I think that we have all seen how wrong Catholic funerals can sometimes go, in all directions. We have seen faithful Catholics denied a funeral mass by their faithless and selfish offspring. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have seen instances where people who had no interest in the Church or even completely rejected it are given Catholic funerals no questions asked.
Perhaps the most common funereal abuse is the Catholic funeral as canonization. Eulogies given by several people, extolling the virtue (real or imagined) of the deceased, all with the assumption that the soul passed by sheol, collected $200, and went straight to heaven. All this goes to show that funerals today are all about us, not about the deceased.
The Rev. Jeffrey Leger, pastor of St. Catherine Church in New Haven in the archdiocese of Louisville has obviously seen all these abuses as well. Apparently, this prompted the pastor to issue guidelines for funerals at St. Catherine’s that he sent to all the local funeral homes.
In his letter to funeral homes, he said the purpose of a funeral Mass is to “illumine the mystery of Christian death in light of the risen Christ,” and that everything must focus on the Christian hope of resurrection.
Anything that could distract from that should be avoided, he wrote, adding that eulogies, recorded music and nonbiblical readings such as poetry and letters are forbidden except under limited circumstances.
Such personalized features should take place at the vigil service, typically held the evening before the Mass at either the church or the funeral home, he said.
The archdiocese itself distributes a brochure based on Vatican guidelines that mirrors much of what Leger put in the parish policy. “It’s not unusual,” she said.
The policy distributed by Leger specifies that a funeral Mass is not allowed for “notorious apostates … heretics … schismatics … and other manifest sinners” who did not repent before death.
Also, it says, a deceased person who had long avoided Mass will be denied a funeral Mass but allowed a rite of Christian burial. “Since they chose not to attend Mass in life they should not be compelled to attend Mass in death,” the policy said; the restriction doesn’t apply to those who couldn’t attend for such reasons as a prolonged illness.
Leger also said that while a visiting priest with a past connection to the deceased can attend and even preach, Leger should be the prime celebrant of the funeral Eucharist.
For families who oppose that restriction, “the remedy is clear,” Leger wrote, “choose another church.”
Now a local funeral director says that funerals are his business, not the Church’s and is suing Leger and the Archdiocese.
Ron Rust, owner of the William R. Rust Funeral Home in New Haven, said the policy will interfere with his longstanding business of coordinating funerals that are held at St. Catherine.
The policy marks “an intentional and wrongful interference” in the dealings between the funeral home and its customers and will cost Rust funerals and income, according to his suit filed Aug. 7 in Nelson Circuit Court.
He’s seeking a temporary injunction halting implementation of the policy, pending a trial seeking monetary damages from Leger and the archdiocese.
Rust claims a “right to direct funerals in accordance with the wishes of the family of deceased individuals without the constraints” of Leger’s policy, it says.
Yeah, who cares if we help the poor soul, as long as we feel better. If the church gets in the way of our funereal feelgood-fest we can now appeal to a higher authority, the funeral director. The hubris of the funeral director in this case is shocking. He claims the right to direct funerals “without constraint.” To Rust, the funeral is not about the relationship of the deceased to the almighty, but the survivors access to the almighty buck. Shameful. Catholics in Louisville would do well to avoid this funeral home if they cannot avoid dying altogether.
As for me, when I kick it, I want the cheapest funeral money can buy. I also want everyone to stand up at my wake and tell everyone what a lout I am and that if I am lucky that I barely made it into the worst neighborhood in purgatory. Then I want everyone to go to confession and then follow behind the hearse on their knees doing penance for me. I’ll probably need it.
If funeral director Rust sticks to his lawsuit, he will probably need it too.