Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
October 26, 2009
Funeral music must fit the liturgy
Hymns must show that liturgy is about paschal mystery, not the deceased
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
Some families of the deceased think that when it comes to funeral music, anything goes, but that is never the reality.
"To simply say we want to play my mother's favourite or my brother's favourite music just doesn't work in liturgy at a funeral," said Bernadette Gasslein, coordinator of liturgical life at St. Charles Parish.
She emphasizes that a Catholic funeral is not, as many people believe, a celebration of the person who has died. Rather, it is a celebration of Jesus rising from the dead. The basic rules for Mass apply, which means sacred text, sacred music.
"The focus is not on the dead person, but what our hope is in the face of death, which is Christ's resurrection," said Gasslein.
Jean Walters, who works in the ministry of consolation at St. Michael-Resurrection Parish, agreed. "If the service is a Mass, the songs reflect the liturgy rather than the person. Without a Eucharist, there is more flexibility."
The funeral vigil is usually held the evening before the actual funeral. Songs are a major component of any prayer vigil or funeral, with a gathering song to open the service, as well as responsorial psalms following the readings and a farewell song.
"At the funeral itself, again everything that you do in terms of a funeral Mass would follow the same type of rules that you would follow for a Sunday Eucharist. You are not going to sing secular music.
"I know there are people who are Irish and they want to play Danny Boy. No, it's not a celebration of being Irish. It's a celebration of Christ's paschal mystery," said Gasslein.
To make a judgment on music, one needs to consider the quality of the piece. Is it technically, aesthetically and expressively good? Music that is not artistically sound is inappropriate for use in the liturgy.
What if a family requests a favourite song in honour of the deceased?
"Most families have a reception afterwards and we suggest that they play it there," said Gasslein.
Walters said that the Catholic Book of Worship and Glory and Praise contain funeral-appropriate songs. Families of the deceased often ask for secular songs, but when she suggests an alternative song, people are usually agreeable.
"I encourage people to have that (secular) song as people are entering the church. Or play the song with lunch after," she said.
Family favourites that are non-liturgical can be played any time during the wake or the viewing, before or after the vigil, as prelude music as the family arrives at the church, as a processional to the gravesite, at the gravesite after the conclusion of the committal rite, and during the funeral luncheon. But not during the Mass.
A good place to begin choosing appropriate music is the regular parish Sunday repertoire, especially music used during November and the Easter season.
Music for Catholic funeral rites should express the paschal mystery and encourage full participation by the assembly.
Just as appropriate hymnody and songs are used at Sunday Mass, the same is done for a funeral. This is a concept that some people find difficult to grasp, especially for those who have had little contact with the Church.
When consulting with a family whose loved one has died, Gasslein listens to what the family says about this person. Knowing more about the deceased, she can help select appropriate readings and songs.
"I remember someone telling me the story of their loved one who was a great gardener and he loved creation. So I said, 'Listen to this hymn' and it was a hymn in the Catholic Book of Worship called For the Fruit of All Creation.
"I read them the text of it, and it's a very familiar tune, and the family said it was wonderful."
Walters suggested that individuals should consider planning in their wills the music for their own funerals. "Some people plan every detail, right down to the music. It makes it easier on the families," she said.
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