herald

Thursday 21 November 2019

'Ashes to ashes' doesn't mean bringing fags up to the altar, says priest

Fr Tomas Walsh said he has no problem with a GAA club jersey – ‘but very often these are Manchester United or Chelsea tops’
Fr Tomas Walsh said he has no problem with a GAA club jersey – ‘but very often these are Manchester United or Chelsea tops’

A priest has urged families not to bring "appalling" items like cigarettes or beer up to the altar during funeral masses.

Fr Tomas Walsh, of Gurranabraher parish on the northside of Cork, has written in his weekly parish newsletter about what he views as unsuitable items being brought to the altar as offertory gifts.

"Bringing things such as a can of beer, a packet of cigarettes, a remote control, a mobile phone, or a football jersey does not tell us anything uplifting about the person who has died," he wrote.

"Surely items such as a flower, a family photograph, a prayer book or rosary reveals far more about the person who has died - and the loss he/she is to the family who grieve."

Faith

Speaking to the Herald, Fr Walsh said the majority of people who offer "inappropriate gifts" are from families of little or no faith.

"A can of beer or a carton of cigarettes tells nothing beautiful about a person's life," he said.

"I find when there's not much faith present you can get appalling things really. One day I saw a massive box of washing detergent being brought up.

"Very often it might have been the drink or smokes that had killed the person in the first place.

"It's like saying, 'Mary was a chain smoker so let's bring up a packet of cigarettes' or, 'Jimmy was an alcoholic so let's offer up a can of beer'.

"I would have no problem if someone was heavily involved in their local GAA club and wanted to bring up their jersey, but very often these are Manchester United or Chelsea tops.

"I'm not trying to force anyone to stop offering these types of items, but simply to reflect on the gifts that truly represent their loved one's lives.

"I always meet families before funerals and would tell them if a particular offertory gift was inappropriate, but if they're insistent I would always let it go ahead."

Fr Walsh also expressed frustration with eulogies that go on "for as long as the mass itself, and sometimes longer".

He said a funeral mass is simply about praying for the dead.

"A requiem mass is essentially the coming together of the family along with the believing community to pray for the person who has died," he added.

"At the hour of death - as we begin the journey home to God and to judgment - we desperately need God's mercy and forgiveness, no matter how edifying a person's life may seem."

Since the publication of his newsletter, Fr Walsh said the reaction has been mixed.

"On Facebook you would get a lot of criticism, people are accusing me of saying things I've never said," he added.

"The whole objective was to just get people thinking."

In an interview with The Echo newspaper in Cork earlier this year, Fr Walsh criticised parents who are selecting non-believers as godparents to their children.

The priest said many times parents chose godparents who had "no faith at all" and who have "no intention in overseeing the child's faith formation" making a promise in the church and "lying in the face of God".

"Even more outrageous is the presence of godparents who believe nothing themselves and are permitted to make promises to God that they will oversee the faith formation of the godchild."

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