I’ve always heard - don’t speak evil of the dead !
When John McCain died - I read bad comments on YouTube.
Very bad things.
Anyways, I mentioned it to a Older man at church.
He said most saints - didn’t get a nice send off ( like McCain did)
Obviously the early church martyrs didn’t.
Then he said - ( and this is my question )
that eulogies didn’t take place in the old days.
I looked at him puzzled.
He said - basically - people didn’t go up to podiums and praise the corpse in the casket -
Why ? I asked.
He said - because people would no longer pray for the dead - if they landed in purgatory.
We should not canonize the dead immediately after their passing. The kind of hagiography that we see today is shocking: “Bob went to Heaven last night to be with his Lord.” Playing Sinatra’s ‘My Way’ at a funeral(!)
Well, when he spoke to me - it sounded convincing -
“ they speak so wonderful, so highly, as if the dead person were a Saint…”
It didn’t sound right - but maybe in the day…?
“ everyone assumes the corpse went to Heaven…it’s not necessarily true “
I agreed with him there ( nodded )
“ they may still need our prayers “ etc
I do remember reading about a priest,
this was long ago, but the priest said the corpse went to hell !
The congregation was shocked - and the priest went on and on -
Many became Catholic - etc
The first thing that comes to mind is that some of the Church Fathers wrote eulogies. Here is St. Jerome’s eulogy for his friend Fabiola. And here is St. Gregory Nazianzen’s eulogy for his friend St. Basil the Great. So yeah, eulogies happened in the old days.
A corpse is a human body in which the soul no longer dwells. Death is the separation of the soul from the body. So it would have to be the soul that goes to Heaven (or some other destination/state) - not the corpse. Each of us will be united again with our human body at the General Judgement - when time will end.
As far as a priest saying that a particular soul “went to Hell” . . . I don’t believe that the Church has ever definitively proclaimed, who in particular (human) is in Hell. Hell is real. But we don’t know the name of any human soul who may be there - only the name of the head of the fallen angels.
One of the reasons eulogies are not permitted at funeral Masses, is that they can deter us from praying for the dead - which is one of the main purposes of a funeral Mass. Even the brief words of remembrance which are permitted at a funeral Mass can be prone to the same type of distortion/abuse on occasion. Imagine if someone were to proclaim at the actual funeral Mass of a particular soul, that the same particular soul were in Hell : It would defeat the entire purpose of the funeral.
He is quite mistaken. Actually , logically, the souls in Purgatory are the only ones helped by our prayers when we pray for the deceased. The souls already in Heaven do not need us to pray for them, and the souls in Hell do not want us to pray for them
The doctor knew that some time had passed since he had received the letter and the girl was at death’s door. He was perplexed by Padre Pio’s assurance that all was done, that the request for prayer would work.
Padre Pio continued, “Maybe you don’t know that I can pray even now for the happy death of my great-grandfather.”
“But he has been dead for many, many years,” replied the doctor.
“I know that too,” said Padre Pio. “Let me explain by giving you an example. You and I both die, and through the good fortune and the goodness and mercy of the Lord we are obliged to stay in purgatory for 100 years. During these years nobody prays for us or has a Mass offered for the release of our souls. The 100 years pass and somebody thinks of Padre Pio and the good doctor and has Masses offered. For the Lord, the past does not exist; the future does not exist. Everything is an eternal present. Those prayers had already been taken into account so that even now I can pray for the happy death of my great-grandfather! Do you really think the Lord needs our bureaucracy– that somebody has to ask for a grace on a piece of paper and bring it to Padre Pio?”
The focus of the mass is always God and Christ’s eternal sacrifice. Liturgically there just isn’t an appropriate place for a eulogy at a mass. You can eulogize during visitation/vigil/wake or lunch after mass, as those times the focus is directly on the deceased.
There is the unfortunate tendency to canonize the deceased in eulogies - even if they weren’t a particularly good person. Eulogies tend to declare the matter settled and the deceased safely tucked away in heaven, no need to pray for them and no need to live a particularly virtuous life ourselves.
I think when people are admonished for speaking evil of the dead, in a sense I think it’s wrong to lay a personal attack or make malicious remarks about someone when they are no longer living and able to defend themselves, especially when their reputation is in question. Generally I’m talking about Average Joe Public neighbor who is living down the street. It’s a cheap shot, if you will. Though I suppose if someone publicly known as a confessed murderer and has passed away, it’s probably a different situation where everyone knows what they’ve done since it’s common public knowledge, though it’s still a sin against charity to just speak ill of them and not pray for them.
That said it’s not right to “canonize” people at their funerals and just assume they’re in heaven, either, because then people neglect to pray for them. I am not old enough to remember but I am guessing a lot of funerals were more solemn in the past and people took more care to pray for the dead.