Monday 16 September 2019

'It's like saying Mary was a chain smoker, so let's bring up a packet of cigarettes' - priest hits out at 'appalling' altar gifts

Fr Tomás Walsh
Fr Tomás Walsh
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Ian Begley and Olivia Kelleher

A priest has urged families not to bring "appalling" items like cigarettes or beer up to the altar during funeral Masses.

Fr Tomás Walsh, of Gurranabraher parish on the northside of Cork, wrote in his weekly parish newsletter about what he considers to be unsuitable items being brought to the altar as offertory gifts.

"Bringing things such as a can of beer, a packet of cigarettes, a remote control, a mobile phone or a football jersey does not tell us anything uplifting about the person who has died," he wrote.

"Surely items such as a flower, a family photograph, a prayer book or rosary reveals far more about the person who has died - and the loss he/she is to the family who grieve."

Speaking to the Irish Independent, Fr Walsh said the majority of people who offer "inappropriate gifts" are from families of little or no faith.

"A can of beer or a carton of cigarettes tells nothing beautiful about a person's life," he said.

"I find when there's not much faith present you can get appalling things really. One day I saw a massive box of washing detergent being brought up to the altar.

"Very often it might have been the drink or smokes that had killed the person in the first place. It's like saying 'Mary was a chain smoker so let's bring up a packet of cigarettes' or 'Jimmy was an alcoholic so let's offer up a can of beer'.

"I would have no problem if someone was heavily involved in their local GAA club and wanted to bring up their jersey, but very often these are Manchester United or Chelsea tops.

"I'm not trying to force anyone to stop offering these types of items, but simply to reflect on the gifts that truly represent their loved one's lives.

"I always meet families before funerals and would tell them if a particular offertory gift was inappropriate, but if they're insistent I would always let it go ahead."

Fr Walsh also expressed frustration with eulogies that go on "for as long as the Mass itself, and sometimes longer".

He said a funeral Mass is simply about praying for the dead.

"A Requiem Mass is essentially the coming together of the family along with the believing community to pray for the person who has died.

"At the hour of death - as we begin the journey home to God and to judgment - we desperately need God's mercy and forgiveness, no matter how edifying the life of the person may seem," he said.

Fr Walsh said the reaction to his comments in the newsletter have been mixed.

"On Facebook you would get a lot of criticism, people are accusing me of saying things I've never said.

"The whole objective of the newsletter was to just get people thinking," he said.

In an interview with 'The Echo' newspaper in Cork earlier this year, Fr Walsh criticised parents who are selecting non-believers as godparents to their children.

Irish Independent

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