Friday, September 28, 2007

2 Funerals and a Hatred of the Catholic Church

I attended a funeral in Dublin yesterday (and no I am not still there and no I didn’t fly so yes I did get the train/ferry straight after work on Wednesday, travel overnight, arrive in Dublin at 8am, attend the funeral at 10am, go to the afters for a few hours then get back on the ferry at 8pm that night and spend last night travelling back to London and head straight into work from the train station-just in case anyone gives out to me for not seeing them while I was back, I didn’t even spend time with my family! And yes I am completely knackered and yes it does make me think that I should really try to get over my fear of flying). Anyway, the funeral was that of a very close friend’s brother and, even though I didn’t know her brother at all, I wanted to be there if only to give my friend a big hug. Her brother was only 25 and died from an illness he had been battling for several years. The ceremony in the church was very moving, particularly as so many of his friends were quite beefy in physique and began by trying to maintain a hardened, tough exterior in front of their girlfriends which inevitably failed as the mass progressed and they were forced to give up the act as tears streamed uncontrollably down their faces. A particularly poignant moment came when the niece of a friend of the deceased stood up to read a poem she had written herself questioning why something bad would happen to someone so good, but she broke down after a line or two and a friend had to join her on the alter and help her finish it. So basically the scene was as you would expect it to be at the funeral of a person who had suffered an untimely death. Only one thing was amiss; the priest. For the first half of the mass this idiot referred to my friend’s brother by the wrong name. My friend eventually had the opportunity to correct him on her way up to do prayers of the faithful at which time the priest merely looked bored, gave a half nod of his head and offered the family no apology for his mistake. Throughout the rest of the ceremony, which he rushed along at an unprecedented pace (the entire mass was over with in less than 40 minutes, any other funeral mass I’ve been to has dragged on for at least an hour and, in a lot of cases, longer), this so-called human being maintained an attitude of not only disinterest but even callousness. His response to a little girl breaking down into floods of tears was ‘Well, there’s no shame in crying’. No one had suggested that there was any shame in crying, it’s a funeral for fecks sake, why wouldn’t people cry?! Talking about it afterwards to another friend it transpired that when first approached about the funeral this priest had asked, ‘are you sure you’re street is part of my parish?’, he didn’t meet with the family beforehand (which I always thought was customary), he didn’t suggest any readings to do at the ceremony and basically had no hand in the organising of any aspect of the mass. My friend sat in the pub the night before with a few friends trawling through the bible looking for something appropriate to read. The sermon he gave was atrocious and offered not an ounce of sympathy or consolation to the family and friends there. In it he spoke about going to visit a children’s hospital and seeing a 6 month old baby who subsequently died from the same illness as my friend’s brother. The tone of the speech was ‘lots of people die regardless of age’ instead of saying how tragic it was that someone so young had died, and I also even got the vibe that by using the comparison of a 6 month old baby that the priest was subversively suggesting that my friends brother should be thankful that he lived to the age that he did. The family had wanted to play a song that had been a favourite of their brothers at the ceremony and also have people up to the alter to relay personal anecdotes about him but both of these requests were dismissed.
From my point of view this priests’ attitude and behaviour from start to finish was despicable. I can only guess that the reason for this priest’s complete apathy regarding the funeral was because he didn’t see fit that ‘his’ church should be used for a funeral when the people attending were not regular church-goers. To this I would have two responses: Firstly, in Ireland there are few, if any alternatives to a church funeral and so this is just the ‘done thing’. Possibly, given an accessible alternative many people would avail of this. Secondly, it is not for a priest to judge who should or shouldn’t have the right to celebrate the life of a deceased loved one in a church and it is certainly not the right of the priest to use the funeral of a young person to express this judgement or make his personal opinions known.
The last time I attended mass was almost a year ago and it was another funeral, also the brother of another close friend. Tragically he also was very young, only 30, and had taken his own life. This was again an incredibly sad funeral however, yet again, the priest (who was very old and I would imagine had worked in rural areas for most of his life) seemed to use the sermon as a platform for his own agenda. Instead of offering his sympathies to the family and offering words of comfort, he spent the duration trying to reconcile the fact that somebody who had committed suicide should be having a funeral at all. It was as if the fact that he was the celebrant of the mass proved him to be a very liberal, open-minded person and he wanted to point this out to people as well as voice the reservations he had regarding the matter. He then went on to speak about how young people don't go to church anymore and gave his tuppence worth's opinion of what he thought of people who only showed up to mass sporadically. Maybe its just me but I wouldnt have thought that church attendance figures would be foremost in the minds of people who have just lost a son/brother/friend.
Throughout my life priests have disgusted me. When I was in my teens I couldn't bear to go to mass but also couldn't bring myself to tell my mother that I wasn't going to go anymore and so manys a morning I spent freezing my arse off in the fields near the local church. To me this was preferable to sitting inside in the warmth having to listen to some aul crotchety f*cker with a chip on his shoulder the size of the grand canyon waffle on, expressing opinions that I didn't agree with as if they were indisputable facts. The fact that I have to darken the doorway of this medieval institution in order to say goodbye to a friend/family member or show my support for someone who has lost someone dear to them, and look on as the priest exploits this loss is something which really bothers me. If I can end this blog with a question I would like to ask does anyone know where one can avail of a secular funeral service because when I die I sure as feck don't want my body to spend its last moments above ground in a Catholic Church in front of some aul fella who's intent on using the occasion of my funeral as an opportunity to voice his opinion on some irrelevant topic in the knowledge that he has a captive audience and they cannot escape.


  1. So sorry Fitzy about your friends brother. That's so sad. I've had similar experiences at funerals of young people. When a friends brother died when I was in college the priest never mentioned his name once during the sermon, not once, he just spoke about religion, catholicism etc. etc. The parents of the young man who had died swore they would never go to mass again. They were appalled.

    I've been to a cremation that was non religious, can't remember where, but it was obviously still a very poignant occasion.

  2. Ach, horrible story. I've been unimpressed with the Catholic funerals I've been to - but never to that extent, though I've heard similar from other people. It's awful.

    We got married in the Unitarian church because we didn't want the routine religious ceremony but we wanted to retain the authority of a minister we respected.

    A week later we had a funeral for my mother there - she hadn't been a church goer but was very spiritual. We were able to have a secular service with readings from their book of readings - great Native American ones, poetry, whatever we wanted. The minister hdn't known my mother but suggested a little ceremony whereby people came up and put a flower in a vase, and said something about my mother. This was really moving. I think it was a littel difficult as she hadn't been known to the church but the things we did instead (2 colleagues did a eulogy)were better tha an impersonal sermon by someone who didn't know her.

    What I've disliked most about catholic funerals is the bit where the priest admonishes the bereaved asbout being sad as the deceased has found their reward in heaven.It may be a comfort if you believe deeply, but if you don't it seems finger wagging and condescending.

  3. Great post Fitz, and all before you started your working day too!

    I'm an extremely lapsed catholic. I firmly believe in God (actually I have concrete evidence he exists) but as for organised religion... I just can't row into a church that has so many beliefs I don't hold true.

    How are the Unitarians Jo? Did you keep going or just use them for the day ;)

  4. Well, in all seriousness, we wanted to keep going and intended to. But just before the wedding, the minister we liked so much got kidney cancer and couldn't do the wedding. one of the lay minsisters stepped in instead, after much kerfuffle.

    Kidney cancer is apparently v hard to treat and after my mother died of cancer a week later, I couldn't face goig back to hear Bill had died, and had negative feelings about weddings - we went some tiem later, and he was there! It was like one of those dreams where people how have died are mysteriously alive. IT was great.

    I'd actually go often if I was closer - but Sunday is the husband's only morning off, and he just can't get up early enough/doesn't fancy drivign to town. Also with small children you miss the good stuff. They do pod casts though!

    I'm also planning a Christening (was going ot be August, now I don't knwo when I'l get round to it) - they do welcoming ceremonies, where you don't have to promise to bring them up as good Christians, just to do your best!

  5. I'm thinking about visiting the Unitarian church alright, it seems to tick my boxes!
    I'm sorry Fitzy, but you are an amazing friend to come home for 24 hours just to hug your friend!
    I'm sure the closness of friends and family are the most important things at times like this.
    I have to say my family are very religious and two of my cousins died young, 20 and 21, both funerals were incredibly moving cos the priests knew the family.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Thanks a mil guys, Unitarianism sounds like the way to go!! SL, I'm intrigued about this 'concrete evidence' to support the existence of God, have you gone to anyone in authority with this information. You should at least blog about it!
    Milan, I agree with you on one point, think of all the art that would never have been made if the Catholic Church had not acted as patron to so many artists. However their motivation for doing so was based on a desire to further empower themselves and brainwash the masses and so doesn't make me feel like I should be indebted to them for the paintings I can go visit in museums and galleries today. Yes the Catholic Church is a powerful and historic institution but that doesn't mean its good.