Monday 19 August 2019

'We've had enough black-and-white rules in the past'- Priests' association critical of call to ban personal items at funerals

Father Tim Hazelwood (inset) criticised a call by Fr Walsh to ban certain personal items from funerals.
Father Tim Hazelwood (inset) criticised a call by Fr Walsh to ban certain personal items from funerals.

Mícheál Ó Scannáil

The Catholic church had "enough black-and-white rules in the past" according to the Association of Catholic Priests, who criticised a call to ban certain personal items and eulogies from funerals.

Fr Timothy Hazlewood, a representative of the association, criticised a call by Fr Walsh of Gurranabraher parish in Co Cork, to ban certain personal items from funerals.

Fr Walsh wrote in his weekly parish newsletter that he considers "appalling" items like cigarettes, beer and football jerseys unsuitable to be brought to the altar during funeral Masses as offertory gifts.

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

Fr Hazlewood, parish priest for Killeagh-Inch, also in Co Cork, disputed this opinion however, saying that the offering of these items is an attempt by people to connect to something close to those who have died.

"This is just trying to make something personal of the funeral ceremony and that's my experience as well," he said.

"It's about talking to people and bringing people along and sometimes it is appropriate. I've had situations with young people at funerals and these are the things that young people associate with, so it's about being sensitive and understanding and collaborating with them.

"I wouldn't tell anyone what to do. I would bring them in and we would have a chat. They are not gifts, they are symbols that represent the life of the person. They know the people better than we do and it makes the funeral more personal. The Association of Catholic Priests, our view would be that we've had enough black-and-white rules and regulations in the past."

Fr Tomás Walsh
Fr Tomás Walsh

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.

Read more here: '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 Hazlewood again said that there is a need for a personal element of a funeral and said that the majority of the time now, priests don't know their parishioners and so a eulogy from a family member is important.

"It's going back to the premise I began with. Very often now priests don't know the person at all," he said.

"So are you just performing a ceremony that is impersonal? This is a very important moment in a family's life so I would have no problem with a eulogy, but again, it's about communication with them beforehand and just chatting to them and letting them know what the eulogy is supposed to be about.

"But again not making rules or regulations. I heard a priest and he said that an awful lot of the eulogies he's heard are better what the priest said so it can be a very positive thing. The last thing they want is to be quoted rules and regulations.

"That's the last thing they will remember, 'the priest was cranky... God!'"

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