By Richard Rawlinson
Dublin undertaker Massey Brothers is responding to the changing attitude to religion in Ireland by offering families non-denominational funerals, online advice and motorbike hearses.
While these initiatives may no longer be especially novel in Britain, they’re causing a bit of a stir in Ireland’s conservative, competitive and often quite unsophisticated funeral industry. There are 600 funeral directors in the country serving some 28,000 bereaved families a year, 84% of whom called themselves Catholic in the 2012 census. The industry remains unregulated, most businesses are part-time, and fewer than 200 are members of the IAFD. There are also reports of some undertakers bribing hospital and hospice staff to recommend their services.
Massey Brothers is introducing bespoke funerals after observing that even the nature of church funerals has changed, with evening removals (the deceased’s overnight stay in the church) becoming far less common.
With more undertakers now having websites, competition over price, service and transparency is hotting up. Undertakers can visit rip.ie each week and see how many funerals were organised by rival firms. Then there’s legacy.ie, a website offering non-religious funerals where packages (limo, coffin, notice in the newspaper etc) can be booked entirely online. Its Direct Funeral package (removal straight to the cemetery/crematorium) starts at €890.
Meanwhile, the healing process in the Church following the abuse scandals remains slow and painful. The mood has often changed from sycophancy to hatred, and some worried faithful express concern that the crisis is choking the life out of their parish life because the many good priests are now hiding for fear of an abuse claim.
While lamenting the vile predilections of abuser priests and the cover-ups, many faithful are offering priests encouragement by saying how inappropriate it is for the innocent to be constantly saying sorry for heinous crimes that they personally did not commit.
Ireland has experienced two extremes: fawning over priests and now the acceptable abuse of priests. The answer is in the middle: the rediscovery that the highest role of the priest is not to be a status symbol for an Irish family (‘the parish priest sat with me during morning tea, so I’m the more important person in the village’). But the priest is the person who goes into Persona Christi, standing in the place of Christ so he may offer the Eucharist.