An Ottawa archbishop, Terence Prendergast, has banned eulogies at Catholic funeral masses, according to a report on Religion News Service (RNS). As he explained, Catholics gather at funerals “not to praise the deceased, but pray for them.”
This is the second time this has happened in Canada; another Catholic leader, a bishop in Calgary, banned eulogies in 2003.
Meanwhile, the Protestant tradition of including eulogies at memorial services and funerals is still going strong. Often, the words of remembrance are woven into a short sermon or homily. Other times, there may be a special time in the service during which friends and family members step forward to share their memories, prayers, and tributes with all gathered.
Perhaps this points up a basic difference between Catholics and Protestants in terms of worship practices. There has always been a greater emphasis on liturgy in Catholic churches, while Protestants have focused more on “the Word,” in other words, sermons and scripture reading.
It was only after the reforms of Vatican II that the Catholic and Protestant practices seemed to meld together, with Catholic worship becoming “more Protestant,” and Protestants adopting more liturgical forms.
Now, however, those lines in the sand are being drawn once again.
Like the issues of married clergy, the role of women, and other controversial practices that the Catholic leadership has either denied or embraced, this particular decision to discourage eulogies may not sit so well with parishioners. After years of other deceased family members receiving the “eulogy treatment,” it will be very challenging to go “cold turkey.” Many people could rightfully feel offended, hurt, or slighted by the new practice. If Uncle Fred had a eulogy, why can’t his widow have the same?
Of course, there’s also the practice of receiving communion that often occurs at funeral services – and the Catholics have long had a rule against allowing non-Catholics to participate. In an age when western culture is such a melting pot that families are no longer exclusively Catholic, and with so many intermarriages that a funeral typically is attended by a variety of religious traditions, it seems like it would be rather provocative and inflammatory to perpetuate this practice. But that’s another can of worms, not within the scope of this article.