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CNP Feedback - Music for a Funeral Mass

by Gary D. Penkala

Q. Dear CNP:

I have an uncle who is special to me who is dying of cancer. We are Catholic and I have been asked by my cousin, his son, to put together four songs and speeches for his funeral Mass. I have three songs so far, they are "Ave Maria," "On the Wings of an Eagle," and "You'll Never Walk Alone." It would mean so much to me if you could give me some help in this area. I would like to have a nice eulogy for him. Any help that you can give me would be greatly appreciated.

Devoted Niece

A. Dear Devoted Niece:

I am sorry to hear of your uncle's condition. We at CNP offer you the assurance of our prayers for him in this latter stage of his life and also for his family as you work through the details of marking his passing in the Church's liturgy.

The Mass of Christian Burial (Funeral Mass) has a two-fold purpose. It is meant to offer the greatest gift we have, the sacrifice of Calvary renewed at the altar, for the heavenly repose of your uncle's soul. But the funeral Mass is also addressed to those of us who remain, and offers us the strength and consolation which only faith and trust in God can afford us.

The focus of any text which is read, prayed or sung at a funeral Mass must be to bolster this faith and to bind the assembled congregation to each other and to the mystery of your uncle's entry into a new life. Some of the songs you mentioned would facilitate this; others would not.

"Ave Maria" and "On Eagle's Wings" (I assume this is what you meant, rather than "On the Wings of an Eagle") are fine and represent a Catholic tradition that spans many centuries. I would not recommend using "You'll Never Walk Alone," which, while it conveys a powerful message of mental triumph, comes from a quite secular source (the Broadway musical Carousel) and does not mention God, in whose presence we never need to walk alone.

For other musical suggestions please see our Liturgical Planning Pages concerning Funeral Music. The index at the back of your hymnal or missalette may also be a helpful resource.

Remember earlier I said the purpose of the funeral Mass is two-fold: to offer the best prayer we have for your uncle and to strengthen the faith of the family and friends attending. You may want to check with the priest who will be celebrating the funeral Mass about his thoughts on the appropriateness of a eulogy and/or speeches about your uncle. The Mass of Christian Burial makes no allowance for a "eulogy" as such, but may permit a family member to talk after Communion time. Some priests are more lenient on this "talk" than others, and it would do you well to check this out before you coordinate speaker(s).

I wish you well in your ministry associated with your uncle's funeral. Know that we share your concern for doing the right thing. May your prayerful deliberations and your selections help to reinforce the Christian view of death -- a positive view -- that a new and eternal life is only just beginning!

God bless you and your family.

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