Ask A Catholic: Who Does The Eulogy?

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By Mitch Finley

In the Catholic Church who does the eulogy?

Catholic funerals usually have two parts, the Funeral Vigil and what’s often referred to as the Funeral Mass.  Commonly, the Vigil happens the evening before the Mass.  There is far more flexibility in the Vigil than in the Mass. Before we go any further, however, it’s important to understand the terms “eulogy” and “homily.”

“Homily” refers to the “sermon” which is given by a priest or deacon, as a part of the Mass, following the reading aloud of scriptural selections from the Lectionary. The homily should be an interpretation of the deceased person’s life in light of the life, suffering, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. The “Introduction to the Order of Christian Funerals—the book that provides the guidelines and content for a Catholic funeral—says that while a homily is to be given, “there is never to be a eulogy” (no. 27). “Eulogy” is defined as a lengthy narration of the accomplishments and characteristics of the deceased person.

The homily at a Funeral Mass should have a personal quality, and the homilist (“preacher”) needs to make connections between the scriptural readings and the life and death of the deceased. But the emphasis should always be on the scriptural readings and the meaning of the death and resurrection of Christ for the deceased person and for the ongoing lives of relatives and friends.

The Funeral Vigil, usually occurring the evening before the Funeral Mass, allows considerable flexibility to do whatever family and friends would like to do as a memorial for the deceased person.  Customarily, this may include a praying of the Rosary, or a portion of the Rosary, which a priest, deacon, or family member leads. (Those curious about the Rosary, including its deeply Christian and scriptural character, may want to take a look at my book, “The Rosary Handbook: A Guide for Newcomers, Old-Timers, and Those In Between”. Learn more here.)

The Vigil is also an appropriate time for some form of eulogy.  Sometimes the family may want to prepare a video presentation on the “life and times” of the deceased.  Often, too, this is a suitable time to give individuals the chance to stand and share briefly with those present memories they have from the loved one’s life or to simply comment on his or her character and/or virtues.

All this said, it may be possible for a eulogy to be given at the end of the Funeral Mass. Apparently, no diocese in the U.S. has banned this as an option, although for practical reasons particular pastors may not allow it. Families may want to keep in mind that to add a eulogy to a Mass that may already have taken an hour or more to complete may not be entirely welcome as far as the assembly present is concerned.

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