Forget “my Way”, “Amazing Grace” and “What a Wonderful World”, and don’t even think about a football club anthem. All songs bar hymns have been banned from Catholic funerals by the Archbishop of Melbourne, who has ruled that services should not be a secular celebration of the dead person’s life.
The guidelines, issued to more than 200 churches by Archbishop Denis Hart, have caused dismay in Melbourne, which lives for Australian Rules football. One of the top requests at Melbourne funerals is the signature song of Collingwood, a leading Aussie Rules club.
One parish priest, Father Bob Maguire, condemned the crackdown as “a bit insensitive to local sensibilities, and a reversal of grassroots Catholic rituals”. He said he would have to struggle to balance the needs of mourners against the law laid down by the church.
In his edict, Archbishop Hart wrote: “Secular items are never to be sung or played at a Catholic funeral, such as romantic ballads, pop or rock music, political songs, football club songs.” Even children’s songs are forbidden: “At the funerals of children … nursery rhymes and sentimental secular songs are inappropriate because these may intensify grief.”
He said the funeral was a requiem mass for the repose of the soul, not a celebration of life or memorial service. If families wanted the latter, it should take place at a social occasion before or after the funeral.
The new rules were confirmed by the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Melbourne, Bishop Les Tomlinson, who said the main focus of a funeral should be “commending the deceased person to God”. He told the Herald Sun: “Reminiscences of the events of the deceased person’s life, hobbies or football interests are more appropriate for a wake or informal family gathering.”
But Father Maguire said he preferred to regard funerals as “family affairs attended by clergy, not a clergyman’s affair attended by family”. He added: “Around 10 per cent of Catholics will feel more comfortable with these sanitised rituals, but the other 90 per cent want these rituals to reflect their lives.”
A survey by one Australian funeral company in 2008 found that Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable”, Vera Lynn’s “We’ll Meet Again”, Sir Harry Secombe’s “Abide With Me” and Frank Sinatra’s version of “My Way” were among the top 10 songs played at services. The most popular unusual songs included Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust”, AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell”, the Monty Python ditty “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”, and “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead”, from The Wizard of Oz.
Funeral directors said that such songs were important elements of modern services. “It’s important to focus on celebrating the life of the person,” Andrew Pinder, the managing director of Jensen Funerals in Melbourne, told ABC radio.