Friday, June 1, 2007


For a little over 20 years, organists in the Diocese of Providence have collected their fee for funerals independently from the undertaker, and sometimes the family of the deceased.

Effective July 1, 2007, that will change. Per order Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, the new policy will be that the undertaker cuts one check to the parish for everything, including music, and the parish cuts the check for the musician. This new policy has only one con - the fact that I have to now wait till payday instead of getting the funeral check the day of the funeral. I can get used to that. Compared to the many pros in this new policy, the one con is nothing. The bishop's reasoning for the new policy is impeccable.

The reason for the new policy is so that parishes (namely musicians and especially pastors) can gain control over the music played at parish funerals, thus taking the "big head" off the undertaker who feels that since he's paying the musician directly that he's "bought" the musician and now owns him/her until the funeral Mass is over, and giving the pastor the opportunity to exercise his responsibility in liturgy (a responsibility the pastor actually has had all along, but now doesn't feel so intimidated). In the case of quite a few, you'll find some pastors who could give a rat's behind about the quality of music used at funerals - you know, the ones who think "pastoral" means "give'em what they want". In the case of a few more around here, I think some more pastors will put their two cents in, as will more musicians.

Here are some examples of what could be prevented:

1. I can remember one phone call from an undertaker who asked me for Danny Boy. I was working in a parish in my hometown back then. When I told him it was inappropriate for liturgy, his response was "Well, St. Raymond's plays it, and so does St. Mary's, and there's no problem there". My response to that line of crap was "Well, just because it's popular doesn't mean it's right". He said "Whatever!" and hung up.

2. I spent eight years as organist/music director for Precious Blood Church in Woonsocket. The pastor who I worked for during the first 6-1/2 years there was excellent. However, the undertakers in Woonsocket (most of them at the time) had a tendency of making their own rules. Some even tried to override the diocesan policy on fees by making their own "fee scale". They also had a line of soloists from the area ready for work as the undertaker would try to push a soloist into the family's funeral plans. Their "fee scale" meant that the full fee, normally given to the organist was now split in half - and for having to accomodate the soloist, who nine times out of ten liked to put on a show of their own. The pastor put a stop to that (at that parish anyways) after I said something to one undertaker and I made him call the rectory.

3. Here's something that recently happened in England, but I'll let you go over to Domini Sumus to read it. Yes, there are pastors in England who exercise control. In the case of this English priest, Fr. Brosnan, he treated the funeral Mass as a parish liturgy, not a private one, and he was absolutely right in doing so. DS writes in her own commentary, "Maybe he wasn't feeling well, was tired, or just having a bad day. Maybe she imagined a completely personalized me-centered Mass". For some reason, I picture the latter being the reality, which may have gotten to this pastor and resulting in the former, but from the article, like DS, I can only find fault in the handling of a picture that was on the casket and moved to the floor.

Thankfully, my pastor does exercise control over the funeral Mass, regardless of who's handing who the checks. And he trusts his hired help, including yours truly (his organist/music director) to make the right musical decisions. He doesn't ask me to change much, but when he does, it's for the right reasons.

As for the new order by Bishop Tobin, I'm for it all the way. Pastors may now feel more strength in saying "This is MY parish. The rules of the Church apply here." They really should have felt it all along, but this might be a good wake-up call.



DominiSumus said...

I like that new policy. I have one funeral home that I have to chase down on a regular basis.

That same funeral home sounds like the one you mentioned in Woonsocket. Until my parish instituted a bench fee, they would bring in their own organist and soloist for every funeral. They also tried changing the fee scale. They also came up with some of the weirdest requests I have ever recieved...and it turns out they came from the undertaker, not the family.

PhiMuAlpha2681 said...

This is what we do for weddings, although it goes through the Rectory checking account, not the general ledger, so I don't have to wait until the next payday to get my wedding stipends.


Jason Pennington said...

This is also good in regards to the selection of singers for funerals. Our two funeral homes in Lafayette like to upstage the church singers by sending their own crooners. If they paid the church like this, I could get my own singers and make life a whole lot easier than having to wait for the singer(s) to make a mad dash into the church 2 minutes before aunt Nellie come's rollin' down the aisle and to touch base with the singers about what it is that's on the playlist, make my beef, cut Beagles' Screams, find alternative sacred music, all in time for the crucifix to turn around in the narthex and the procession to begin.....


Brian Michael Page said...

Weddings don't get hit in the new policy yet. I still collect from the couple. Here's the letter that the pastors got from the chancellor (which was forwarded to me):

"I write to inform you that after consultation with the Council of Priests, the Most Reverend Thomas J. Tobin has indicated a change in policy for the compensation of musicians/soloists on the occasion of a Church funeral.
This policy clarifies that the parish, not the funeral home, is the agent for services provided by the musician/soloist. The funeral directors will be instructed to forward the offering and musician fee to the parish. The parish, as the agent, will compensate the musician/soloist in keeping with the IRS and the State of Rhode Island reporting regulations. The Rhode Island Funeral Directors Association has been informed of this policy, which goes into effect on July 1, 2007. This will also be included in the new Book of Faculties for Priests and Deacons.
The change is to prevent any misunderstanding or perception that, since the funeral home or the family secured the services of the musician/soloist, someone other than the pastor can now approve of the music selected for a Church funeral. This clarifies the rights and obligations of both the parish and the funeral home."

BTW - now that Jason finally has a pic in his Blogger profile, we should take all three of the pics and caption it "The three bearded snarks". hehehe


Mr. C said...

I have a beard.... but I fail the Snark test simply by being from CA!
But I shall wreak my vengeance and havoc soon in DC! Nick, you're going, I know. Jason, BMP????
BTW, Jason, your new pic proffers a more Acadian visage, like a brunette version of the actor Will Patton. Very nice.
I suspect from Brian's last comment the real prime mover in this move was the IRS. It's amazing how large regulatory agencies that have the authority, ability and muscle to garner revenue legally just to further their own existences, stumble upon these little anomalies like funeral stipends (which way did dey go, which way did dey go?) and put the hammer down on those quaint, quiet customs.
When really not having ANYTHING to think about, I sometimes wonder if there are snoops from the Library of Congress, or OCP, or Blockbusters out and about? Or do they just invent new ways and means to make us buy the same things four or five times over again, and then adverstise the crap outta such stuff. I mean, has anyone considered that Steve Jobs could be the Antichrist!
Aunt Nellies are the lucky ones!

Brian Michael Page said...

Basically, Charles, the parish would have to report my funeral earnings instead of the undertaker. There is a beauty to that too - in my case, a W2 from the parish as opposed to a 1099 from the undertaker. What the bishop really intended here, however, is the authoritative issue - that misconception that the undertaker owns you.

I'm thinking kinda like a Pep Boys type deal with the bearded snarks promo. You ever see those guys? The one on the very right looks a lot like Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI).


PhiMuAlpha2681 said...


No I'm not going to DC. Baby is due to arrive in about 4 weeks. Will be going to Tucson in January for the AGO regional.

Next year.