read a report yesterday that the Catholic church in Melbourne had banned footy songs and other secular songs from funerals, and instructed clergy that funerals must not be 'a celebration of the life'. Celebrity priest, Father Bob Mcguire said he though the guidelines were 'insensitive'.
Funerals are complex events. From the perspective of Christian faith, a funeral is a service of worship. As such it includes the three key universal elements of worship: praise of God, hearing the Word of God read and preached, and prayer. The themes of this worship will include reflection on the meaning of life and human mortality, the reality of death and divine judgment, the hope of the resurrection, and looking forward to the second coming of Christ. For some Christians this is an opportunity to pray for the dead person, but not all Christians pray for the dead.
Woven into all such acts of worship there is the ever-present dimension of grief, and the need to assist people to mourn and say goodbye. For believers, the acts of worship themselves are very comforting and helpful. Also, within the worship service which is the funeral, elements which celebrate the departed person's life can assist the process of grieving.
It can be difficult when a family is seeking a religious funeral, but has little appreciation – or even experience – of Christian worship. There can be a real possibility that the acts of worship become overwhelmed by the celebration of the person's life. At worst, the minister can end up acting as the hired religious help, adding a prayer to a wholly secular event. In this sense, I can appreciate the concerns of Archbishop Hart of the Victorian Catholic church. However the risk is that by rejecting all secular, and indeed personal elements in a funeral, the Catholics will alienate people from the ministry of the church.
It is very helpful that Anglican clergy have some some non-negotiable boundaries – one of these is the order of service found in the Prayer Book. When taking funerals we can manage these tensions within the bounds set by the Anglican order of service, which requires a Bible reading, a sermon based on this reading, and prayer. We are required to declare the hope of the resurrection, the inevitability of judgment, and the second coming of Christ. Aspects of celebration and remembrance of the person are focused in the early part of the service and not intertwined throughout the whole ceremony. Nevertheless, in reality every family's situation is different, and the human dimension requires flexibility, and, as Father Bob put it, 'sensitivity'.