The rule is a result of complaints that priests were making to Myers over the last few months. Priest claimed that parishioners were waxing a little bit too lyrical at funerals and that sometimes the personalized eulogies were taking longer that the funeral service itself.
One of the longest eulogies clocked in at 60 minutes and Myers felt that the system was being abused. The tradition of the Catholic church is that only the priest spoke about the deceased during the funeral. The rule changed in 1989-90 to allow one family member speak about the deceased for a few minutes.
It was expected that the eulogizer would keep within the church eulogy guidelines of how spiritual John Doe was, how he affected people with his spirituality, etc. Over the years, however, tales of how much fun Doe was and tales of his golfing prowess became the characteristics of the family and friends’ eulogies. Also, more than one person was taking to the pulpit to make public their own expression of grief.
Myers decided something had to be done. He is aware that a priest might not have known the deceased well enough to make a satisfactory eulogy and so has asked that all priests undergo some training, encouraging them to put aside some time to find out a little about the person.
In the Feb. 5 issue of the Newark newsletter, The Catholic Advocate, Myers wrote, “The Christian funeral offers worship, praise and thanksgiving to God, the creator of all life; it commends the deceased person to God’s merciful love,” however, he continued, “The Christian funeral is not a celebration of the life of the person who has died, even though we honor and express gratitude for all God’s gifts to that person.”
Myers said that the liturgical books are clear, that there should always be a homily but there should never be a eulogy of any kind. The rule will be implemented July 1. The reason for the delay is to give priests and parishioners time to prepare for the change.
Jim Goodness, spokesman for the Newark Archdiocese, admits that the eulogy is a sensitive issue and says that he has received many calls to comment on the new rule. “Some people have said the archbishop was right, others have said that they don’t like it but that they understand, others have said that they don’t like it and they feel entitled to speak at a funeral Mass,” he said.
Goodness said he appreciates the concerns of the parishioners and their need to express their feelings of loss. He is hopeful that people will grow accustomed to speaking about the deceased at another interval, e.g. when the body is laid out or at the graveside. He said he feels that people do not spend as much time as they used to at funerals. “It is a practical thing,” he said. “Society has lost the tradition of preparing for funeral times.”
Priests have been phoning Goodness with requests for information about the decision. “I have had calls from other states, from an Episcopalian minister, even from Canada. They are experiencing similar abuses of the rule on eulogies and are looking for ways to alleviate it,” Goodness said.
One of the effects of numerous and lengthy eulogies is the pressure it puts on the priest’s time. A church may have two or three funerals per day and if one runs long, another may be delayed in starting.
Goodness is not sure whether many of the other four dioceses in New Jersey will be following suit. The press secretary for the archdiocese of New York, which oversees 413 parishes, Joe Zwilling, said: “We have guidelines for eulogies. One person is allowed 3-5 minutes to speak after Communion. This is also at the discretion of the priest.”