Planning My Funeral
Fr. Peter Daly
June 27, 2002
Every time I hear a new hymn that I like, I tell our music director, “I want that song played at my funeral.” Right now I have about 200 songs on the list. My funeral will last longer than Winston Churchill’s.
Music is an important part of any liturgy, but especially funerals. We have a funeral choir in our parish. They volunteer as a corporal work of mercy, to bury the dead with song. We accompany our dear departed to the door of heaven with music. Hopefully the choirs of angels pick up the tune on the other side.
I never understand why some people who say, “We don’t want any music.” It isn’t a matter of money. Our choir is free and, if need be, we will pay for the musicians. But people sometimes say, “It’s too much trouble.” This doesn’t make any sense to me. I wonder, “Too much trouble for your mother’s funeral?” Hmm.
Some songs have become “standards” at Catholic funerals. People spend hours and hours agonizing over what hymns they want and finally choose the funeral “hit parade.” Sometimes I just call our choir director and say, “The usual.”
These include Amazing Grace, On Eagles Wings, Ave Maria, Be Not Afraid, I Am the Bread of Life, How Great Thou Art, and Just A Closer Walk With Thee.
When the family is more Baptist than Catholic we often get a request for “The Old Rugged Cross.” Methodist/Catholic families usually want “The Church’s One Foundation” and “Oh God our Help in Ages Past.” I like the Methodist hymns, but I would not make a good Baptist. Too gloomy.
For my funeral I want the music to be joyful, faith filled, and hopeful.
Because I’m Irish, for the opener, I want a hymn set to a traditional Irish melody, “Lord of All Hopefulness.” It takes you through the day as a symbol of the life cycle, from our waking to our sleeping. It starts out, “Lord of all hopefulness.” It ends with, “Lord of all gentleness, Lord of all calm, whose voice is contentment, whose presence is balm, be there at our sleeping and give us we pray, Your peace in our hearts, Lord, at the end of the day.”
For the responsorial psalm I want a version of Psalm 23 written by Marty Haugen The refrain is perfect for funerals. “Shepherd me O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.”
For the offertory I want a great new hymn, “The Servant Song.” It starts out, “Will you let me be your servant. Let me be as Christ to you. Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.” I think that is what Christian vocation is, especially priestly vocation, to be servant and Christ to others.
For communion I want a Catholic classic, “Panis Angelicus” (Bread of Angels). You can’t get a better lyricist than St. Thomas Aquinas.
The post communion medication should be another classic, “Father We Thank Thee.” It is based on the oldest catechism in the Catholic Church, the “Didache (teaching) of the Apostles.” The words were written in Greek 1900 years ago. The English version speaks about our gratitude to God for His gifts, especially gift of life immortal, the Eucharist, and the church, given to us by Jesus. I want people to know how grateful I am to God for all three.
After communion, when everyone is seated, I want something, which purists won’t like, but I don’t care. I want Louis Armstrong’s recording of “I think to myself, what a wonderful world.” It is just so happy. It reminds people to appreciate this life. Good message for a funeral.
Finally, I want to go out singing. That is why I want a Quaker song, “How Can I Keep From Singing” for the closer. I love the refrain; “No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that rock I’m clinging. Since love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?” Amen.