A parish priest’s feedback about the funeral of Sen. Kennedy

I have received a great deal of feedback by e-mail from readers concerning my comments on the funeral of the late Edward Kennedy, pro-abortion Catholic Senator.

Most of the feedback was what you might expect: we should celebrate Kennedy’s life, you people are so mean, how dare you criticize, you are just a mean stupid Republican, blah blah blah. 

However, there are been some very thoughtful comments as well.  Here is one, from a parish priest, with my emphases and comments.

Dear Fr Z,
Thank you for your blog which I have found to be very informative.  As a diocesan priest I would like to make a comment about the Funeral for Ted Kennedy.
I think that is was completely proper and canonically correct to offer Holy Mass for the repose of his soul[This next comment is hard to deny…] If the Catholic leaders did not discipline him during his lifetime it would have been a very cheap shot to do it after his death.  We pray for all the faithful departed.  He was a national figure and so the Funeral was televised.  As I said I see no problem with this.  [Well… I still do.  But I see his point.]
My problem is that it was not a Catholic Funeral. This was not a Funeral.  It did not follow the Novus Ordo.  The whole "celebration" was focused on Ted Kennedy and what a great man he was.  It [This is important…] seemed that he was not in need of salvation, forgiveness, mercy, grace, etc.  That would not have been proper if he were had been Mother Teresa herself.  Catholic Funerals are not about the person’s past achievements.  Since Holy Mass is part of it, first of all, the Funeral is about worship of God.  Secondly, it is a profession of our Catholic Faith[And this is why I still have a problem with the public nature of the funeral: the Senator’s record concerning abortion.] Thirdly, Holy Mass is offered for the repose of the deceased immortal soul and asking God’s mercy on him.  Fourthly, we pray for the consolation of those who mourn.  Ted Kennedy’s Funeral did not even follow even the guidelines of the Archdioceise of Boston[That is a problem, isn’t it.] It was badly planned and poorly carried out.
It was poorly planned because whoever directed the planning had no idea of what a Catholic Funeral is about.  Readings are not chosen to highlight the deceased achievements nor because they were his/her favorite’s passages.  [If I recall, the first reading was a standard selection, but the responsorial psalm and Gospel resounded with irony.] They are chosen to speak to us of the teachings of the Word of God regarding the mystery of death, forgiveness, and eternal life.  They are chosen to give hope that God’ mercy which is undeserved for any of us, may be given to this deceased person.  The Prayers of the Faithful are a time to pray for all these intentions not to push agendas. [Those "intercessions" were perhaps the worse part of the whole thing.]  Eulogies are not allowed.  A simple short reflection by a family member may be given before the Final Commendation which I personal wished had never been permitted.  The place for all of this is some Memorial at another time and another place than a church.
The Liturgy was very poorly executed.  You could hear the directions being given over the open microphones.  ("where is the pall?"  etc.)
This was not a Catholic Funeral.
Worst of all from a parish priest’s perspective is that now that millions have seen this, this is the type of Funeral they want. [Remember that the Code of Canon Law says that we should not have a public funeral if there is danger of scandal.  I think it was entirely possible that this funeral did just that… in more than one respect.]  It because impossible to say no as it is a difficult time for the family and they say the Cardinal of Boston do thisIt makes the parish priest look like he is being unreasonable [Exactly!] and not following the Church for his own agenda.  I have been to too many Catholic Funerals where an important person has died, or a family member of a priest, or a religious has died, and the very people who will not allow this for their parishioners break every norm.  (In my diocese for example, priests have the choir sing the "Gloria" at their parent’s Funeral because we are suppose to be joyful.  [Or, God forbid, "Danny Boy", or similar.] Of course, the bishop and his Liturgical Director encourage this.) 
I agreed with your question.  When did we stop praying for the deceased at a funeral?

Perhaps when we gave up Black vestments and the Dies irae.

Didn’t Pius XII warn against the loss of black vestments?

Some past entries of relevance…

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. jbalza007 says:

    This reminded me of a certain priest who headed the ministry of liturgical affairs in one archdiocese who was quoted on a national newspaper in one Asian country — “We break all the rules”.

  2. Jack Hughes says:

    “Didn’t Pius XII warn against the loss of black vestments?”

    yup in the same encyclical that he condemmed those who wanted to go back to back to alter table and the banishment of sacred images and statues in Church

  3. Sieber says:

    Catholic News Service Sept.3, 2009 there is an article titled, “Cardinal, priests discuss what guides decision on Catholic funeral”, by Patricia Zapor. In this article Cardinal “Sean” defends the funeral.

    The priest referred to in the above title is reported as follows:

    Msgr. Anthony Sherman, executive director of the Secretariat of Divine Worship of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Kennedy’s funeral at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help was well within the guidelines of the church’s Order of Christian Funerals.

    “It was basically a regular Catholic funeral,” he said. Even the two brief remembrances by Kennedy’s sons and a eulogy by President Barack Obama were appropriate and did not overshadow the liturgical emphasis on prayer for the deceased, he said.

    The reporter goes on to tell us Msgr. Sheridan is a canon lawyer at The Catholic University of America.


    And so it goes…..and so it goes……

  4. TNCath says:

    An old priest friend of mine, now deceased, once remarked that when the Church gave into the Kennedys back in 1963 when President Kennedy’s funeral took place and then again in 1968 for Bobby Kennedy’s funeral, Catholic funerals have never been the same. How right he was.

    I am still extremely confused and bewildered by the events of August 29, 2009, and am not sure I will ever truly believe that the liturgy and subsequent Rite of Committal was proper. I live in a diocese where the Catholic population is less than 5% of its total population. While the Church is a definitely a minority here, it no less plays a prominent role in our community. Events such as these make it extremely difficult to respond to our non-Catholic brothers and sisters who admire and share our commitment to life issues but cannot help but recognize, as many of Catholics do, a very clear inconsistency between belief and practice as well as a public scandal.

    Rather than attempt to repeat what so many others have already said, I offer you the link to Raymond Arroyo’s comments regarding Senator Kennedy’s funeral.


    They best express my feelings about these troubling issues, most especially, the seeming misrepresentation of our Holy Father, once again, by His Eminence, Cardinal McCarrick.

  5. maynardus says:

    Spot-on and well said! So many faithful Catholics are really quite exercised about this public pseudo-liturgical “canonization” service – first there’s the scandal of the circumstances and the liturgical hijinks and then the “secondary” scandal of… the egregious example it sets! It is especially hurtful considering how far the Papal liturgies have come under Benedict XVI and Guido “the good” Marini; again both in their own right as authentic and reverent Catholic worship of the One True God and also (as Fr. Z. may have mentioned once or twice) exemplars to the entire Church of how the Ordinary Form ought to be celebrated.

    From personal experience I’m aware that Cardinal O’Malley really has very little interest (knowledge?) in the liturgy – and it shows. I absolutely do not question his personal orthodoxy or piety – I think he’d be a splendid monk – but this is only the latest episode during his incumbency in Boston which has caused Catholics of the Archdiocese to wonder about his capacity for leadership. I say this with sadness rather than rancor, and I pray that the gifts of the Holy Spirit will be his in abundence.

  6. Roland de Chanson says:

    I agree with your sacerdotal correspondent – if Kennedy had not been disciplined in life, it would have been a pusillanimous gesture to deny him a Catholic funeral. He was, after all, not a suicide. We have no way of knowing the sincerity of his contrition ad mortis limen. If he received absolution (and his parish priest preached the sermon after all), then res ipsa loquitur. Constantine was baptised on his deathbed. You can’t get much more opportunistic than that.

    And I agree with you, Fr. Zuhlsdorf, that we lost the beauty of the liturgy long since. But I do not wish to belabor that truism ad nauseam here.

    But there is another aspect to the Kennedy obsequies that has been lost in the press. I posted the following comment to Cardinal O’Malley’s blog, as well as to Mike Paulson’s blog, Articles of Faith, at the Boston Globe: By the way, the salutation is Munster Irish and means “may God and Mary be with you and St. Patrick as well.” The complimentary close is Irish for “May God bless you.” The rest of the epistle is in the contemporary Saxon tongue. (I am a lover of the Irish language, though incompetent in it, ever since my youth at a Jesuit university and my friendship with a theology professor who was a saint and scholar from the Emerald Isle. Misereatur Deus animae eius. (I have corrected a couple of typos and added an inadvertent ellipsis in the original post.)

    Dear Cardinal O’Malley,

    Día ‘s Muire dhuit agus Pádraig!

    Thank you for the explanation of your very charitable act in presiding over Senator Kennedy’s funeral.

    I would note however that your absence from the obsequies would have caused far more scandal than your presence. You are to be commended for choosing the Aristotelian mean between active participation and an outright snub. Given the cachet of the Kennedy name in this state, yours was an eminently wise judgement.

    Your declining to celebrate the funeral mass was in stark contrast to Cardinal Cushing’s celebration of President Kennedy’s funeral. It was in its eloqent silence a stunning rebuff and a fitting one given the Senator’s flouting of the Magisterium in his public life.

    But if there is cause for scandal here, it is not so much Kennedy’s stand on the crucial moral issues of abortion, the “marriage” of homoerotics, IVF and ESCR, nor even his frail human episodes of dissolution and profligacy, nor yet his cowardice in the aftermath of the manslaughter of Mary Jo Kopechne. For the blemish of cowardice can be masked by subsequent acts of courage; the life of a rake and sot can be redeemed as the lives of Augustine and Jerome testify; the public positions of a politician can be understood as deriving less from his own mind and heart than from the will to please the common herd and assure his electoral longevity. And your Eminence knows well that to insist too sternly upon magisterial compliance by Catholic politicians would end in either their bolting from the Church or their dismissal at the polls by an angry electorate. Having gained entrance to Caesar’s court, Catholics will now not be forced out, even if it means dancing to Caesar’s flautist.

    No, the greater scandal here is the more personal matter of the ambiguity of the Senator’s marriage to Victoria. Marriage has from ancient times by design been a public act; yet we have only Kennedy’s PR assurance that his marriage to Joan was annuled and that his subsequent civil marriage was “blessed” by the Church. And with no confirmation from the Archdiocese, the faithful have a right to be alarmed and offended at this public scandal.

    The reason for reluctance on the part of the Archdiocese is not hard to discern. The Senator’s nephew, Joseph P. Kenney, divorced his wife, and married his secretary before pen had even been set to the local decree of annulment. This scandal was only later and with great procrastination remedied and reversed by the Roman Rota and then only when Sheila Rauch courageously pursued the ends of justice and exposed the hypocrisy of the concept and process of “annulments.”

    And yet these Kennedys are very ostentatious in their public reception of the Eucharist, a sacrament denied to many “ordinary” Catholics who have been caught up in the dislocation of divorce and remarriage. This duplicity is greatly to be condemned.

    It is impossible then to escape the conclusion that the Church has one law for the high-born and another for the low. This is a glaring and persistent scandal which can evidently only be redressed when high and low, prelate and presbyter, stand finally before the awful tribunal of the God of Justice.

    Go mbeannuigh Dia duit,

    Roland de Chanson

  7. priest up north says:

    This letter touched another nerve, as the writer spoke of how priest’s family members are given some sort of pass to “break the norms:” So too at priests’ funerals. It is the understatement of the year that many who are quick to say “no eulogies” to the family of “Joe Parishioner” in planning the funeral seem to be the first to eulogize their brother priest when asked to preach at the funeral. We must end our hypocrisy.

  8. JohnE says:

    “If the Catholic leaders did not discipline him during his lifetime it would have been a very cheap shot to do it after his death.”

    This thought came to me as I read Ted Kennedy’s “resume”/letter to the pope, where he said “I have never failed to believe and respect the fundamental teachings of my faith.” Is it possible that he was sincere? If so, what does that say for those who failed to shepherd him rightly?

  9. Kerry says:

    Well written Roland de Chanson. As one “caught up in the dislocation of divorce and remarriage”, I remember Lincoln’c note to McClellan, “If you are not using the Army, I should like to borrow it for a while”, and wonder the same about my desire to enter the Church, and the seats within it being kept warm for the wrong motives by backsides I will not name.

  10. james says:

    It is truly amazing (and not surprising) how swift and public the divisions
    in the North American Church truly are. It is also interesting that the
    media is truly pushing this, creating a public dust-up that shows the world
    the Church is not “One” on myriad/multiple fronts.

    I smell smoke… I am sure many of you do, as well.

    Soon, I believe our Pope will make stronger public statements defending
    Truth. Clearly, Kennedy was not following the teachings of the Church. I
    believe he will speak openly and demand changes in Communion (on the tongue,
    kneeling), that celebration of the Mass ad orientem will be made mandatory,
    and so forth. Hopefully a statement about this Kennedy scandal will also
    happen soon. But changes are coming, and the divisions and voices of
    those against the Holy See will increase with intensity and anger.

    Surveys show most Catholics are much like Kennedy, particularly the
    millenials. All that said, the small percentage of millenials who actually
    practice their Faith, when called to a the Priesthood, et al, are, according
    to the NY Times, 2/3 likely to want a Traditional Order, a Conservative Order.

    Our priest (FSSP) always tells us to be patient. And we need to be. It
    will take a while to clean up the damage done in the past 40-50 years.
    We also must realize we will be persecuted. It is coming. It should not
    scare us, for we should all be open to any trials and tribulations that
    draw us closer to the Cross. But we will be persecuted in our parishes,
    our diocese… from the pulpit… from the government… from the press…
    and in law. It is coming. Destructive Grace.

    Finally, the media wants to convince Catholics – those so-called “Cafeteria
    Catholics”, that Kennedy was a Catholic, and that they, too, can question
    or deny Church teachings, do as they please, follow their wills, and still
    be good Catholics. It’s a sales job. They own the airwaves. Most Catholics
    seem to be okay with Obama at Notre Dame, with the Kennedy funeral, with
    children’s liturgies, with religious education facilitators who really do
    not believe all the Truths of our Catholic Faith. “To each his/her own.”
    Political correctness. And so forth.

    But never forget – God is in control. He knew these days were coming. We
    must have Faith. Many here clearly do. Which gives me solace and Hope.

  11. Gail F says:

    The good father hit the nail on the head with this one. And it’s especially true that many people will want a funeral like this one. However, Roland de Chanson’s post also makes a point — the behavior of the Kennedy’s, and the way the Church treated them (even in this funeral) has far more to do with the way the European Church traditionally treated prominent royals than with the way it has treated the average American Catholic. I think that many people realize that this was an “exception to the rules,” for whatever reason (good or bad) and will not expect to be treated this way themselves. Yes, it’s a scandal. But there are worse scandals.

  12. markomalley says:

    “If the Catholic leaders did not discipline him during his lifetime it would have been a very cheap shot to do it after his death.”

    “This was not a Catholic Funeral.”

    Bears repeating

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