A Notable Funeral and Eulogy

A high-profile funeral was celebrated today. I did not see any of it; Saturdays have developed into quite busy days, and today was no exception. As a liturgist, I’d like to offer a few comments on some aspects I’ve heard or read about.

I heard yesterday on NPR that Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica was “chosen” for the liturgy. Was the Mission Church Kennedy’s home parish? I read the news that he prayed there frequently. Most Catholics don’t have a choice for funeral locations. Some will choose where to marry. Most choose their home parish. Maybe Liam knows where the late Senator was a parishioner.

The Kennedys have planned a private memorial service at the (JFK) library (in Boston) for Friday night, according to a schedule of events released by Kennedy’s Senate office.

I suppose this would be one of three possibilities: the funeral vigil, a rosary service, or some other kind of prayer for the family. It is the appropriate place, by the way, for people to eulogize their loved one. I wonder what the public reaction would be if the Vigil had been celebrated publicly with eulogies, and the funeral and internment had been smaller affairs.

I’m aware that a few Catholics have mustered some protest at the public funeral of someone many consider an obstinate sinner. “Scandal” has been used to define this liturgy. I find it hard to muster much support for the thought. Lots of conservative Catholics use the term “scandal” to describe “something we don’t like.” Is it a value for the sake of the innocent who may be corrupted to bring the event more to a focus in the news?

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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24 Responses to A Notable Funeral and Eulogy

  1. Liam says:

    The Senator lived in Hyannisport: St Francis Xavier in Hyannis and Our Lady of Victory in Centerville were parishes associated with the Kennedys in that locale (the Senator’s choice, if not territorially juridical one, was the latter).

  2. Randolph Nichols says:

    I believe St. Francis Xavier in Hyannis is officially the family parish. All of the famous Kennedy men were altar boys there. Mission Church was chosen for the funeral mass for two reasons: it could accommodate the 1500 invited guests and the senator developed an attachment to the church during his daughter’s cancer treatment at a nearby hospital. After her recovery, he obviously associated feelings of gratitude with his daily visits to the church. Besides, the building impresses anyone who enters it.

    Your comments reflect how differently people outside of Massachusetts reacted to this event. In the Boston area, tv coverage lasted from the early morning gathering at the Kennedy Library to the end of the commendation at Arlington National Cemetery. Thousands lined the streets to pay their respects throughout the city as the procession of hearse and cars with family members passed. (Living near the suburban airport where the family left for Washington, my wife and I waited in the pouring rain with hundreds of our neighbors for a glimpse.)

    I think if the country, particularly the conservative portion, had witnessed all that transpired – including the reading of the exchange of touching letters between the senator and Pope Benedict XVI- there may have been a more sympathetic understanding of the affection the man engendered here and the role of faith in his life.

    The liturgy could have been better. But considering that it was shared by so many non-Catholics and that Mission Church has a limited choral music program in place, it is unrealistic to have expected more. As Liam said on another blog, it could have been so much worse.

  3. Fran says:

    I have been disturbed by the tenor of negative comments about the scandal of it all. I am reminded of writer Anne Lamott’s words, which I paraphrase here, that you have effectively created God in your own image when he hates all the same people you do.

  4. Anne says:

    The excellent homily was given by Father Mark Hession of Our Lady of Victory, Ted’s parish church. My understanding is that Ted,knowing that death was near,made the request that the funeral be held at the basilica. His church on the cape certainly would not have been big enough.

    ConcordPastor has a discussion going on about how high profile funerals often cross the line of what our liturgy (OCF) is meant to be. It makes for difficulties for pastors who believe following the guidelines of the OCF and the diocese are of value. A parishioner may say…”The Kennedy’s did it this way…why can’t we?”

  5. Fran says:

    There is quite a lively conversation at the Deacon’s Bench as well. *sigh*

  6. Michael says:

    Fran, thank you for those words, paraphrased or not.

  7. Kevin in Texas says:

    Fran and Michael,

    Ought we not be more charitable and intellectually honest than to ascribe all differences in politics and faith to “hatred”? As soon as we demonize those with whom we disagree, we lose the ability to dialogue and cooperate. I’m not accusing either of you of hating anyone, but simply disagreeing with any characterization of differences among Catholics as being born from “hatred.”

    Please don’t get me wrong, by no means am I defending those who would truly insult Senator Kennedy and fail to pray for his soul and his family’s suffering, or any recently deceased Catholic, for that matter (Catholic conservative idol Bill Buckley comes to mind), but we serve the Truth given to us by Christ and passed down by the Church since He ascended to Heaven. We are ill-served if we selectively ignore those areas of the Truth not served by individual Catholics.

    For a measured and charitable post on Senator Kennedy’s legacy, I recommend a post this morning made by Jesuit Father Robert Imbelli over at Commonweal’s web site, although many of his commenters there even seem to take issue with his charitable post which indeed serves to point to the fullness of Catholic seamless garment teaching.

  8. Gavin says:

    As not-so-much a fan of President Obama, I thought the eulogy was among his best speeches ever.

  9. Michael says:

    Ought we not be more charitable and intellectually honest than to ascribe all differences in politics and faith to “hatred”?

    Kevin, by no means do I ascribe all differences in politics and faith to hatred. The vitriol directed at Sen. Kennedy from certain quarters of the right, however, can be characterized as nothing else.

  10. Fran says:

    What Michael said…

  11. Liam says:

    I was visiting family in LI yesterday and managed to have an accident at a store yesterday (my Native American name is “Falls on Ice” but I have to upgrade that to include “Falls on Water Dropping from A Walmart Skylight onto Linoleum”) so I did get to watch the service with family. My younger brother, trained in rhetoric, is not taken with Obama’s epithet-ladled rhetorical style (using that term technically, not colloquially) but understands that it passes for good rhetoric in an age where the rhetorical models for public speaking have descended to the Scylla and Charybdis of Talk Radio and PowerPoint.

  12. Liam says:

    laden, not ladled. oops.

  13. Kevin in Texas says:

    Fran and Michael,

    Undoubtedly some do hate, out of a misguided sense of justice, if one tries to be charitable, something those few who actually hated Senator Kennedy can’t seem to be.

    Again, then, we have every reason as Catholics to provide Christ-like witness to the fullness of our faith and to Catholic teaching. Political point-scoring is not the name of the game; loving God first and the salvation of souls is. Both sides among Catholic circles, progressives and conservatives, have their extremists who fail to do either and fail to help increase dialogue on issues of prudential judgment. I come here, as a conservative-leaning Catholic (both liturgically and politically, while registered as an Independent!) to dialogue with those who have differing views in an intellectually- and faith-stimulating way, not to score points or criticize those with whom I may disagree.

  14. Fran says:

    Kevin – I started a long comment and then just entered the “what Michael said.”

    Let me say this – I hear you, but you have taken an idiomatic expression and made it into something literal.

    That was not the point at all.

  15. Michael says:

    those few who actually hated Senator Kennedy

    Look around. It’s a lot more than “a few.”

  16. Kevin in Texas says:

    My last on this issue, as it continues to decrease in tone, which was not my intention:

    Fran, I’m a linguist by profession and training, so I’m more acutely attuned than many to ways that language can be used and misused. Just as you have occasionally remarked in past exchanges that my comments were “incendiary” to you, that particular paraphrasing you used struck me as overly-harsh, that’s all. I knew it wasn’t your personal feeling, but to some, it is, and that is what I am decrying here.

    Michael, just as none of us can know what was in Senator Kennedy’s heart and soul as he passed on and we should be keenly charitable toward him and pray for God’s mercy on him, so should we be keenly aware that we don’t know what is in anyone’s heart except our own, and that we should be charitable to others regardless, as Christ teaches. Love your enemies, turn the other cheek, etc.

    ‘Nuff said from me.

  17. Anne says:

    “Falls on Water Dropping from A Walmart Skylight onto Linoleum”

    Hope you are OK! Yikes!
    Somehow the windswept rain of yesterday turned a skylight into a shower on our enclosed porch. Then part of the ceiling came crashing down. We were lucky no one was out there at the time.

  18. Liam says:

    Anne

    Thanks. I am glad no one was hurt at yours, but having just fixed a leaky roof after last winter of ours, I can appreciate the pain you did receive.

  19. Matt says:

    Kennedy had the right a funeral as cannon lawyer Ed Peters writes on his blog. He did after all show possible signs of repenting near the end, thus avoiding cannon 1184, which would probably have been applicable otherwise.

    The service itself was an aberration in several regards. The three eulogies were not at all in keeping with the Catholic tradition. Further, the general intercessions were not, for the most part, fitting in the least. They were neither general, nor were they generally prayerful, but rather more political.

    It in notable that the President was about the only person to either note Kennedy’s faults, or to invoke prayer for his soul. The fact that it was the non-Catholic involved who did so points to the general poverty of the event.

    It is fundamentally unjust to apply a different set of rules to the big name celebrities than to the common folk. I put the blame in that regard squarely on the shoulder’s of the priests and the bishop. If anything was scandalous about the matter, it was the great degree that the norms and traditions of the Church were disregarded by these.

    Perhaps in Boston the Kennedy family is still something special, but to most of those in fly-over country the family lost its charm a long time ago.

    Finally, while the Kennedy/Pope letter exchange was the subject of much attention, what is perhaps more notable is the lack of a letter from the Pope offering condolences. One was sent on the occasions of the passing of Rose and Eustace, but not Teddy.

  20. Liam says:

    I see nobody noticed that Cardinal Sean spoke at some length with President Obama before the liturgy (and it seemed substantive, not mere pleasantries, from the look on Obama’s face), greeted Mrs Obama, then ignored VP Biden to go to the other end of the pew to greet the Carters before greeting Mrs Biden, at which point VP Biden was chatting with the Obamas and the Cardinal left.

  21. Liam says:

    I should note that the Carters were the 5th and 6th in the front pew because he ranks ahead of the Clintons and Bushes; the Secret Service had the pew behind the presidential pews; then came the governor and mayor of the place, per protocol.

  22. Todd says:

    Matt, thanks for coming by to comment. Two n’s in canon, by the way.

    I didn’t hear the intercessions, so I don’t know how “political” they may have been. But for funerals, as well as weddings, baptisms, the catechumenate rites, and other sacraments the samples given in the ritual books are not “general,” so that criticism doesn’t really apply here.

    “It is fundamentally unjust to apply a different set of rules to the big name celebrities than to the common folk.”

    My sense would be that it’s more inappropriate than unjust, but it is a fact of life in most parishes. If less wealthy Catholics get eulogies and all, and the commoners get the straight line of liturgy, it would seem unfair to the rich, though they might not be aware.

    “Finally, … what is perhaps more notable is the lack of a letter from the Pope offering condolences.”

    Offering condolences to whom? It seems that the recipient of such letters is more the target than the subject of the loss.

  23. Jimmy Mac says:

    Intercessions et al can be viewed here:

    http://www.c-spanarchives.org/library/index.php?main_page=product_video_info&products_id=288598-1

    I don’t know how long this will be kept in file, however.

  24. Liam says:

    It turns out Cardinal Sean was discussing health care reform with Obama; see his defense of his role at the funeral and critique of Monday-morning quarterbacking in the Catholic commentariat:

    http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2009/09/03/omalley_defends_kennedy_funeral_role?mode=PF

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