Incorporating the Rosary into a funeral service? Some guidance?
March 16, 2011 10:56 AM   Subscribe

Calling all Roman Catholics, Nuns, and Priests! Help me incorporate the Rosary into a Funeral Service for my best friend! (kinda long)

My best friend just died. He was 60.

He was a pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic who was heavily involved in the church as a child, almost became a priest in the later 1960s but never took orders.

I am not a Catholic. I am not a believer in any conventional sense.

As he made his way through life, regardless of the direction his spiritual journey took (and pretty much it took every direction), he always maintained a fondness and powerful respect for the Rosary as a spiritual manifestation of the Divine and as a form of powerful meditation.

Being about 13 (at the time of VCII) and very involved in the Church, he was also familiar with the older Latin prayers and Mass.

At his memorial service, I would like to incorporate this into the program, but have a few questions:

My initial idea was to take the rosary he died with and say, during the eulogy, that it was important to him and Latin as the vehicle was important. Then I would say something along the lines of the basics of what the Rosary is, then say the eight prayers in sequence in Latin (I do know them), and ask that the audience, if they are Roman Catholic to meditate on the mysteries and if they aren't they should feel free to meditate on what Greg meant to them. I did not intend to do a Rosary properly, but just enough to make it mean something.


From my research, the Rosary is meant as a personal devotional and not as a public set of prayers and shouldn't be broken up like that. To do the partial main prayers of the system without a full circle isn't what it is for and may be slightly offensive or at least misplaced. This will be a mixed group of counter-cultural folks from the 60s to prim family members to loosey-goosey United Methodists and Unitarians to any number of other believers.


I was then thinking that Latin needs to be a part of this, as does the Rosary, so perhaps I can talk about what it meant to him and then say something along the lines of: "Although it isn't appropriate for the Rosary to be said under these circumstances, the Lord's Prayer and the Our Father are important parts of all Nicene worship and I would like to recite the Our Father in Latin...etc" While holding the beads.

I guess I am looking for input. I don't want to offend anyone by mis-use of the beads, but it needs to be part of this. How can I best do it without offense?

The service itself is at a United Methodist Church, it is not a Catholic service, there is no priest involved, but there will be a number of people with whom he grew up (different varieties of American Catholics) present.

Thoughts/Opinions? I will be at the computer night and day for a while yet, so feel free to ask questions and let me know your thoughts.

Thanks, everybody.
I want to do this right.
posted by Tchad to Religion & Philosophy (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
A Catholic service often includes a separate rosary service, often performed the night before the formal funerary service. This separate service likely would have been familiar to your friend and his family. A priest can oversee this service, which does not have to take place at a church; it can be done in a home, or anywhere, really.

I am sorry for your loss.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:03 AM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am Catholic and have attended many funerals of Catholics'. My observation has been that the rosary is recited as a group at the wake or during visitation. It is not part of the funeral service itself and takes place before. It is perfectly acceptable for you to lead the rosary prayers.

Sorry for your loss.
posted by JujuB at 11:04 AM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am accustomed to a decade of the rosary said in a group at the end of a wake or if no wake, immediately prior to a Catholic funeral. This can be led by a priest or anyone else who chooses to. I think the repetitiveness is very soothing as a way of group mourning.

Perhaps start out in Latin and then switch to English? That way more people can take part.
posted by readery at 11:12 AM on March 16, 2011

Response by poster: Some things I might add that may be important:
This will be a protestant memorial service with no priest. He was invested in the Rosary as ritual, spirit, and method - but not dogma.
His immediate family are pretty much atheists at this point, and not particularly interested in funeral services etc. so we are lucky to be getting a protestant semi-secular service.

Thanks for the response so far, everyone. The Rectories I have called haven't returned my calls.
posted by Tchad at 11:16 AM on March 16, 2011

Sorry for your loss.

I am a practicing Roman Catholic. At the same time though, I believe there is more than one way to skin a spirit. I don't think you should be too concerned with Catholic dogma concerning the rosary. I can find you renowned Catholic scholars who disagree on these issues. So long as it is done with proper respect and veneration, whatever you do will be good.

The rosary is a wonderful meditative ritual. For people who have never said the rosary before, their first experience doing so can be powerful. I think you should say it in English, and have the prayers printed out, and invite the crowd to say it with you.

I also think an introduction would be appropriate. "We are doing this becuase of its importance to the deceased. Every culture and religion has its forms of meditation. Meditation helps us center ourselves and our spirits. This is an ancient meditation, over a thousand years old."
posted by Flood at 11:34 AM on March 16, 2011 [5 favorites]

I like the "recite the Our Father in Latin" thing. You can always make a little "Rosary info card" to put out for others to take home with them. If your friend had a favorite Mystery, use that one.

I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by luckynerd at 11:36 AM on March 16, 2011

I think (as a no longer Catholic UU) that you should stop worrying about "mis-use" or the "proper way" to say the Rosary. Especially since you're not actually having a Catholic service. Prayer, as long as it is respectful of the tradition, is always acceptable. I have been to Mass when a decade of the Rosary was said all together, and I have been to services where some people participate and others meditate alongside.
Were I in your position I would go with your original plan and scrap any statements about "this is an inappropriate way to use these." That way the people in attendance who are not from the Catholic tradition will know what's going on, and feel included without being asked to directly participate in a ritual outside of their own beliefs. If you're respectful, and feel confident that your friend would have appreciated this approach, then you are on safe ground.
I also want to add my condolences, and appreciation for this touching attention to what was important to your friend.
posted by purpletangerine at 11:47 AM on March 16, 2011

The rosary is, as you know, a circle. Why not set up your service so that it starts and ends with some particular thing?

That could be a prayer (in Latin or English -- but try to keep the latin short!), or you could say "Today we're here to remember Greg, what was important to him, and what he meant to us," or even an explicit statement that he found a lot of meaning in the rosary and so you want it to be part of the service where everyone remembers him.

(Note that there are smaller Catholic prayer beads called chaplets. They usually include a medal of a particular saint, plus a set of prayers. I have one for St. Patrick with ten beads; the same store sold one for St. Benedict with I think three beads.)

My uncle was buried eight days ago with a rosary in his hands. To many, it is a very important symbol -- and even those people who don't pray the rosary themselves should recognize its value ot others.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:24 PM on March 16, 2011

One other point: it takes a good long time to say the rosary, especially in a group. You might want to include other forms of remembrance instead of doing all ten decades.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:25 PM on March 16, 2011

I'm sorry for your loss.

wenestvedt's point about the Rosary being long is a good one. I do know that some people are buried holding their Rosary beads, and you may do that; perhaps just that, and a recitation of one of the prayers ("Our Father" or "Hail Mary") in Latin, would suffice, with a brief introduction about why you've chosen that prayer.

But I appreciate the idea of "trying to include something important from Catholicism" in what you're trying to do -- and for that reason, I wouldn't be too worried about form too much. Okay, I swear this is relevant -- but what you're trying to reminded me of an episode of Northern Exposure, where the main character's uncle back in New York dies. He can't make the funeral, so he promises to say the Kaddish where he is in Alaska. And he starts fretting about how he's going to find a Minyan to do that (a quorum of adult Jewish men to pray with him). The town bands together to track down various Jewish men from surrounding communities, trying to find him the requisite number of mourners; but after a while the main character tells them to stop. In the last scene, he explains that he realized that the whole idea of a minyan is to ensure that the mourner is surrounded by his community -- and he realized that this town was his community. So he said he would just say the kaddish in the midst of his new friends, and "while I'm praying, maybe you could just think about someone you loved and lost as much as I loved my uncle," and that would be enough.

My point is, I think that most people are going to understand the reason why you're trying to do this, so if you don't get the form or the ritual exactly right, they're not going to care.

I have another thought I'll memail you about.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:55 PM on March 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Not intending to derail your plans...
I should think that, since your friend was so deeply into the Rosary, he should be buried with his Rosary in his hands. That's pretty traditional. That shouldn't keep you from speaking about the importance of the Rosary to him, though.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:39 PM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hi, Catholic here.

If you've got the time, you'll find the most recent Catholic thinking about the Rosary summarised in the recent Pope JPII's excellent letter here.

I think since the actual funeral will not be a Catholic one you may want to address questions of protocol and propriety primarily to the minister who's going to preside though.

In any case, the use of the Rosary in the Catholic Church is certainly both public and private, and as you say is devotional so it's fairly flexible how it is incorporated.

If you want to learn more about devotionals per se you might do worse than Scott Hahn's recent excellent and very informally-wrtitten book, "Signs of Life: 40 Catholic Customs and Their Biblical Roots"

I don't know exactly which "eight prayers" you are refering to but I would agree with the other posters, a simple sheet with the Latin and English versions would help the guests to understand.

Also agree that in my humble understanding your friend's rosary itself might be buried with him to reflect his devotion. That's the kind of simple, tangible gesture that characterises Catholic devotion both pre- and post-Vatican II.
posted by KMH at 3:34 AM on March 17, 2011

As an afterthought - you may well find stupendously beautful musical settings of the Ave Maria, Pater Noster, Salve Regina etc. in Latin, which you could play at an appropriate point.

The prayers of the Rosary have certainly been set to music, and far more people relate to Latin Church music than to spoken Latin prayers. That may help the congregation to appreciate something of what your friend found in these words.
posted by KMH at 4:10 AM on March 17, 2011

Response by poster: Just wanted to say thanks, everybody!

The service went well - I was able to talk to a priest a few days after I posted this and he gave me some good direction on how to handle it.
The eulogy I wrote was about personal journeys of the spirit and how this particular journey started with the Latin Rosary... then in honor of that journey said a decade in Latin. The Catholics in the audience said that they were moved and I got both the form and the Ecclesiastical Latin pronunciation correct (there were a few who knew what it should sound like, and the Protestants were at worst okay with it and at best impressed by the depth of my friend's experiences. It was the first time many of them had heard it.

So this went well.

Thank You Thank You Thank You.
posted by Tchad at 3:05 PM on March 26, 2011

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