturgical norms have allowed familial traditions to be created and now imposed right back onto those Liturgical norms. Me ex-wife's paternal grandmother was the first of that generation to die, and "Be Not Afraid" was one of the songs chosen. It has since been sung at every funeral in that family.

    The only way to overcome this problem is to use the Requiem Mass, as it stands in the current Missale Romanum, but with the vernacular choices of Readings from the "Order for Christian Burial". BTW, why are there fewer Readings offered in that book? Why are the original Readings not included? And why, Oh why, is it for Christian rather than Catholic burial?!?!