Funerals vary significantly depending on the deceased's beliefs and their loved ones. Even different denominations of Christianity have diverse rules about appropriate content. Traditionally, a Catholic funeral mass will not include a eulogy. Generally speaking, a eulogy is intended to celebrate the life and character of the deceased. At a Catholic funeral service though, liturgical tradition dictates that the focus should be on the dead's faith and values.
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Many people disagree with the Catholic church's stance on eulogies because it makes funerals feel too impersonal. That's why some individual churches provide alternative options. Many modern churches will allow someone to deliver "words of remembrance" about the deceased that stand in for a traditional eulogy. Here, we'll explore the etiquette behind this practice. We'll also provide some brief examples to guide you through this process.
Steps for Writing a Catholic Eulogy
Eulogies are typically delivered by a family member or close friend of the deceased. Because traditional eulogies aren't allowed in the Catholic church, knowing just what to say can be confusing. Many people don't know how to write a eulogy until they are asked to deliver one. Let's break down the steps to creating appropriate words of remembrance for a Catholic service.
Step 1. Coordinate with the priest
If you’ve been asked to deliver a eulogy for a Catholic loved one, you should first ask for the contact information of the priest that will preside over the service. Reach out and let them know that you’ve been asked to deliver a eulogy but that you realize it’s not a regular part of the Catholic tradition. Ask if their church allows words of remembrance to be given. Typically, if a church does allow this, it will take place after the Prayer of Communion and before the Final Commendation.
If the priest allows for words of remembrance to be given, you can ask them for any guidelines they may have. This will help you customize a speech appropriate for the Catholic church.
Step 2. Learn more about the deceased’s faith
If you’re given the responsibility of delivering the words of remembrance at a Catholic funeral, ideally, you should have some familiarity with the deceased’s faith. If you don’t, it’s essential to do some research. If the deceased attended church with friends or family members, talk to them about the deceased’s perspective on faith. Speak with the priest to learn more about any leadership roles the deceased may have held within the church.
Step 3. Learn about the deceased’s charitable endeavors
If you’re not a Catholic, the specifics of the faith may feel daunting to translate into words of remembrance. It’s important to figure out how to connect with the deceased’s principles. Charity is an essential tenet of the Catholic faith. Giving back to others is regarded as an expression of God’s love.
Learn more about the different charitable endeavors that the deceased supported, and talk about them in your speech. This is a great way to keep the emphasis on their faith, even if you don’t fully understand it yourself.
Step 4. Create the right atmosphere for writing
Once you’ve done all of your research, it’s time to start crafting your words of remembrance. Writing the equivalent of a eulogy is a solemn task, but also requires a certain level of artistry. As with any other creative endeavor, it’s important to set up the right environment. Here are some tips:
Set up a workspace: We all have different needs when it comes to a workspace. Many people find that they do their best work sitting at a desk. Others like to curl up somewhere comfy, like a bed or a couch. Some people have difficulty working in solitude and find more accountability working in a public space, like a coffee shop. You know what environment will be best for you.
Put together a playlist: Writing in silence can be challenging for many people, especially when writing something as serious and emotional as words of remembrance. Putting on some music provides a little bit of background noise without being overly distracting. Instrumental music is the ideal writing soundtrack so that you don’t find yourself focusing on lyrics. Classical music is a good choice. Instrumental Catholic hymns may also help put you in the right headspace.
Light candles or incense: Candles and incense both play essential roles in the Catholic church. In Catholicism, light is used as a symbol for Jesus Christ. Practicing Catholics light candles when praying for someone to show solidarity. Catholics also light candles to honor souls that have departed to heaven.
Incense also has great significance in the Catholic church. Priests use incense as a symbol of purification. It is also said that the smoke from burning incense serves as a visual representation of prayers as they rise to God. Beyond the Catholic symbolism, candles and incense can also help you set the right mood for writing. Candles provide soft ambient lighting, and many people find the aroma of incense relaxing.
Have a beverage on hand: Grieving people can easily get dehydrated. As you may have heightened emotions while writing your words of remembrance, it’s beneficial to keep a glass of water handy. Some people need caffeine to concentrate and might want a cup of coffee. Others who prefer to stay in a more relaxed mindset may want to sip a mug of chamomile tea instead.
Step 5. Begin the writing process
Now that you’ve settled in with your research, it’s time to put your first draft together. Remember that words of remembrance for a Catholic funeral service won’t recount biographical details of the deceased in the same way that a traditional eulogy would. Instead, it will focus on the values and faith of the dead. One way to do this is to tell personal anecdotes about their faith-driven charitable endeavors.
Keep in mind that words of remembrance should be brief. The recommendation is to keep them between three and five minutes in length. That translates to between 450 and 750 words in length.
Step 6. Polish to Perfection
Even the best writers are never satisfied with their first drafts. Take some time to refine your speech until you’re happy with it. It’s helpful to talk to other friends of the deceased (especially ones familiar with Catholic funerals) and get their feedback later in the process.
Once your speech is complete, it’s important to practice speaking it aloud. That way, you can figure out any areas you might stumble over ahead of time. Continue practicing it so that you’re relatively familiar with it.
Even if you feel confident that you’ve memorized your speech, you should always write it out on index cards. You can flip through them and refer to them if you get lost while still keeping eye contact and connecting with the mourners.
Step 7: Confirm the eulogy with the priest
Because words of remembrance have stricter guidelines than traditional eulogies, you’ll typically be required to clear them with the priest before you deliver them. Intentionally going off-script is strongly discouraged.
Catholic Eulogy Examples
Now that we’ve broken down the steps to writing Catholic words of remembrance, let’s put theory into practice. These are not examples of full words of remembrances: they are representative of the type of content that would be appropriate.
For a parent or grandparent
“On behalf of our friends and family, we thank you for coming as we lay our grandmother, Rose Mitchell, to rest. Your condolences and prayers have helped us through this difficult time. It brings us comfort to see faces from so many generations today. Your presence shows the impact Francesca has had throughout her decades of coordinating the youth bible study program here at Holy Family Catholic Church.”
For a child or adult child
“Thank you for joining us today as we ask God to wish eternal rest upon our son Samuel Joseph Walters. A few months ago, I saw a sea of young men who graduated from Saint Joseph Catholic School, Sam among them. Today, I see many of the same young men sitting here as we lay our son to rest. It shows such strength of character for you all to come today in support of our family.”
For a partner or spouse
“Many people asked if it would be too painful to give a eulogy for my wife here in the same church where we got married. On the contrary, it brings me great comfort to stand here in the place where we said our vows Because I know that one day we will be reunited under God in heaven.”
For a sibling
“My sister’s life could have been a comedic film about a Catholic school girl who was constantly questioning everything, to the most devoted nun of all time. The reason she questioned everything was that she wanted to strengthen her faith. While she softened her approach over time, she never lost that quest to understand her faith more deeply.”
For a close friend
“I knew Ruth as a tremendous advocate for children in impoverished countries. We were co-workers at an organization dedicated to providing disaster relief for children worldwide. At work, she was a tremendous leader, an attribute she many didn’t realize because of her humility.”
A Eulogy By Another Name
When a loved one dies, it’s important to honor them by remembering how they lived. The Catholic church does not sanction eulogies. In fact, they are heavily discouraged. Because the church places such a heavy emphasis on faith, a Catholic funeral may lack a sense of the individual who died. But words of remembrance help pay tribute to your loved one and their faith.
- “Speaking in Remembrance of the Dead.” Liturgy Office Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, Liturgy Office Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, Liturgy.sydneycatholic.org