Jun 6, 2016
Father Tim's Unofficial Eulogy Guidelines
I'm generally not a big fan of eulogies and although I allow them I don't exactly encourage them. Indeed, the best funerals I've attended are liturgies where the priest knew the deceased and spoke powerfully about the person within the context of Christ's resurrection.
When eulogies are included in funerals over which I preside, I do find that most people are respectful of the church's eulogy guidelines and the gentle admonition to "keep it short." But occasionally this gets tossed out the stained glass window and you end up with...a situation.
As I've thought about (and experienced) a few of these over the years, I decided it would be helpful to offer potential eulogists a few helpful hints.
1. A Eulogy is Not a Roast. Please, please, please, save the drunken carousing stories for the reception. Sure, the deceased like to have a good time. That's great. And I'm delighted that one of his fraternity buddies was chosen to deliver the eulogy. But we're trying to briefly paint a picture of the person's character not immortalize him as Bluto from Animal House.
2. Beware the Waterworks. Is there anything more uncomfortable than a family member weeping
3. A Eulogy is Not a Therapy Session. Yes, all families are at least slightly dysfunctional. That's a reality of the human condition and the reason God created therapists. But if you find yourself speaking in "I Statements" throughout the talk, you may as well be giving it from a couch.
4. A Eulogy is Not an Obituary. It's safe to assume that everyone who cared enough to attend the funeral has read the obituary. Please don't begin with "XX was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1942" and then proceed to list every job she ever held, every house in which she ever lived, and every person she ever met. We know. We read the obituary.
5. Keep it Short. The best eulogies are heartfelt and to the point And by "to the point" I mean five minutes or less. Don't go on and on as if you were channeling Bill Clinton giving that famously long and boring endorsement speech for Michael Dukakis at the 1988 Democratic National Convention.
6. Don't Turn the Deceased into a Saint. Nobody's perfect (well, except Jesus and nobody eulogized him). If someone was a jerk in life, there's no need to canonize the person in a eulogy. It will be inauthentic and disingenuous at best. Talk about his or her good qualities and even the challenging aspects of personality. But if someone used to kick the dog, there's no sense in turning him into St. Francis.
7. A Eulogy is Not a Stand-Up Routine. Sure, use humor. Especially if it sheds light upon the character of the deceased. But you're probably not as funny as you think you are and, again, a eulogy should never be all about you. Unless Bill Murray is giving the eulogy, tread lightly on the humor.
8. Practice! It's amazing how many people come up to the lectern and seem to sight-read their eulogy. Even if you are a confident public speaker, it's important to read it aloud. Go ahead and time it -- it's probably a lot longer than you think. Then edit it down and practice it again. There's enough emotion already; at least be comfortable with what you're saying.
It's worth remembering that only a few generations ago, the Church's burial rite didn't even include the deceased's name -- it was a celebration of God as the giver of life and attempted to place the particular death within this larger context. Obviously pastoral sensitivity now encourages us to recognize the individual but the sense of reverence and restraint remains. The entire liturgy -- the music, the readings, the eulogies, the sermon -- point to the mystery of the God who has created and redeemed us.
So, if you are tasked with giving a eulogy in church, please be mindful of these (somewhat) tongue-in-cheek guidelines. Your family and the entire congregation will thank you.