Generalising from the particular

Charles Cowling

I enjoyed this article from the Catholic Herald by Francis Phillips:

I was at a Requiem Mass this morning; nothing unusual in that, of course. Yet this Mass was highly unusual in this respect: there was no panegyric of the dead. The deceased man had made it clear to his widow before he died that he wanted the homily to focus on the faith – specifically the theology of death and resurrection, with accompanying prayers for the dead – and not on him.

This must be the first funeral I have attended since the death of my father more than 30 years ago when a “celebration of the life” has not been a central feature of the service. How and when did it creep in that a funeral has to concentrate on a deceased person’s achievements, foibles and lovable frailties – indeed, on his or her imminent canonisation – to the exclusion of almost everything else?

There you have it: no mournful pop songs, no tributes to the deceased’s love of a pint at his local pub, his efforts on behalf of mankind; just natural grief at the loss and hope in the mercy of God. I left this morning’s funeral more comforted and consoled than at many a funeral I have attended in recent years.

Splendid spiritual confidence and theological integrity!

Read the whole piece here.

5 thoughts on “Generalising from the particular

  1. Charles Cowling

    Dear DM

    To my mind, there is nothing ‘mere’ about being human, as indeed there is about religion, myths, music, art et al but for their human inventors and masters.

    Charles Cowling
  2. Charles Cowling

    DM, it is you to whom we lift our eyes and ears for a transcendent perspective.Thank you for it.

    Yes, a reductionist, materialist explanation begets a bathetic sense of Is that all there is? and an accompanying sense (in me, at least) that it is not, there is more, there must be more — a mood brilliantly captured in that Peggy Lee song whose lyric describes death as ‘that final disappointment’.

    I know what you must be saying to yourselves.
    If that’s the way she feels about it why doesn’t she just end it all?
    Oh, no. Not me. I’m in no hurry for that final disappointment.
    For I know just as well as I’m standing here talking to you,
    when that final moment comes and I’m breathing my lst breath, I’ll be saying to myself,

    Is that all there is, is that all there is
    If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
    Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
    If that’s all there is

    Charles Cowling
  3. Charles Cowling
    Death Matters

    Religions, myths and art have in common that they indirectly express hidden realities that cannot be directly comprehended, and that the forms of these expressions need to be updated to continue communicating the message effectively.

    I do not doubt that the old forms of religious expression are pretty much ineffective now – to the man on the street, “God is dead”.

    But what they pointed to is eternal, and that is where a merely-human secular point of view, including science, fails in the long term to satisfy.

    For the scientific/secular perspective is only truly useful for the demystification process. Once that duty has been completed, its lack of deeper explanation and context becomes apparent. A meaning-void is left, which only religion, myth and art can fill again.

    We are reaching that point now, when secular “explanations” inexorably lose their raison d’etre, which was above all to destroy the old forms.

    New forms are necessary and desired – but scientists and avowed atheists cannot provide them, since they limit themselves to the mundane plane.

    They can only come from transcendent sources, from inspiration, be they genuine artists, visionaries, shamans, etc.

    All the above applies with special relevance to death, because it is here above all that the explanations and solutions of scientists, social progressives and atheists most clearly and undeniably fail. We all die, without explanation, no matter how hard we try not to.

    Sorry for the digression, but I feel the need to add a transcendent perspective among the mundane ones 😉

    Charles Cowling
  4. Charles Cowling

    It’s definitely a problem for anyone running a funeral, accommodating and answering to the disparate and contrarious beliefs sitting in front of you. Never before has it been harder.

    But I really like your set-aside solution!

    I’ve never been to a high mass, but I gather it’s a pretty good show.

    Charles Cowling
  5. Charles Cowling

    “…and hope in the mercy of god…” There’s the rub, Francis; you have to buy the product to be admitted into the group and get the benefits you describe.

    But you have a very good point indeed. How do secular celebrants make it inclusive for everyone, and not follow the example set by religious traditions at a funeral? We try our inadequate best to bring things together, but we just have to be aware that neither side can impose its needs on the other – nor is the concept of sides helpful.

    It’s what we have in common that makes it possible to grieve in community; the deceased is one thing, and our humanity is another, but hope in the mercy of god is not. I for one think the secular chaps like us have the edge here, because we don’t insist on conducting the thing in what is to most a foreign language.

    Perhaps the answer is to set our beliefs aside with any other differences, to be taken up later; as is commonly regarded to be the respectful thing to do at a funeral.

    Charles Cowling

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