Joe McMahon sent me this link to a UK op-ed on funeral songs. From the Daily Mail, Tom Utley reports and comments:
A survey this week by Co-op Funeralcare highlights one of the most profound social changes of my lifetime.
In my book, it is also one of the saddest. This is the finding that, for the first time ever, the list of the top ten songs most often requested at funerals contains not a single traditional hymn.
Not even a religious song, even:
1. My Way, Frank Sinatra
2. Time To Say Goodbye, Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman
3. Over The Rainbow, Eva Cassidy
4. Wind Beneath My Wings, Bette Middler
5. Angels, Robbie Williams
6. Supermarket Flowers, Ed Sheeran
7. Unforgettable, Nat King Cole
8. You Raise Me Up, Westlife
9. We’ll Meet Again, Vera Lynn
10. Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life, Eric Idle, from Life of Brian film
Monty Python, somewhat of a surprise here, even at #10. It would seem that few church musicians would be prepared for any of these, so I’m betting that given the artist list, these are recordings for a funeral home service being listed here. #1 suggests a consumer model has taken hold in Britain, and out the window is a notion of ministry. Still, there nothing inherently religious about caskets, cemeteries, cremation, that couldn’t be done by non-believers of any sort. It seems simple enough: people don’t want religion at the death if they don’t have it in life.
More from Mr Utley, a self-confessed skeptic on matters of belief:
Yes, I’m an agnostic who finds faith very hard to achieve. But if my widow and sons comply with my wishes, as I’m sure they will, I’ll be far from the first on/off believer to be given a Christian send-off.
As for my choice of hymns for the service, these vary as often as my selections for Desert Island Discs — and I reserve the right to repeatedly change my mind.
But the strongest contenders, for the minute at least, are Lord Of All Hopefulness; Jesus, Lover Of My Soul; and, as a rousing finale, For All The Saints Who From Their Labours Rest.
#1 on that list, I wouldn’t mind. #3 hasn’t ever occurred to me, but I suppose some naysayer might object to the association of resting from labor among agnostics and saints.
It occurs to me the mewling from Real Church Music quarters for contemporary settings of Psalm 91, say, is really way off the beaten path these days. If you can’t budge an agnostic from “My Way,” who will listen and not scratch their head when objections to the Minnesota Three or the SLJ’s are raised.
Speaking for myself, I’m leaving most of my funeral arrangements in my survivor’s hands. I may have a few favorites for liturgical songs, but I expect the repertoire will be irrelevant to any but the earthbound when I die.
I can’t say I am surprised. How do you feel about the choice of readings?
I agree that the liturgical choices are for the living, but then again a lot of people gain meaning from choices made with input from the deceased. (I have general instructions for my brother/fiduciary mostly to reduce his bafflement. He’s not churched, as it were – none of my immediate family surviving is. However, most of my living peer-cohort friends are singers or instrumentalists, and I’ve sung in choir with many of them – they’d likely appreciate parts to sing…)
As the person tasked with organizing matters liturgical for my parents’ funerals five and two years ago, my major problem was dealing with parish staff that were not used to dealing with anyone who was familiar with the rite and liturgy and not used to much in the way of dialogue about choices and were hard to reach logistically as a result. As I had worshipped when I visited at the parish they died in, as it were, I was familiar with their hymnal version and capacity. But we also had additional concerns: it’s a church that holds upwards of a thousand people, but my parents being in their 90s with 6 children (one estranged) and but 1 (institutionalized) grandchild, the number of mourners about equalled the parish staff who used the funerals for their daily Mass, and almost any contemporary music recommended or likely to be approved would have sounded rather feeble at best, while more traditional idioms survived that context better.
For my father 2 years ago (he died on Easter Thursday)
Entrance: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God (Worship 688) [his favorite hymn]
First Reading: Revelation 21:1-5a, 6b-7
Resp. Psalm: 23: setting by Fr. Joseph Gelineau (Worship 37, Antiphon I)
Second Reading: Romans 8: 31b-35, 37-39
Gospel: Matthew 11:25-30
Offertory: The King of Love My Shepherd Is (Worship 712)
Communion: I Heard The Voice of Jesus Say
(not as a congregational hymn set to KINGSFOLD as in Worship 707,
but as a meditation solo to the more tender & plaintive THIRD MODE MELODY of Tallis)
Commendation: In Paradisum (Worship 200)
Recessional: The Strife is O’er (Worship 511) [a nod to Eastertide]
For my mother in fall 2014:
Entrance: I Heard The Voice of Jesus Say [see note below at Preparation]
1st Reading: Lamentations 3:17-26
Resp. Psalm: 23: setting by Fr. Joseph Gelineau
2nd Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:14—5:1
Gospel: John 11:17-27 (full reading) [my mother embodied St Martha in the best sense]
Preparation: Day Is Done [an odd choice that I hit upon; I know its more of a Vespers-type hymn, but the first two hymn choices were driven by the theme of Christ as Light, and my mother’s severe macular degeneration in the several years before she died at the very full age of 90 – it worked]
Communion: In The Garden [the odd choice: something my mother had specified for decades since she heard it sung at the funeral of her beloved long-time best friend (who was Presbyterian)]
Commendation: In Paradisum
Recessional: The King of Love My Shepherd Is.
My entire unchurched family and the couple of elderly cousins/spouses who attended unbidden expressly delight with all of the choices and understood their connection to the deceased’s life, final passion and death and hopes for eternal life, as it were; most oddly, my brother out law, brought up in the Methodist Church, who had dreaded Catholic songs he’s encountered over the decades and was thrilled with the choices.