Charles Cowling

Unbelievably, perhaps, this is a favourite song at Aussie funerals

Have you been following the hullabaloo which greeted the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, when he restated Church rules on funerals and reiterated the ban on ‘secular items’ at funerals – romantic ballads, pop or rock music, political songs, football club songs, that sort of stuff? He said: “At the funerals of children … nursery rhymes and sentimental secular songs are inappropriate because these may intensify grief.” He said the funeral was a requiem mass for the repose of the soul, not a celebration of life or memorial service. If families wanted the latter, it should take place at a social occasion before or after the funeral.

This is the selfsame Denis Hart who, in 2004, told a female victim of priestly sexual abuse, “Go to hell, bitch.”

There’s a good, balanced discussion of the matter in The Age. Here are some extracts:

“I COME to bury Caesar, not to praise him,” Mark Antony tells the Romans, according to Shakespeare. Today it would probably be the other way round: stacks of eulogies and anecdotes and Caesar’s favourite songs – Sinatra’s My Way, probably – followed by a cremation.

Clearly, the role of a funeral has become blurred in this more secular age. Most Australians are no longer regulars at church, and increasing numbers see the main point of a funeral service as commemorating a life rather than commending it to God. Also, what used to be separated – the service and the wake, with eulogies and memories – have become increasingly conflated into the funeral itself.

The Catholic guidelines basically highlight that a church funeral service is still a church service. Its purpose is to commend the deceased to God and proclaim the Christian hope; it is explicitly not a secular celebration of a completed life. Such a celebration is a natural, proper and desirable thing, but the occasion for it, according to the church, is a separate gathering.

According to traditional Catholic thinking, the main priority at a church funeral is prayer for the deceased, and nourishing the grieving with the word of God and the Eucharist. In the 1662 Anglican Book of Common Prayer, the deceased was not even named during the service.

But families who resent the church limiting what they can do during a service should ask themselves why it is that they want a church funeral. Surely it is the solemnity and dignity of such an occasion, placing the person’s life in a broader – even eternal – narrative, the ritual marking an important passage, that draws them.

The church has long experience at such ritual, and is pretty good at it, and Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust (which has been requested) doesn’t really fit. The step from personal to trivial can be a short one. If none of this matters, then a secular celebrant at a funeral parlour will fulfil almost any request.

Read the entire article here.

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11 years ago

“Surely it is the solemnity and dignity of such an occasion, placing the person’s life in a broader – even eternal – narrative, the ritual marking an important passage, that draws them.” Possibly, but surely not surely. Hasn’t this writer considered that a church is something you see in the high street every day, that the only hearses you mostly see come and go from a church because you don’t find your local crematorium next to W H Smith’s and so you make the unconscious connection between the two, that mundane things like un-thinking assumptions, and stereotypes, and social expectation,… Read more »

11 years ago

Great post, thanks Charles.

I found myself looking for something intelligent to say, but could only come up with “Yep. What he said” while reading the “age” article.

I don’t know where you find all this stuff, but I’m very glad that you do.