Sunday, December 16, 2007

Church's Danny Boy fiasco insults 9/11 heroes

We found out the hard way this week that the Roman Catholic Church has banned the song "Danny Boy" from funerals. Is that an outrage or what? Ask any Irish Catholic, who grew up with Danny Boy as a sacred anthem, or who remember it being played at the funeral of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. And we've found that the arrogant, arbitrary and cruel ruling by the National Council of Bishops that's followed blindly by paedophile-protecting bishops and cardinals in shrinking and money-starved dioceses is even more of a slap in the face to the faithful than what we'd felt: the decision came down sometime around September 11th, 2001, as this Associated Press article reveals:

Diocese says 'Danny Boy'
not appropriate at Mass

Oct. 24, 2001

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island (AP) The ballad Danny Boy has long been played at funerals, wakes and memorial services, its mournful strains conjuring up images of Ireland's green pastures and wind-swept hills. New York Fire Chief Peter Ganci, killed in the World Trade Center attack, actor Carroll O'Connor and John F. Kennedy Jr. all were laid to rest with the plaintive melody.

So when the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence banned Danny Boy and other secular songs from funeral Masses, it raised the ire of Irish-Americans. "I want Danny Boy sung at my funeral Mass and, if it isn't, I'm going to get up and walk out," retired Pawtucket police officer Charlie McKenna wrote in April to The Providence Visitor.

The weekly diocesan newspaper got dozens of letters, some from as far away as California, urging Bishop Robert E. Mulvee to reverse his decision -- at least when it came to Danny Boy. So far, he hasn't.

"The controversy took on a life of its own," said the Rev. Bernard A. Healey, theological consultant to the Visitor. "I don't blame people, but really it's a lack of understanding of what a funeral Mass is supposed to be. It's about their connection with Jesus Christ and the church, not their connection with the Emerald Isle."

Other bishops have left the question of funeral music up to parish priests.

The Archdiocese of New York, which has buried scores of police officers and firefighters since Sept. 11, often playing Danny Boy at the service, usually discourages the use of secular music during Mass. "All music played at church services should be liturgically appropriate music," said Joe Zwilling, a spokesman for the archdiocese. "But we don't have a policy about any one song, or a list of songs that can't be used."

Besides lacking the appropriate piety, the song itself can counter what funeral services are supposed to accomplish, Healey said. "Part of what I do at a funeral Mass is try to lift people's spirits," he said. "But the song is emotionally manipulative. Everything I've spent the last hour working toward is gone within two minutes because everyone is reduced to tears."

Despite its popularity among Irish-Americans, the song's lyrics were actually penned by an Englishman, Frederick Edward Weatherly, in 1913, and set to the tune of the 17th century Irish folk song, Londonderry Aire. Danny Boy tells the tale of an Irish lad called to military duty by the sound of distant bagpipes, and a loved one who promises to wait for him. '"Tis I'll be here in sunshine or in shadow / Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so," go the wistful lyrics.

The tune has long been cherished by police officers and firefighters, who identify with its message, McKenna said. "Danny's answering a call, and it's uncertain whether he's going to return or not," he said. "If you think about it, a policeman and a fireman, they do the same thing. What happened in New York is a perfect example." Also, fire and police departments have historically been dominated by Irishmen, another reason why Danny Boy is often blown on the bagpipes during ceremonies for fallen officers.

Tom Deignan, a columnist for the New York-based Irish Voice newspaper, wrote about the controversy in July and was inundated with letters from across the country. Some readers circulated a pro-Danny Boy petition that they intend to present to Mulvee.

"Ninety-nine percent were saying it was ridiculous," Deignan said. "Just to judge from the reaction we got, it's clear that song means a lot to a lot of people."

The song has been played at many funerals connected to the World Trade Center attacks, he said, often by the New York Police Department's Emerald Society bagpipers.

"The Irish community was hit particularly hard by the tragedy," Deignan said.

Back in Providence, Mulvee's decision may be unpopular, but he's on solid ground from the church's perspective. Church documents plainly advise that popular ballads be excluded from Mass, said David Early, a spokesman for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"These kinds of songs should clearly be avoided," Early said. "But it's not a matter of church doctrine. It's a pastoral decision left to the interpretation of the local bishop."

No other American church leader appears to have taken as strong a stand on the issue as Mulvee.

"If you allow Danny Boy, then you open all kinds of other questions about what should and shouldn't be allowed," said Healey, who personally has rejected requests to have Frank Sinatra's My Way, John Denver's Annie's Song, and Bette Midler's Wind Beneath My Wings, played at funerals.

The diocese formed a committee to look at the infiltration of secular music, Healey said, and the group intends to send a letter by the end of the year to parishes detailing what is acceptable during Mass.

One alternative has been to play the song for other parts of the funeral rites, such as at the wake or during a procession. Some church music directors are using a version of the song with lyrics from the hymn In Paradisum with the music from Danny Boy.

But even Healey admits that priests can only be so insistent with a family mourning the death of their beloved. "I'm not going to fight with the family over Danny Boy," he said. "And with the tragedy the scope of what happened in New York, I can't fault any priest who's allowed it to be played in their church."


Anonymous said...

hmm. beware the righteous.

Anonymous said...

alright, so im 16 and the idea of not allowing songs to be played at somebody's funeral I find to be obsurd. This song can represent the life of many people and I find "Danny Boy" to be an amazing song, and for it to be restricted is not right. It's about a man going off to war and a woman waiting for his return, why should that bother the church? And besides that, what happened to our rights? Our freedoms? If somebody wants to play "Danny Boy" at their loved one's funeral then why not let them? "Danny Boy" is a beautiful song and even Elvis Presley had it played at his funeral, so why shouldnt people have it played at their own funeral?

Anonymous said...

I was asked to play my flute at a relative's funeral in a Catholic church, and as I was preparing to play, the priest basically interrogated me about what I was going to play. I couldn't believe I was there to mourn the loss of a family member, and offer beautiful music in his honor, but this insensitive man scrutinized my choices as if I were about to play satanic music. It's such a shame when people are more concerned about keeping certain rules than they are about caring about people.