Anybody remember the early 90’s film The Doctor? William Hurt plays a brash, conceited surgeon, something of a precursor to Greg House. Hurt’s character finds himself diagnosed with cancer. I remember the movie for the use of music by two surgeons to either entertain themselves during their operations or to calm their unconscious patients. Hurt has raucous rock music piped in to the surgery room. A colleague, largely shunned because of his reputation for being concerned for his patients, plays soothing classical music, as much for his patients as for himself.
When Hurt’s character needs a surgeon to remove throat tumors, he goes to his shunned colleague. Knowing the ill doctor would appreciate it, the operation takes place accompanied by a rock soundtrack, not the usual classical fare.
That part of the movie came to mind immediately when I read Tom Kolar’s comment on the last Msgr Marini post:
I faithfully support the church financially, but no longer attend Mass because of the contemporary Catholic Music. I have it in my Last Will And Testament that there is to be no music at my Funeral Mass. From my conversations with my family over the years about the state of church music on Sundays – I should say they will be happy with my funeral.
When we get to our in-depth examination of the Catholic funeral rites, we will find that music is an assumption for a funeral Mass, not an option. That’s if you go by the red-n-black, of course. The Church stops short of mandating music for every particular funeral, but it does make clear that music is part of the rite.
That said, I can think of few priests and no professional colleagues of mine who would deny reasonable choices for a funeral Mass. The practice in this country is generally that the family dictates the liturgy planning, unless the deceased has made prior arrangements with the parish staff.
I lament that a person doesn’t go to Mass because of the music–there are plenty of choices to avoid contemporary music: daily Masses, the early Sunday Mass in many large parishes, and parishes that devote themselves to traditional music. Is being in communion with the Church worth a relocation from a rural or otherwise isolated location? I would think so.
That said, I can speak for the resources I have at hand for my parish. We would always use the 1989 Order of Christian Funerals (OCF), but being able to assemble a schola or a cantor/psalmist and accompanist for a funeral with traditional music would not be outside of my abilities and resources.
Is this a matter of catering to the personal taste of mourners and of the deceased? I would hope not. But this is where I would see a vast improvement in the liturgical and pastoral tenor of the Church since the last council. Prior to Vatican II, there would have been little or no discussion on this. Funeral musicians had a set repertoire, usually very limited. And they played funerals regardless of their own skills: excellence, good, decent, or marginal. There was no dialogue on the Scriptures, nor on the content of the homily. The Vigil likely didn’t include storytelling or other aspects of the grief process. Perhaps we’ve traded away the Dies Irae, probably poorly done in places that even bothered with singing it, for the ability to minister to particular pastoral needs. While the reputation of pre-conciliar music is now pretty high in hindsight, I’d say that the experience of Requiem Masses before 1970, on the whole, was a liturgical and spiritual impoverishment compared to the modern rite.
And alas, I should also point out that just because a deceased person has designated certain instructions to be carried out at the time of death, doesn’t mean the family will actually do it. I’ve known persons whose wish for a Catholic funeral has been abrogated by family. In one case, the children chose a different church for the funeral, against the expressed wishes of an elderly lady known by the parish staff, the social worker, and the care facility. Are you going to court over it? Not likely.