Monday, 17 September 2012

Liverpool - To Die For...

A few further thoughts on the Liverpool Funeral Mass controversy.

Helping to clarify this to someone who’d missed the point on Twitter, @PartTimePilgrim tweeted:
Opposition I've seen focuses on three issues.
1. The idea that a lay-led Funeral Service is as good as a Funeral Mass. It is not.
 2. The suspicion that there /are/ enough priests in Liverpool to have Funeral masses for those who die.
3. The un-Catholic nature of the Archdiocesan Planning a Funeral leaflet.
That’s a pretty good summary, and I just want to explore each in a little more depth.

1: Is a lay-led Funeral Service is as good as a Funeral Mass?  

This was what originally incensed me (terrible pun only half intended): the Herald quoted Archbishop Kelly as saying ‘the service they provide is “of the best quality” and was not seen by Catholics as “second-class”.’

I wrote a fair bit about this aspect in my first post on the subject, but would add this (which I wrote about in a comment on the Herald site).  

I think a large part of the problem here lies with the impoverished understanding of the Mass.  Once a priest got up early every day and offered the Sacrifice of the Mass.  

Perhaps some of his flock were there, perhaps they were all still in bed.  Nonetheless, he knew he had done something of inestimable value for the salvation of their souls (and his) and the conversion of the world.

Now he may say a 10.00 am Mass, the success of which is judged by the numbers who attend; and which may, apparently to everyone's complete satisfaction, be substituted with a lay-led service (which may be better attended as Mrs Cannybody's friends will all turn up...)

My contention is that such a decline in the valuing of the Mass seriously erodes vocations: current and future.

If that is part of the problem which has led to declining vocations, Liverpool's proposed solution exacerbates, rather than relieves, it.

2 Are there enough priests in Liverpool to have Funeral Masses for those who die?

I think that may depend on how high a priority it is considered to be, compared with other activities. Late last night, I tweeted: I dare bet a substantial sum that when ++Kelly dies, more than one priest from Liverpool will have time for his Funeral Mass.#cynicalme

That wasn’t a dig at Archbishop Kelly, so much as pointing out that when priests (or any of us) deem something important enough, we make time for it.  And I hope and pray that many priests turn up for Archbishop  Kelly’s Funeral Mass when he is called to his final reward. And that at least one is prepared to make time for my Requiem Mass, too.

My concern is that the tenor of the Liverpool leaflet, and Archbishop  Kelly’s reported comments, suggest that the provision of Masses, as opposed to lay-led services, is not seen as important.

Others have even suggested that there are those who welcome the withdrawing of priests from this ministry, as it gives laymen - and particularly lay women - more space to operate.

There’s also the risk of a sort of apartheid system: bishops, priests, deacons, EMHCs, parish worthies... will get Funeral Masses; the disposessed, friendless, alienated, (according to the leaflet, one criterion is how many Catholic chums you’ve got) will have lay-led services.

3. The un-Catholic nature of the Archdiocesan Planning a Funeral leaflet

A number of bloggers, such as Ttony have highlighted that the Leaflet is at odds with official Church documents.  

Certainly, when I read it, I thought it lacked any sympathy with those Catholic Instincts, whose absence I was lamenting in my first post on the subject, and my earlier post about Liverpool.

I have just noticed that the Order of Christian Funerals says:
‘When no priest is available, deacons, as ministers of the word, of the altar, and of charity, preside at funeral rites. 
When no priest or deacon is available for the vigil and related rites or the rite of committal, a layperson presides.’ 
Notice that only deacons (not laity, as proposed by the Liverpool leaflet) are authorised to stand in for (non-available) priest at the main funeral rites. Lay people are only allowed to lead ‘the vigil and related rites or the rite of committal.

Throughout, the Order makes it clear that a Funeral Mass is the norm; anything else only as a serious exception, as I highlight here. The Liverpool leaflet strikes a very different note - could be one, could be the other, nothing to worry about...

If I were a bishop implementing such a change out of necessity, I would be stressing the difference, apologising for the crisis, assuring the faithful that every effort would be made...

Mark Lambert also highlights how the understanding of the Funeral itself, in the Liverpool leaflet, is at odds with Catholic belief, as expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.


This is serious stuff: I can only hope that it is cock-up, not conspiracy, and that someone draws it to Archbishop Kelly’s attention.  I am assured he is a good and holy bishop (and he certainly does some good and holy things, like supporting the cause for Blessed Dominic Barberi). So I imagine that when he realises quite what is being done and said in his name, he will be keen to put it right, and assure his flock that their right to a Funeral Mass will be honoured  if at all possible.

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