Thursday, February 9, 2012

Alleluias in Lenten Funerals?

In a Facebook group for pastors using the Historic Lectionary, Fr. Jordan McKinley asked:
"The LSB removes the Alleluias during funerals in Lent. What is the motivation behind this? Should they remain? I checked TLA and Lang, but neither really say anything about it (that I saw)."

Off list (not all the Gotteseditors are on Facebook), prompted by Fr. Jason Braaten, the Gottes-editors have been throwing around their uninformed opinions on whether Alleluias are appropriate for funerals in Lent. In standard Gottesidenst fashion, we don't quite agree and found a few extreme positions.

My gut reaction is that TLH did something wrong to us in this regard. In the Roman rite there are fully propers for funerals and weddings. I think that as long as the church has been using colors they have been thought of as part of the propers. So the The Lutheran Liturgy rubric demands that the paraments not be changed for weddings is stupid. Yet some LCMS pastors act as though it is the mark of orthodoxy. Imagine that! But I think that if the paraments aren't changed then the readings and hymns shouldn't be either. At Redeemer, we change the paraments. Weddings are white. So are funerals.

Our pall is white. The paraments match. The hymns are Easter hymns and so are the readings. So we sing Alleluias - even if it is in the midst of Lent. We don't follow the Roman rite. There the color is black. I wasn't advocating following the Roman rite merely pointing out that there is a strong precedent for weddings and funerals having their own propers. I think black for funerals is worse than unnecessary. I think it is slightly off. But guess who disagrees? Fr. Curtis.

Curtis wants old-fashioned requiems with black on the altar and no Alleluias no matter what the season. Not that he is doing that in Worden, of course, it is just that he is saying we've lost something in this Easter emphasis. What? Sadness. Funerals are sad. Black and no Alleluias acknowledge that. Thus they give voice to the real and sanctified pain that the mourners are enduring. This isn't in any way a denial of the resurrection and the joy we have in Christ.

But is an Easter emphasis an implied denial of sanctified mourning? He might be on to something. Are we forcing our piety on the mourning by insisting they sing robust Easter hymns when they just don't feel like it? Again, I don't think so. I think we are leading them to confess against themselves and showing them where to find comfort. But I agree that it could be oppressive and we should be sensitive to their pain.

Fr. Beane came in also. I think he was advocating a position that gibes with our practice here at Redeemer. And Fr. Stuckwisch came in. He said a bunch of very smart things, qualified precisely, but refrained from saying anything negative about LSB or taking a dogmatic position. He, of course, is the smart one and also serves as the anti-Curtis. We're glad to have him around for that. We hope he gives us some credibility.

I hope they will chime in the comments because I am too lazy to try and repeat everything that was said and they are also known to change their minds. Thanks to Fr. McKinley for bringing this up. Please feel free to jump in on the comments and pool your ignorance with ours, or, if you actually know something, to post that as well.


  1. Well, here's what I wrote on facebook at about the same time as Petersen did:

    The question of alleluias for Lenten funerals is not best answered by appealing to what the alleluia confesses, it seems to me, but by the tradition of omitting it at all, and the purpose for its omission. I'm gathering that our problem here is that (as usual) we don't quite remember the tradition. But Brian Westgate's reference to black for funerals reminded me that the Lutheran funeral's tradition derives from the requiem, and in some cases, still *is* a requiem. I don't believe there are ever any alleluias in a requiem, whether during Lent or even during Eastertide.

  2. This is what I wrote on Facebook:

    I figure that the A word is one of the better ways to say "up yours" to Satan, so I fill funerals with it to the brim, even if it's Good Friday.

    I really appreciate Fr. Petersen's post. When I'm being more evenminded about this, I would try to say it in a very similar way. In the end, I bet a funeral service at Redeemer and at Saint John's would look very similar to one another.

    1. There are no funerals on Good Friday, though, are there?

  3. I will chime in. I think the problem is that (once again) we have competing traditions. We can't make up our minds what kind of evangelical catholics we are: pre- or post- Vatican II.

    This explains a lot of our liturgical confusion (and the fact that we have five orders of Mass in our hymnal). This also explains why we have "and with your spirit" and "and with thy spirit" and "and also with you" as responses to "the Lord be with you."

    I think it would be helpful to pick one or the other. But of course, we (in the LCMS) can't even agree on whether or not to have clowns, dancing girls, and speed-metal guitar at our worship services. We lack not only consensus but even the authority to come to a decision.

    Think of this scenario (not a true story, but it could happen)...

    Grandma Schmidt ("Maw Maw") is a Lutheran in New Orleans. On Mardi Gras, she gets hit in the head by a coconut tossed from an overzealous guy in a parade float. She dies with a smile on her face, covered in beads, and still clutching her frozen daiquiri in a styrofoam cup (this is a very realistic story...). Since the next day is Ash Wednesday, Grandma Schmidt's Friday funeral is held in Lent according to the LSB rubrics ("do the red..."). The rule is no Alleluias. This restricts us from a good number of Easter hymns. As a preacher, I sometimes weave hymn phrases into my proclamation. But now, the fact that Grandma Schmidt died happy on Mardi Gras affects the proclamation of the Gospel at her funeral.

    Fast-forward to Good Friday. Her grieving widower, Grandpa Schmidt ("Paw Paw") is walking to the noon service, sadly remembering his wife's fateful encounter with a Mardi Gras missile six weeks earlier. He steps off the neutral ground right into a moving streetcar and dies. So we hold his funeral on Easter Monday. Now, being a good "do the red" confessional Lutheran, I can use those Easter hymns and can also preach the resurrection more fully as it falls in line with the rubrics allowing alleluias - all because Paw Paw died six weeks later than his wife.

    Is it really supposed to be this way?

    I think we should decide which tradition to follow. Are funerals (as Fr. Curtis argues) a sad time in which we suppress our alleluias - kind of a Lenten service regardless of the season, or are they (as Fr. Petersen posits) a time of white paraments with alleluias - a kind of Easter service regardless of the season?

    Is this something we should standardize? Is this an adiaphoron? Is this decided by local custom? I don't know, but I don't think there should be different funerals just because Maw Maw got hit by a Zulu coconut and Paw Paw got run over by a streetcar.

  4. In my opinion Lenten Funeral's are really Easter Liturgies and therefore "trump" the whole lenten thing. In this regard because they trump the Lenten season they are in there (for us).

    I am all for burying the Alleluias in Lent but we have to remember that the whole church year centers around the resurrection of Christ. Without Easter Sunday their would be no hope that our penitential season would be ending. It is because of Easter we can and should restore the Alleluias during lenten funerals because they are not lenten services but rather Easter liturgies.

  5. I've not been content with the LSB rubric on following the season. For one thing, most of the attendees to our funerals are clueless of the church calendar. That said, I do like to follow the suggestions in the "Resources for Christian Burial" in the LSB Agenda with Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany hymns. And a second thing, I stick to the same propers including the hymns. I inherited them from my vicarage and find them to be in harmony.

    LSB and my other funeral preaching resources are heavy-duty on the Easter emphasis. I've stuck to that. Yet, I can imagine putting the Requiem on the lips of the people. Is there a place for grief and mourning in a funeral AND proclamation of the resurrection? Sure thing.

    Perhaps there is a fundamental difference between a Lutheran and Papist funeral mass? It ought not surprise us. Not only do we emphasize a confident confession and sure hope (hence, Easter) but also we emphasize the corporate song of the people. That's why we're sensitive the people leaving (at least) with Easter on their lips. But perhaps, they could also leave singing on of the better parts of the Dies Irae? "Merciful Jesus, who takes away the sins of the world, grant them rest. Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant them rest everlasting."

  6. This discussion does have several hinges, that is, several other ways of being framed. Is a requiem proper for Lutherans (do you really want to go there)? Is the dies irae a good sequence, or not? If ever there was a dirge inherited from the middle ages, it is the dies irae. And yet I find it a wonderful hymn. It grieves. It weeps, but most importantly it weeps for our sins. So it puts mourning in the right perspective. That is, it doesn't skirt past the day of mourning (as the alleluia tends to do), but channels it properly.

  7. This is a strange thing; a Sequence in conjunction with a TRACT! Sequences go with Alleluias, not tracts . . .

  8. I vote for propers. It seems we have personalized funerals without the propers to guide us and so funerals have been tailored in church toward the person who died (just as they are in the funeral home). I do what most all of us (except change the paraments and use the Alleluia which seems almost peripheral to this whole discussion) but I would welcome propers and, to be frank, I miss black. Death is still death even in the Easter season. The hope we proclaim has not minimized death but dealt with it head on. I tire of church funerals which are called victory celebrations (the equivalent of the celebrations of life in the funeral home) in which death is minimized. I think it is much more forceful that we meet death as fully real with a life even more fully real, given us in Christ, neither as consolation prize or to avoid death but its real and true answer.

    I am inclined to vote with Curtis on this (though perhaps because I am old and can remember the old days prior to Vatican II).

  9. According to the rite, in a requiem the Alleluia is replaced by a tract, and the sequence follows the tract. No alleluia.

  10. As to what the tradition of the Western Church is, it is to have no alleluia at all at any time of year for a funeral. "There is no Gloria in excelsis Deo and no recitation of the Creed; the Alleluia chant before the Gospel is replaced by a Tract, as in Lent; and the Agnus Dei is altered."

    That's the old Missa pro defunctis. Today in the Roman Church this has been relaxed. This is from a Commentary on the Order of Christian Funerals (OCF) put out by the diocese of Columbus Ohio.

    "Special attention should be given to the selection of an appropriate Gospel acclamation verse from the list found
    in OCF Part III: “Texts of Sacred Scripture” and in the Lectionary (Nos. 792 & 797). ***The use of other than Alleluia verses during Lent should be respected.***
    In the Alleluia, or Gospel acclamation, the community welcomes the Lord who is about to speak
    to it. 'If the Alleluia is not sung, it is omitted.' (OCF, No. 140)"

    [The allelulia is always omitted in the Vigil of the Deceased, even today.]

    So, the LSB rubric actually follows the Roman Catholic rubrics since 1989.

    Frankly, I like the old requiem better. Funerals are sad. They get tracts. Nobody feels like belting out Alleluias just then. And that's OK. "Alleluia cannot always be our song below." This business of every funeral a little Easter, I think, is a new thing. Funerals are sad. The dead are not yet raised. The great Alleluia shall come at the end of time for these. Until then we mourn - in hope, but we mourn.

    But, you know, whatever: even the pope gave up on the Requiem. . . and Petersen is right. Funerals here get white with LSB's funeral "dry Mass" with Alleluias omitted only during Lent. Just another of the many occasions where I don't get my druthers. . .


  11. Funerals are certainly sad. No one can deny that. However, we ought not mourn as those without hope, as Paul commends to us. Alleluia is a prayer prayed against our flesh that God graciously places upon our lips in times of joy and in times of sadness. If we waited until our flesh wanted God's name to be hallowed, His kingdom to come, and His will to be done, we'd never pray the Lord's Prayer.

    The alleluia (and easter hymnody) are the "words of eternal life" that Christ himself gives to us to confess His resurrection and the coming resurrection of all of the dead. These words preach to us the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection of the dead at a time when we need it the most.

    Take this post with a grain of salt. I've not consulted the historical practice any further back than the TLH "stuff," and I'm only a vicar.

  12. I have no intention of addressing alleluias-or-not during Lent. But I did notice Pastor Petersen's statement: "Are we forcing our piety on the mourning by insisting they sing robust Easter hymns when they just don't feel like it? Again, I don't think so."

    Isn't that why there should be people at a funeral who are not in the depths of mourning? Friends are there. People from church are there. Sure, they miss the person and are grieving. But they aren't mourning with the same depth of woe as is the widow or the children or whoever else might be particularly distraught. And those people are bringing comfort to the bereaved, speaking to them in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. No, the mourners may not be able to robustly sing of the resurrection. They may be crying so hard they're about to barf. But the ONLY comfort they have is in God's word and His promises, and we need to hear those promises when all our experiences scream at us that God doesn't care and He's lost control of my world.

    Can't pastors have some sensitivity to where the mourners are, what they need, and tend to these little children God has placed in their care, without a one-size-fits-all rule? (Like I said, I'm not talking about alleluias-or-not; I'm talking about what y'all are saying about hymn choices and what's preached in the sermon regarding an Easter-emphases versus sympathy for the grief of the bereaved.)

  13. I think you make a good point, Susan. Of course, it's not easy to have sensitivity to where mourners are as in any group, they are likely to be all over the place.

    In my most recent funeral, the son and husband of the deceased specifically asked for an Easter hymn that had a bunch of alleluias. We're in pre-Lent - so the alleluia question is even more sticky. Fr. Eckardt scolded me for having alleluias at all this time of year. But pre-Lent is known in New Orleans as "Carnival" - so it's a little complicated. And I scolded him right back for being a dour yankee. :-)

    My issue is that the way our rubrics currently read, the use or non-use of that Easter hymn at a funeral is dictated by the church year. Had this funeral been three weeks later, technically, I should have told them that they could not have that hymn. Is this what the intention of the church year is? The AC confesses that the chief purpose of ceremonies is to teach. Is there a lesson in there regarding the time of year a person dies? In fact, by superceding the church calendar, we are confessing that the person is no longer bound by time but has entered eternity.

    My argument is that this shouldn't be a calendar issue. I think your idea to make it a matter of pastoral care is a good one. On the one hand, it is not a good thing when everyone does "what is right in his own eyes." On the other side of the coin, the liturgy was made for man, not man for the liturgy. Pastors certainly have discretion to make exceptions. Chapel at Fort Wayne on Sept 11, 2011 was changed at the last minute. I thuink that reflected responsible pastoral care.

    I think we need to really talk through what the purpose of a funeral is, as well as what the purpose of removing the alleluias is. And we should decide whether a funeral takes precedence over the church calendar, or vice versa.

    Thanks for your excellent commentary!

  14. But remember that there is a certain laudable logic to the one-size-fits-all rules of the liturgy. We are all sinners, etc.

    In the current debate, nobody is saying we should not comfort the bereaved with news of the resurrection. What I am hearing in the arguments put forth in favor of retaining alleluias for funerals are arguments that could also be made in favor of retaining them throughout Lent, which therefore remain unconvincing.

  15. I wonder if Fr. Beane's comments don't count, for the simple reason that he lives in New Orleans. ;)

  16. Fritz, I know what you mean about how you could make the argument that alleluias could be retained through Lent ... at least on the Sundays. And yet, there is only one funeral per person. I agree with Pastor Beane -- the church calendar was made for man, and not man for the church calendar. And I'm agreeing with Pastor P -- in the midst of grief (even if we can't say it ourselves but can only hear someone else say it) we confess against ourselves and hang onto our hope. "I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting." What is said at the funeral is not for that day only. It resonates in the heart and mind and soul for weeks, for months, maybe even for years.

    (Full Disclosure: I detest the goodbye-to-alleluia thing that has come upon us in the last decade or so. No, I don't want to be singing alleluias in church and in family prayer during Lent. But when there's a focus on the rite instead of the One to whom the rites/rubrics point, there's a problem. I get irritated when I hear about kids who act as if an "alleluia" sung in the laundry room during Lent is tantamount to profanity in its naughtiness.)

    When I ask you to be a pall-bearer, I hope you'll carry the casket even in Lent, even if there's an "Alleluia! Christ is risen" spoken that day. And when I come to your funeral or Carol's, I'll keep my "alleluias" private, in the car on the way to the cemetery and on my way home afterwards. Deal?

  17. Susan, I'm not saying I would never cave to what's 'in' these days; I'm just saying that there is value in knowing the tradition and its reasons, and that I think the reasons put forward in favor of retaining the alleluia in a funeral are no better than reasons put forward for retaining it during Lent.

    Meanwhile, I like the "We do not now deserve to sing thee, O Alleluia; guilt forces us to dismiss thee, O Alleluia; for the time approaches in which we must weep for our sins." That's not focusing on the rite itself, but is a lamentation over sin, which is a good thing.

  18. A couple humble, pre-vicarage seminarian thoughts:
    As for the color of the funeral pall, a rather wonderful benefit of having a white pall, in my opinion, is the reminder of that person's baptism into Christ. Whether or not the custom of using white was originally intended to draw this connection to the baptismal garment, it is nevertheless a powerful symbol. Maybe this is all a matter of weighing out Law and Gospel. The Law is represented by the casket with a dead body inside; the Gospel by the white pall, proclaiming that this person was washed clean in baptism and made God's own child. In like manner, the dirt poured on the casket at the burial is the Law, but the shape of the cross is the Gospel. In this modern society where we are prevented more and more from dealing with the reality of death, perhaps a more intentional character of mourning for our sins is needed at funerals. But if the Gospel doesn't have the last word, then something's wrong. Sure, you could clothe the altar and casket in black and omit alleluias and still have a Gospel-filled sermon, readings, hymns, etc, just as you could dress everything in white and come short of proclaiming the Gospel...

    One other thought: not all Easter hymns are created equal. I realize that using my personal experience may seem to make me immune to criticism (though I truly welcome it), but I'm going to do it anyway. At my wife's funeral we sang I Know that My Redeemer Lives, and I am hard-pressed to think of a more appropriate funeral hymn ("He lives and grants me daily breath; he lives and I shall conquer death..."). While it is an Easter hymn, I don't think I would have felt the same way about all, or even most other Easter hymns. This is getting rather subjective, I know, but unlike many other Easter hymns, this one is not overly-giddy in its music, and it doesn't have any alleluias, but it still boldly proclaims the resurrection - so it should please everyone! :)

  19. I just now saw the other thread running today. I think what I was trying to say here was said much better by Rick over there. (No surprise there, eh?)

  20. I currently keep everything in line with the season, but only because it is what LSB says to do, and this is all I have ever known.

    I do like Fr. Curtis' hankering for the black sadness. Every other funeral that I have ever been to has been a "celebration of life," in which the person apparently didn't even die, but just moved to a cooler phase of life where you get to do all the things you love. I leave these funerals wanting to die because it sounds so awesome. Maybe swinging the pendulum all the way to the other side of the spectrum could be a healthy correction? It could give the wrong impression if the sanctuary is bedecked in white and sounds like Easter. We don't celebrate death. I don't sing Alleluia when someone died. The death of a Christian is not a little Easter, but a little Good Friday. Our Easter will come eventually... but it is not when we die.

  21. I don't care about what colors we use, I want another poll!

  22. This: "We don't celebrate death. I don't sing Alleluia when someone died. The death of a Christian is not a little Easter, but a little Good Friday. Our Easter will come eventually... but it is not when we die" hits the nail on the head. Well said, K!

  23. So, then, what do you do with Paul's "to live is Christ, and to die is gain; I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better"?

  24. I understand the line "death is a little Good Friday not a little Easter." However, in Christ, since when do we separate the two? Even when the Lord was announcing His impending death, He always told the disciples about His impending resurrection.

    The death of a Christian is not merely a Good Friday, but carries with it the iron-clad promise of eternal life. "If a kernel of wheat does not fall to the ground..."

    In our culture (which is largely post- if not anti-Christian) there is a grave (pun intended) dualism at work in people's minds. A few years ago, a prominent "commissioned minister" in our district published a "children's message" that when a grandparent dies, the body goes in the trash like a used candy wrapper. Non-Christians think this way - as do, sad to say, many Christians. We think about spirits and harps, clouds, and little children turning into angels (a local RC priest actually said this concerning a child who had recently died). The resurrection cuts through all of this superstition and heresy and delivers the living Christ. Why would we forego this at funeral?

    Many people think the resurrection is symbolic or mythological. A funeral is a good time to blast through that and bring home the reality and the promise of what we confess in the creeds, what Jesus accomplished in the flesh, and what is delivered to us in baptism (as in Romans 6 where Paul proclaims baptism, death, and life all together): a bodily, literal, physical resurrection. We have re-entered the first century. We are combating the heresy of the pagan Greeks.

    So, yes, preach Good Friday at a Christian funeral. Preach the Law. But don't forget about Easter Sunday. Preach the resurrection. Preach the Gospel. There may have been a time when we could assume people knew Easter followed Good Friday, but those days are over.

  25. Piggy-backing on what Pr Beane said, I've noticed that funerals are one of a pastor's best evangelism opportunities. It's the time when you've got unbelievers sitting there in the pew, and they might even tune in here & there to catch part of what the pastor is saying. And yes, even Christians believe in a non-bodily "resurrection" (whatever-the-heck THAT is).

  26. The gnostic Christian funeral is all too prevalent. Somehow we've forgotten that our bodies are actually worth something and aren't just pieces of garbage that we throw away. Poor commissioned ministers who don't know any better. I can't blame them. They were brought up and educated in the same gnostic church that I was.

    Yes, we have the promise of Easter, but at the funeral, it is just that, a promise. That body is not risen yet. Just as Christ lay in the tomb three days, so will this body have its rest in death. I don't know about you, but I think Christ's death is still an incredibly sad event, even though I know what happened.

    As for Paul, he says this thing about being with the Lord, but yet he does not advise that anyone kill themselves. Why not? Why doesn't he do the deed himself? If it really is so much better to die, what is keeping us from suicide? Its a sin sure, but when has that ever kept me from not doing something?

  27. Susan - I certainly do think that the funeral is a good chance for people to hear the gospel who usually would not be in my church. This is why I want to tell them that death is bad and that they don't have to go around being happy about people whom they love dying. The gospel though is that we don't mourn like those who have no hope. We do have hope, that this hopelessly dead person will rise in glory, just like Christ did. That is the hope of Good Friday, and it is the Christian's hope at a funeral.

    I've rarely heard this at any funeral though. Most of the time you hear that good old Sam is playing golf in heaven, which is why you aren't supposed to be sad. That, friends, is not the gospel.

  28. If I can risk going off-topic for a moment, I just wanted to chime in and thank you all for an edifying discussion. It also opened my eyes to the fact that not even the editors of Gottesdienst have it all their way in their own parishes. There are some things they'd like to see different, but for whatever reason -- local custom, pastoral sensitivity, what have you -- they put others' wishes or hangups ahead of their own for the sake of love. That was illuminating for me to see, and also encouraging for a callow young shepherd. Thank you and keep up the good work.


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