Wednesday, August 26, 2009
On the Passing of "Great" Men
Scripture reminds us that it is a "holy and wholesome thing to pray for the dead." That, indeed, is the very purpose of a Catholic Requiem Mass. The eulogy, however, falls into an entirely different category. The Catholic Church was very wise to allow no place for such a dangerous form of speech for most of the last two thousand years. Save the stories for the Wake, which, unlike the contemporary bland "gathering" in a Funeral Parlour here in the US the night before the funeral, used to be in the family home and would involve "veritas" not from vino, but perhaps from Johnnie Walker (Black Label). We now have the contemporary eulogy, or eulogies, delivered by the new priesthood, who celebrate their liturgies via the medium of television. Truth, even in charity, or "caritas in veritate," is not a feature of the new eulogy. This night, a recently departed Senator; a "Catholic" Senator, was described on National Public Radio as a "champion of the oppressed and the needy:" however fifty million unborn Americans obviously did not fit into that Catholic Senator's list of "oppressed and needy."
In November 1997, Father George Rutler, no fawning eulogist or sycophant despite his friendship with Presidents, Princes and Potentates wrote a classic "crie de coeur" in Crisis Magazine, which is more than relevant on this day. Entitled 'Speaking Well of the Dead,' the full article can be found in the archives at InsideCatholic.com, where Crisis now has its internet home. It is quite magnificent: a few choice morsels to whet your appetite in search of the piece -
"In the sanctuary where only truth is to be spoken, eulogies were discouraged in more honest days when even romanticized charlatans and avuncular Caligulas could be buried with the crepe of contrition."
This culture "mocks the imperatives of the mystery (of death) by applauding the guilty as cold-bloodedly as it destroys the innocent. Where the idol worshipped by a culture is one's public image, even candor must be sacrificed to it; and when only the self is celebrated, celebrity canonizes itself."
"In obedience to the Divine Mercy, speaking well of the dead may sometimes require not speaking good of the dead."
"In the moral order, one may not pass final judgment on another....our present problem is not the arrogance of damning souls to hell. The plague is of courtiers who subpoena charity to defend sloth and, having so dazzled the jury, proceed to judge publicly that their little lords are in heaven."
"If eulogies are not sensibly stopped, I do hope they will be more precise."
President Obama will deliver a eulogy on Saturday at the Requiem Mass for Senator Kennedy.