Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Liverpool institutes lay-led funerals

Shouldn't we get back to this kind of solemnity for funerals?
The Archbishop of Liverpool has commissioned 22 lay people to preside at funerals in the absence of a priest, the first UK diocese to do so. (Catholic News Service)
"In some of our parishes in the diocese priests are being asked to celebrate over 120 funerals each year," Archbishop Kelly wrote.

"That does not neatly work out at two or three times a week," he wrote. "Some weeks there can be six or seven."
I can see the difficulty, and as a priest I know how much stress celebrating a number of funerals a week can be. One is dealing with people at a very emotional time and situation. The fact that the Church has so many options in the liturgy adds to the stress as people ask for their favourite songs, and eulogies, and other strange things to be inserted into the liturgy. Sometimes they don't like Scripture readings that refer to judgement, etc. etc.

But to celebrate a funeral is a unique opportunity for the priestly office to be exercised in providing pastoral care for the bereaved but, more importantly to enable the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice for the repose of the souls of those who have died.

I have consulted the archdiocesan website and have counted roughly 310 priests. Now, some of these priests are retired, some will be abroad studying, etc.  The news item from CNS News quoted above states the number of priests as 170 (with a projected reduction to 100 by 2015). So I don't know what the situation with the other 140 priests is. I wonder if any of the retired clergy or others from those 140 could be called upon to celebrate funeral Masses.

I also tried to find a list of deacons but couldn't locate it on the diocesan website. Could (and should) they not be called upon in preference to lay people?

We also read:
The move was announced through a brochure, "Planning a Catholic Funeral," published recently by the archdiocese. The brochure described a funeral as the "community's main celebration and prayer for the deceased."
I have often wondered about the community aspect of a funeral. What about having a funeral Mass for more than one person? I know this would be a huge cultural shift for many people and perhaps it would be something of an innovation. But I'm not sure what the significance of emphasising the funeral as the "community's main celebration and prayer for the deceased" is about. It is the prayer of Christ and His Sacrifice offered through the ministry of the priest that is of the utmost importance, not the "community's ... celebration and prayer".

One must trust the fact that the Archbishop has consulted his Council of Priests and taken their advice, but I can't help thinking this is a retrograde step and will do little to promote vocations to the priesthood.

What I'll be doing is praying for an increase in vocations to the priesthood for Liverpool so that the beloved departed might have the funeral Mass that the Church foresees as the norm.

I realise now that I am very much behind the curve. See A Reluctant Sinner for his take on it. I am certainly in agreement with him that the main pastoral consideration at a funeral is not the mourners but the deceased. It is for him/her that the rites are being celebrated. The advantage with the more traditional (extraordinary) form of the Church's liturgy is that the participation or otherwise of those present was of no consequence to the effective celebration of the liturgy and the application to the departed of the merits of the Holy Sacrifice. And with a good choir and servers, it had/has a dignity that cannot be matched.

I celebrated the Requiem Mass for a Catholic in a beautiful medieval Anglican church in Kent. Most of the mourners were not Catholic but the local choral society got together to rehearse the chant, and added a few lovely motets, and did a beautiful job. This was probably the first time the Traditional Mass had been celebrated in this church since the reformation. All commented on the beauty of the ceremonies. (And no homily was given, at the request of the widow who was not a Catholic. And the older form anyway does not allow for a homily during the funeral Mass, only the possibility of an address before the final commendation. At first I felt put out at the request for no homily but then realised that there was nothing that needed to be said. The Liturgy spoke for itself!)


  1. "The Liturgy spoke for itself!".
    How true that is. Even in the OF yet we still have priests and deacons trying to "improve" or "make it relevant". Always reminds me of those who are trying to reinvent the wheel!
    As a priest of the diocese, Fr. John Hartley, said years ago at a meeting in Datford to discuss "ministry to priests" which the Archbishop wanted to introduce " We already have the electricity...but we just haven't turned on the switch"

  2. Father, there are listed over 100 Permanent Deacons in the Liverpool Archdiocese.

    Interestingly, their wives are listed alongside them! I wonder exactly what status they have?

  3. Father, Thanks for posting on this important topic.

    As well as A Reluctant Sinner, many other bloggers have commented. My post here http://ccfather.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/liverpool-to-die-for.html carries links to a number, and I further note pastor in Valle and James Preece have posted on this.

  4. We are constantly being told that since Vat II the emphasis in the funeral liturgy has shifted; it is seen as a 'ministry to mourners' and a 'Mass of the Resurrection' with white vestments, as if the deceased were a baptized infant who has died before attaining the age of reason. In pre-Reformation times they knew better; even humble people expected 'shrift and housel' on their deathbed and the full rites of Placebo, Dirige and Requiem. Many made provision for a trental of Masses subsequently.

    Call me a cynic, but I suspect that the Liverpool decision is really about 'empowering' the laity, particularly those of the female sex.

    1. I would hope it's not about "empowerment". I would hope also that motivations for this measure are entirely sincere. But the shift in emphasis from prayers for the dead to pastoral care of the mourners is mistaken, but in any case the priest has an exceptional opportunity to minister to the mourners on these occasions.

  5. A truly awful decision. While I understand the short-term problem, it seems that this will make the problem of a "preist-shortage" even worse in the long run. What healthy male would want to give up all that is required to be a preist- if it is held in such low regard. After all,isn't the effect of this (and other moves)to reducing the preisthood to "mere presiding" at Mass? JSWilson

  6. Father, You have heard the expression 'I live in the world but I am not of it'. Well, I am afraid that is my take on the Liverpool Archdiocese, I reside in it but have no wish to be part of their teachings (or lack thereof). Their sacramental programmes are so flimsy most orthodox Catholics can see right through them for what they are. There is a complacency of faith practise among the laity that seems to stem from a secularism within the Hierarchy.

  7. With over a 100 deacons to draw on as well, I simply can't see the justification for pressing the laity into this role. It's not like some far flung Amazon jungle where there's one priest for 100,000 square miles. Deacons need to be deacons and not glorified altar boys - if they can't pick up the slack, they shouldn't take the gig.


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