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Priest asks mourners for prayers as their funeral gift, not cigs, beer and football kits

An Irish priest has voiced his concern over ‘inappropriate’ items, such as football jerseys, beer, cigarettes and mobile phones, being brought to the altar during funeral Masses.

Fr Tomás Walsh, parish priest of Church of the Ascension, Gurranabraher, in Cork, instead suggested items that tell mourners something ‘uplifting’ about the deceased person would be more appropriate.

‘More and more often, especially when there is little faith present, the memorabilia brought to the altar at funeral Masses can be most inappropriate,’ Fr Walsh, who was ordained in 1982, wrote in a recent parish newsletter.

‘Bringing things such as a can of beer, a packet of cigarettes, a remote control, a mobile phone or a football jersey does not tell us anything uplifting about the person who has died,’ he pointed out.

‘Surely items such as a flower, a family photograph, a prayer book or rosary reveals far more about the person who has died – and the loss he/she is to the family who grieve.’

Opening up further on the issue, Fr Walsh admitted he had no problem with a sports jersey if it was for a local team that the deceased had been heavily involved with and perhaps played for, but he felt that Premier League football shirts “might be idol worship”, he told BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme.

He also told The Irish Independent that very often the jerseys are football clubs such as Manchester United, Liverpool or Chelsea.

Fr Walsh, who is a member of the Society of African Missions and spent many years doing missionary work in Nigeria, said items such as cigarettes and alcohol can’t tell mourners anything beautiful about a person’s life, and may sometimes even be part of the reason why they are no longer with us.

“Very often it might have been the drink or smokes that had killed the person in the first place. It’s like saying ‘Mary was a chain smoker so let’s bring up a packet of cigarettes’ or ‘Jimmy was an alcoholic so let’s offer up a can of beer’,” he said.

He also pointed out that those with a lack of faith can end up bringing “appalling things”.

“One day I saw a massive box of washing detergent being brought up to the altar,” he recalled.

Fr Walsh was quick to point out that he is not trying to force anyone to stop offering any of these items but said he would like people to “simply to reflect on the gifts that truly represent their loved one’s lives”.

“I always meet families before funerals and would tell them if a particular offertory gift was inappropriate, but if they’re insistent I would always let it go ahead.”

The priest also highlighted lengthy eulogies as a further concern in his newsletter.

‘Eulogies that go on for as long as the Mass itself, (and sometimes longer) – and which canonise the dead person – contradicts the objective of a Requiem Mass,’ he wrote.

He explained that a Requiem Mass is the coming together of the family, along with the believing community, to pray for the person who has died.

‘At the hour of death – as we begin the journey home to God and to judgement – we desperately need God’s mercy and forgiveness no matter how edifying the life of the person may seem,’ he explained.

‘In the final hours of Pope John Paul II’s life on earth, in 2005, he was told of the immense multitude who were gathering outside in St Peter’s Square,’ Fr Walsh recalled.

‘In a barely audible voice he begged that the gathering throngs of people would pray for him.

‘That is the greatest gift we can give our dead – prayer.

‘Indeed, it is the only gift we can give them.’

He appealed to congregations that they ‘help us to bring back again into our Christian consciousness a real Christian understanding of what funeral Masses are.’

Picture: A coffin draped in a football jersey. Fr Walsh wondered whether such devotion was close to ‘idol worship’.