Please Don’t Say These Six Things at My Funeral

funeralThere will come a day, perhaps sooner, perhaps later, when the man in the coffin will be me. They say the dead don’t care, but I’m not dead yet, so as long as I’m still alive, I’d like to have some say in what goes on at my funeral. And, truth be told, I think the dead do care. Not that they will be privy to the details of what happens at their own funerals, but they still care about the world, about their family, about the church. The saints in heaven continue to pray for those who are still on their earthly pilgrimage, so how could they not care about them?

Because I do care now, and will care even after I’m with the Lord, here are some things I hope and pray are not said at my funeral. I care about those who will be there, about what they will hear. I want the truth to be spoken, the truth about sin, the truth about death, and, above all, the truth about the love of God in Jesus Christ.

So, please don’t say…

1. He was a good man. Don’t turn my funeral into a celebration of my moral resume. For one thing, I don’t have one. I’m guilty of far more immoral acts than moral ones. Secondly, even if I were the male equivalent of Mother Teresa, don’t eulogize me. Talk about the goodness of the Spirit who calls, gathers, enlightens, sanctifies, and keeps us in the true faith. Talk about our good Father who’s made us all His children in baptism. Talk about the good Husband that Christ is to His bride, the church. Don’t say, “He was a good man,” but “our good God loved this sinful man.”

2. Chad…Chad…Chad. I don’t want to be the focus of my own funeral. I was not the center of the liturgy on Sunday mornings, so why should it be any different during my funeral liturgy? If anyone’s name comes up over and over, let it be the name that is above every name—Jesus. He is the one who has conquered death. He is the one in whose arms I will have died. He is the one, the only one, who gives hope to the bereaved. Let me decrease that Christ may increase.

3. God now has another angel. Heaven is not going to de-humanize me. In fact, once I am resurrected on the last day, I will be more human than ever before, for my human soul and human body will finally be in a glorified state that’s free of sin. People don’t become angels in heaven any more than they become gods or trees or puppies. The creature we are now, we shall be forever. God has enough angels already. All He wants is more of His children in the place Jesus has prepared for them.

4. We are not here to mourn Chad’s death, but to celebrate his life. So-called “Celebrations of Life” (which I have written against in “The Tragic Death of the Funeral”) do a disservice to the mourners for they deny or euphemize death. The gift of life cannot fully be embraced if we disregard the reality of death, along with sin, its ultimate cause. Whatever the apparent reason for my decease may be—a sickness, accident, or old age—the real reason is because I was conceived and born in sin, and I built atop that sinful nature a mountain’s worth of actual sins. The only person’s life to celebrate at a funeral is the Savior conceived of the virgin Mary, who became our sin on the cursed tree that we might become His righteousness in the blessed font, who buried sin and death in the empty tomb He left behind on Easter morning.

5. Chad would not want us to weep. When Lazarus died, Jesus wept. Those tears betoken a God who’s fully human, who experienced the sadness and grief we all do at the death of those we love. To cry is not to deny that our friend or family member is with the Lord, but to acknowledge that in this vale of tears there is still death, still loss, still suffering. I do want those who mourn my death to weep, not for my sake, but for their own, for it is an integral part of the healing process. But while they weep, let them remember that in the new heavens and new earth, God “shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain,” (Revelation 21:4).

6. What’s in that coffin is just the shell of Chad. What’s in that coffin is the body that was fearfully and wonderfully made when our Father wove me together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13-14). What’s in that coffin is the body that Jesus baptized into His own body to make me part of Him. What’s in that coffin is the body that ate the saving body of Jesus, and drank His forgiving blood in the Supper, that I might consume the medicine of immortality. And what’s in that coffin is the body that, when the last trumpet shall sound, will burst from my grave as a body glorified and ready to be reunited with my soul. My body is God’s creation, an essential part of my identity as a human being. It is not a shell. It is God’s gift to me. And one day I’ll get it back, alive, restored, perfected to be like the resurrected body of Jesus.

Of course, there’s always more that could be added to this list—and perhaps you’d like to add more in the comments below—but I believe these get the point across. I want the beginning of my funeral to be focused on Jesus, as well as the middle, as well as the end, as well as every point in between. I care about those who will attend. Let them hear the good news, especially in the context of this sobering reminder of mortality, that neither death, nor life, nor anything else in all creation, can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ, our Lord, for He is the resurrection and the life.

If you’d like to read more reflections like this one, check out my new book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. If you’re looking for feel-good, saccharine devotional material, you’d better keep looking because you’re not going to find it here. If you’re looking for moralistic guides to the victorious Christian life, you’ll be thoroughly disappointed by all the Gospel in this book. But if you’re looking for reflections drenched in the Scriptures, focused through and through on the saving work of Jesus Christ, and guided by a law-and-Gospel approach to proclamation, then I daresay you’ll be pleased with this book. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon. And thank you!

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131 thoughts on “Please Don’t Say These Six Things at My Funeral

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  1. I remember speaking to someone about a local pastor, and she said: “And what a lousy homily! He didn’t say one thing about the deceased!”. I explained that the homily at Mass is to teach about the Gospel, not catalog the deceased’s accomplishments.

    I think what I’d like to have said at my funeral would be: “He attempted to follow Jesus closely, forgive fully and love unconditionally. ” Anything I have done or will do is because of the freely given grace of God.

  2. Fr. James Netusil on said:

    I preach both about the validity of mourning and the assurances of hoping in resurrection. We do celebrate life – which is why the preface to the EP for the Dead says, “indeed, Lord, for your faithful people, life is changed, not ended…”. But we also grieve the absence of someone lost to us. I also don’t have a problem pointing out the virtues a person espoused if indeed they did. They in their death can be an example for family and friends much in the way saints are examples if virtue.

    • MikefromED on said:

      Just as long as you make it clear that any virtues, talents, gifts a person may have all come from God and that the main point of referring to those virtues, talents and gifts is to thank God for them.

  3. ellen c. bellone on said:

    Some gathered do not believe in the resurrection. They must be included as mourners, relatives, or friends when addressing the congregation. Too often non-Catholic friends are ignored as grievers.

    • John on said:

      That’s about the last reason I’d want a watered down liturgy at my funeral. I’d regard my funeral Mass as my last opportunity on Earth to evangelize. If one of my fallen away friends left my funeral with a firm conviction to repent and convert, it’d have been worth shedding this earthen vessel.

    • We attend the funeral for what the deceased believed not what the mourners believe

    • Fr. James Netusil on said:

      That is not at all a valid reason to not preach resurrection at a funeral. Those on the Mount didn’t know the beatitudes until Jesus preached them. Quite frankly no priest should preach with fear of offending. That’s what got the Church into the mess it is now.

      • Our faith is all about the resurrection, our hope in the promise of the resurrection. Without the resurrection our faith becomes an empty promise.

    • Father George on said:

      The funeral Mass is the time and moment for the believing community to celebrate the Paschal Mystery. It would be disingenuous to craft a homily that speaks about disbelief to comfort those who do not believe. The accent is what it is ….. and to “humanize” the homily for the sake of “not offending” or “being inclusive” is an abuse. However, that being said, I am not saying that a priest and congregation shouldn’t be welcoming. Most certainly they should! There are other times and places for nonbelievers to say what they wish to say.

  4. NEVER sing “in the garden’ since no one knows who is walking with whom. And never process byt eh casket on the way out. Leave the focus on Jesus not my dead body. Please!

  5. At every funeral I try to focus on the truths of our faith regarding death and eternal life – for those consoling truths can be a great light in the darkness of grief for family and friends. I will speak of the person a little, but I try to focus on the Lord Jesus and his victory over sin and death and his promise of victory for those who are faithful to him. I point out that the various prayers of the funeral Mass focus now on the destiny of the person’s soul, now on destiny of the person’s body; but I really do always emphasize the resurrection of the body and I will often explain various parts of the funeral rite – drawing out its deeper or symbolic meaning; e.g. why we incense the mortal remains, why we have the Paschal Candle etc…

    Often our people are so badly catechised that they do not understand the true richness and meaningfulness that the Church’s Funeral Liturgy contain. That is why they often try to ‘enrich’ it with the secular elements that mean something to them or to the person who has died. However this does not enrich but rather tends to impoverish the great thing which is a Catholic Requiem Mass.

  6. Outstanding thoughts and the perfect antidote to the sappy sentimentalism that seems to define funerals these days.

  7. I would also want the priest to be wearing black vestments rather than white. I want people praying for me, not canonizing me.

    • Jennifer Grace on said:

      Charles,

      The pall and the priests’ vestments are supposed to be white – not because we’re being canonized, but because of our baptism – our baptism into Christ’s life, death and resurrection. White is a sign of joy and our hope in the resurrection. I also like to think of death as new birth into our eternal destiny, and so for the Christian, it should be a symbol of that joy and hope that life is has not ended, just changed.

      White at a funeral is also counter-cultural and a witness to our faith. I believe that black symbolizes despair and the idea that now all is lost – which is not our faith. While those who remain here grieve, it is really more for their loss than for the one who died. White in our liturgy symbolizes this hope – as Jesus triumphed over death!

      I personally do NOT want black (or gray, as I sometimes see at funerals)! I do not want the despair – I want the joy! And while I agree with Chad about all these things, I do want my funeral to be a celebration of my Catholic life that I shared with others :)

      • Actually white is just one of the options. Black or violet are also acceptable, and the more traditional, options. Black is quite appropriate for all of the reasons mentioned in the article. This isn’t a ‘celebration of life'; it is, or should be, a Requiem- a call to all present to remember their mortality. Remember man that thou are dust, and unto dust you shall return.

      • Fr. James Netusil on said:

        Jenny that is incorrect. They are not “supposed” to be white – white is an option, and probably not the best. The Church has always said black or violet was preferred. Their use has never been abrogated or derogated.

  8. Howard on said:

    I just want the priest to give the same homily as he does on All Souls’ Day. I want him to preach about the 4 Last Things and the need for prayers: I need them now, I’ll need them even more then!

  9. Norma on said:

    How do you support biblically that the dead care and pray for those in their pilgrimage? I love all the points just not the intro. Do you mind supporting it biblically gor me? Thanks! Great article other wise!!!!

  10. Norma, it’s because the dead are still in the Body of Christ, no less than they were before their death. They could pray for you before their death; surely they could pray for you after death, as they are even more fully alive. There’s no room here to go into all that the book of Revelation says about this (such as the incense offered), but I’d invite you to look into it further.

  11. “She’s is Heaven now.” Because I’ll be grateful if I make it at Last Judgement, although I will be pumped if I clear the purification process before then!

  12. Melani Roewe, CITM, M. Ed. on said:

    @ glennteal: Regarding the song “In the Garden” – I have been told the lyricist was imagining Mary Magdalene in the Garden of Gethsemane before, during, and after her encounter with our Risen Lord. Such have I always been told, and heard discussed at pastoral musicians’ gatherings. Nevertheless, I do not wish it sung at my funeral liturgy, as I find the musical setting to be sappy.

  13. Theresa on said:

    God bless you for this article. I’ve, on more than one occasion stressed the particulars for my funeral to my five grown children
    Requiem Mass, no flower (just support my Latin community financially), prayers by a Holy priest night before funeral (if possible), no “on eagle’s wings”, just beautiful music by our talented choir (no need to mention when requesting a Latin Mass – but just to make sure for the non-practicing children/relatives),
    And please, please, please offer many Holy Masses for my sinful, immortal soul!

  14. If this story isn’t true it should be: A preacher with a bad case of foot-in-the-mouth-itis said “What’s in the casket is just the shell. The nut is gone.” If the homilist thinks he needs to say of me “The nut is gone,” he has my permission.

  15. Bill from Denver on said:

    Your thoughts are quite cold–really!! I don’t want you having any place in my funeral and I seriously doubt (if you’ve ever presided over one) the loved ones of the departed were pleased by your sterile lack of compassion for them. You’ve got alot of reality based maturing to do before posting your comments to those who might think you are wise.

  16. Thierry Sinner on said:

    The only time I want my name mentioned is to ask for prayers for me sinner, no eulogy no celebrating my life, only prayers for Thierry sinner! This is right on the money will make a copy for my funeral director,executor and priest. Father Smith please add a copy to my file. Oh and please, no Amazing Grace!

  17. Good article, but I take exception to Chad’s objection to a preacher pointing out: “What’s in that coffin is just the shell of Chad”.
    What’s to object? What does Chad think will be in “that coffin”? It certainly won’t be Chad! And it certainly won’t be Chad’s body either.
    The reason it won’t be Chad’s body is that Chad will not have a body at that point.
    That’s the doggone thing about death! Death deprives the soul of its body. Death severs the bond between the soul and the material creation. Death annihilates the body.
    It’s not a case of “Soul goes to Heaven, Purgatory or Hell while Body goes into the ground”. Soul does, indeed, go to its proper place, but Body ceases to exist.
    Soul makes Clay its Body. When Soul separates from Body, Body is no more. What was Body begins immediately to return to Clay.
    What’s in the coffin is a simulation of a body. What’s in the coffin is an eviscerated, inanimate, embalmed corpse, rendered temporarily tolerable for public viewing by a funeral director who has been schooled in the ancient arts of disguising death and of rendering corpses temporarily non-abhorrent by the skillful application of cosmetics and the illusion of intact clothing.
    When the Trumpet sounds, souls will be given new bodies. These new bodies will be part of the New Creation. But these new bodies will not be resuscitated corpses.
    As far as we know, only Jesus and Mary left no corpses behind. As far as we know, they are the only two whose victory over death has already been brought to perfection. (There is a theological hypothesis that Enoch, Moses, Elijah and St. Joseph might have been resurrected and assumed. I guess we’ll find out someday.)
    “Shell” is a fairly apt term for what lies in the casket. I respectfully suggest that Chad withdraw his objection to the preacher’s use of that term to refer to the remains of the deceased.

    • Sean on said:

      Fr. Connolly, then why does the Church treat the body in the coffin with reverence? Why is She concerned that cremation not become a denial of the Resurrection? I don’t think that the idea that the body will be created again ex-nihilo is compatible with the Catholic doctrine of the Resurrection of the body. Yes, the body decays and eventually becomes part of the “dust” again, but I am under the impression that the Church teaches that somehow, miraculously, at the Resurrection of the dead, the raw material for our new bodies will indeed be our old ones.

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  20. The Traditionalist on said:

    So it begs the question, why even have a funeral? By the logic in this article, might as well just have a priest say a completely private requiem mass with the mourners having a completely separate, secular remembrance ceremony.

    Funerals are for the living. If the deceased was a good or even so-so person, and everyone knows it, they have a fair number of virtues. Remembering those as a good way for the person to be a light unto the world one last time.

    Nobody should lie about a bad person’s qualities, or elevate the faults of a good person into virtues. But remembering the person IS the point of the funeral. Otherwise, by the logic herein, it becomes just another weekday Mass.

    • Bill from Denver on said:

      Totally agree with “The Traditionalist”!!!! That’s what my previous post tried to say BUT “The Traditionalist” said it better-IMO a very mature/wise person!

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  22. Rev. C. Peter Dumont on said:

    I stay away from funerals now as much as I can. It seems there are always “eulogies”. I have found most of them to sound alike, even though the deceased never knew each other. It is so often always the same. In addition, I have heard some terrible things said about the deceased, but always to get a laugh. I have also heard disrespectful language. I have also heard things that can be hurtful to one or several mourners. I have heard falsehoods proclaimed. I have listened and cringed as some of the deceased sound more like Thomas Jefferson, or Mother Teresa, or some other hero. It just does not stop. And now there are times when people come up to “eulogize” without announcing themselves, as if it has become part of the Funeral Liturgy. And most of the time these comments are made from the pulpit, where we have just proclaimed “The Word of the Lord” and the “Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ”.
    No, I avoid funerals now. As a retired priest I might be asked to celebrate, but usually for a friend or relative and I do not eulogize at that time and make a firm request that there be no “eulogies” at the church, to do them at the wake. This is a neuralgic point throughout the parishes of the U.S.A. and Canada even.
    When I die I want my name inserted only in the approved prayers. At my funeral please pray for me. Please do not mention anything I accomplished or did, please, please, please. Proclaim what Christ has done and continues to do for me. When I die, please let me rest in peace.

    • Bill from Denver on said:

      Rev. C. Peter Dumont: Not having a wife nor any children makes your comments “uninformed, insensitive and self-centered”.

      • Rev. C. Peter Dumont on said:

        Bill,
        I have a wife, I married the Church, and we have children, and you are among them. And I love you all. You obviously have not heard what I have heard. I hope you never do. It can be appaling.

    • Rev. Dumont was exactly right. Have a coffee after the funeral and do your remembering, laughing, crying there with friends. Our scattered family did this after my uncle’s interment. He had always been the life of the party, with my mother, his sister. At the end of the afternoon someone said, “The only thing sad about this party is that [those two] weren’t there to enjoy it.
      I wonder if they weren’t, and didn’t.

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  25. Mark Higgins on said:

    Chad, as a funeral director and person of faith, you are spot on! The ubiquitous “celebration of life” has hijacked the solemn liturgies of the Burial of the Dead or whatever title may be used within a particular denomination. And at what point, was there ever theological/liturgical conversation about the celebration of life service becoming the norm? Our task as communities of faith is to get the dead to their place of departure publically, with a corpse being at the center of the event, and to dramatize the commendation of the body into the arms of a trustworthy God. Sadly, many clergy/churches have allowed the culture to dent their well-grounded traditions, acquiescing to “whatever the family wants to do.” And, many of us undertakers have woven in the new fads fueling this narcissistic trend. The neo-gnostic “funeral” expressing dichotomy of soul and body is at odds with Judeo-Christian understandings of our very nature. More power to you!

  26. Will S. on said:

    Reblogged this on Patriactionary and commented:
    Agree completely.

    Though I’d still like an Irish wake, after the service (perhaps after a pause), for my friends and family. Surely, after a funeral itself, there can be a place for cheerfulness – especially after the reminder during the service of the coming Day of Resurrection, to which we can look forward – as well as more personal remembrances of the departed.

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  29. All interesting comments. I wore black to my mother;s funeral, then in the eulogy I removed my black sweater to show a bright pink shirt with the explanation that my mother hated black, never wore black and we were celebrating her passing into a new life with Jesus.

  30. Joe Nanney on said:

    With all due respect, you’ve left little room for your eulogy. Given what you have eliminated, I’m left with the (seemingly significant, last for me) question: What do you want said at your wake?

    • Fr. James Netusil on said:

      Nothing. I want nothing said about me. That’s the point. Turning the liturgy into a fiasco by focusing on me rather than GOD would disappoint me. Even at the vigil.

  31. I heard one recently where the pastor turned to 1 Thess. 4 and said we do not mourn like those who have no hope, and I was getting hopeful myself, until he said “For we know that Louise is in Heaven.”

    *Crashing down again*

    Never mind that 1 Thess. 4 is all about the resurrection and not about “Heaven” per se and the whole message of the Gospel is about the hope of resurrection. No. Just act like we have a done deal now.

    Another time it was a funeral I was doing for my grandmother. Her pastor went before me and as he got up he was saying “Right now, she is experiencing the power of the resurrection!”

    I was just sitting in the back and thinking “Pastor. Maybe it’s just me, but I see her body down there. I don’t think she’s experiencing the resurrection right now.”

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  35. Alan Dueck on said:

    Clear thinking and good writing — thank you for both, Chad. I found this very helpful.

  36. Chad,

    Thanks for the post. After reading this I wrote one of my own – with a much different twist. I hope you have the opportunity to read it!

    Peace,
    Byron Wade

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  38. Courtney on said:

    One thing I’d add: At least they’re in a better place, no longer suffering, etc.

    While comforting, elevating the deceased to sainthood automatically after death (ie, they’ve gone to Heaven without going to purgatory) is something we shouldn’t assume. We should pray and hope that their soul is in Heaven, but even those that go to Confession and receive Anointing of the Sick before their death often must experience Purgatory before being admitted to Heaven, where they WILL, in fact, experience suffering to be later united with God. Instead, I’d offer something like: we pray for the rest of the deceased’s soul, that they may experience the joys of Heaven, etc.

  39. Fr. Frank Jay on said:

    And never say; “Although I didn’t know the deceased personally . . . “

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  44. Two that I’ve heard, same preacher:

    “You better not be a useless Christian, because if you aren’t doing God’s work, he may just smite you and take you up to heaven.” Huh? Was he implying the deceased was worthless as a Christian?

    “Everyone bow your heads and close your eyes. If anyone wants to invite Jesus into your heart, raise your hand. No one will see you. I’ll talk to you after the service.” No, No, NO! An altar call at a funeral??

    And, NEVER say, “God needed another worker in heaven, so he took Joe.”
    I heard a story about and man who grew up hating God and lived a bitter life because, when his mother died young, the pastor tried comforting the young children during the funeral by saying, “God took your mommy because he needed her in heaven.” No, these children needed her on earth with them. Ruined this man’s life.

    • Oh my goodness. What an absolute scandal to say to children like that. Honestly, most pastors that I see in the pulpit today need to get out of the pastorate. They’re an embarrassment to it.

      • Fr. James on said:

        Well, we pastors in pastorates would like to thank you for your support. We’re sorry we embarrass you.

      • Never said all. There are a number of excellent pastors. Ours is. There are too many today who just get up and say “I’ve been called to preach!” and don’t know a thing about how to exegete or how to defend the resurrection. They are highly prone to becoming apostates (Think Dan Barker) or producing church members who will apostasize when a Bart Ehrman comes along.

        To lead the flock of a church is a serious task and if a pastor does not at least have a basic working knowledge of hermeneutics, apologetics, theology, counseling, and church history, he will not be prepared for it. If we take on the task lightly, we are treating the church of God lightly and the repercussions are serious.

        If you are one who has studied and keeps studying and is learning, then my complaint is not directed against you. If you are someone who is not studying and is not learning, then yes, my complaint is against you and the state of the church in America is a testament to the fact that we have a problem.

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