No two deaths are the same. Death may be expected or unexpected. The journey through death might be at a very young age or in our senior years. It may be instantaneous, drawn-out with pain and suffering or as peaceful as falling asleep. Whatever the situation, death is accompanied by an immense range of emotions. If we are to be honest about these emotions we may wish to complain to, as well as praise, our God for the loss of this life and for us who remain in grief. It is important that the music and the texts we choose allow what the human spirit needs to say or sing. The psalms, which Jesus knew by heart, can offer in daring honesty the depth of human emotion to the heart of God.
How do we send our Christian friends from this world to join the communion of saints with whom we are re-united at the start of every Eucharistic Prayer?
Generally, there are two opportunities: Funeral Mass and Memorial Mass. The musical opportunities are much the same as for any other Mass until we get to the final moments and the Rites of Commendation.
The Order of Christian Funerals states, ‘the music at funerals should support, console, and uplift the participants and should help create in them a spirit of hope in Christ’s victory over death and in the Christian’s share in that victory’. The community has the great task of singing on the part of the bereaved who may be rendered voiceless by abject grief. However, it would be as inappropriate to allow the joy of the resurrection to permeate every song as it would allow the darkness of grief to dominate. The whole gamut of emotions is present on such occasions and all true emotions can be presented to God.
The period after death is one in which we are often numbed and unable to think as ordinarily, we might. With this in mind, I would like to give some direction as to what has worked well for funerals over the last year or so.
‘Hymn’ choices might include any from the lists provided but the opportunities to sing a hymn or other appropriate song might be restricted to Opening Song, Song for the Preparation of Gifts and Communion Song, particularly since the Song of Farewell is used as the closing song. It is also quite frequently the case that the singing of ‘Ave Maria’ is requested at the Preparation of Gifts and Altar.
Be not afraid
Jesus, Remember Me
Be not afraid
O God our help in ages past
How Great Thou Art
Here I am, Lord
The opportunity for a member of the family to say what needs to be said,
especially when an untimely death did not allow it to be said previously,
to articulate the sense of loss and encapsulate the life of the deceased,
is provided in the Rite.
Usually this is delivered after Communion.
This is always sung.
The texts of the psalms provide great strength on such occasions.
The most popular choice is ‘The Lord is my shepherd’
but there are other psalms suggested by Order of Christian Funerals.
Below I recommend some settings of these psalms:
Ps 23: ‘In the Lord’s own house’ (Terry Mathurin)
Ps 23: ‘The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want’ (Joseph Gelineau)
Ps 25: “To you, O Lord, I lift my soul’ (Marty Haugen)
Ps 27: ‘The Lord is my light’ (Christopher Walker)
Ps 42: ‘As the deer longs’ (Bob Hurd)
Ps 77: ‘I cry to God and he hears me’ (John Bell)
Ps 122: ‘I rejoiced when I heard them say’ versions by Walker, Dean, and Farrell
Ps 130: Out of the depths (Scott Soper)
There are many settings of the ‘Alleluia’. Many of these are perhaps too upbeat for use in funerals.
Whilst we are convinced by the joy of resurrection our grief often weighs us down and we need a more solemn setting.
I would recommend the traditional plainsong alleluia and, during Lent, Philip Jakob’s ‘Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ’.
Song for the Preparation of Gifts and Altar
Any song from those listed under ‘Opening Song’ may be used. Alternatively you may prefer to have a soloist sing ‘Ave Maria’ by Schubert or ‘Pie Jesu’ by Faure.
Eucharistic Acclamations: Holy – Memorial Acclamation – Amen and Lamb of God
Generally, we would use the setting used at the Sunday Masses at that time.
On Eagles’ Wings is the most popular choice but other songs appropriate for Communion may be used.
The Song of Farewell is sung at the end of the celebration while the priest incenses the cremains or the coffin.
At St Lawrence, we prefer to sing the refrain of Ernie Sands’ ‘Song of Farewell’ at this point.
As the celebration concludes and the body is taken to the place of burial verses from Psalm 26 are added to the ‘Song of Farewell’.
John Bell’s ‘Go silent friend’ set to the ‘Londonderry Air/ O Danny Boy’ is also popular but the text is not in our hymn book. However ‘O loving God’ set to the same tune might be used for the final procession.