Information for media on the Funeral Liturgy of John Bruton RIP

10 Feb 2024

The State Funeral for John Bruton RIP will take place today at 11.00am in Dunboyne, Co Meath.  Father Patrick O’Connor, Parish Priest of Dunboyne and Kilbride, will be chief celebrant for the Requiem Mass in the Church of Saint Peter & Saint Paul, Dunboyne; Bishop Tom Deenihan, Bishop of Meath, will preside at the Mass and lead the prayers of final commendation; and Father Bruce Bradley SJ, friend of the Bruton family, will deliver the homily during the Mass.  His Excellency, Archbishop Luis Mariano Montemayor, the Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland, and Archbishop Dermot Farrell, Archbishop of Dublin, the former Parish Priest of Dunboyne; will also preside at the Mass along with other clergy.

After Mass the remains will be interred in Rooske Cemetery, A86 EW28, located about two kilometres from the church on the Rooske Road. 

Ahead of the 11.00am Mass, RTÉ will begin broadcasting from the church at 10.40am on RTÉ One, RTÉ Radio 1 and internationally on the RTÉ Player.

Musicians performing during the Mass will be Finbar Wright, Lisa Lambe, accompanied by Cian Sweeney.  Hymns to be sung:

  • Entrance Hymn, Our Lady of Knock
  • How Great Thou Art
  • Responsorial Psalm: The Lord is my Shepherd
  • Gospel Acclamation: Alleluia
  • Sanctus
  • Memorial Acclamation: When We Eat
  • Communion Rite: Nearer, My God to TheeAve VerumChannel of my Peace
  • Panis Angelicus
  • A Vucchella

Please see below content from the funeral liturgy which is embargoed for publication until 11.00am:
Words of Bishop Tom Deenihan, Bishop of Meath, at the Funeral Mass of John Bruton
The prayers of Commendation that we are about to begin mark the Christian communities farewell to the deceased.  The prayers themselves give a brief glimpse at the past but concentrate on the future. That is important.  Christians are people of hope.
In many ways, the past few days have seen a flow of tributes to John from near and far, from friend and, if not from foe, from those who shared a different political viewpoint.  That is as it should be and it is deserved. 
But if all our thoughts look back, we have not a full picture.  The  person of faith must look forward. As Saint Paul puts it in his letter to the Philippians ‘I press on towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.’[1] 
Today, the liturgy and John’s faith in Jesus Christ does that and begins to look forward.  That is important and that is the blessing  and consolation that  faith and a life well lived offer.
In this place, this morning, it must be acknowledged that John was a man of faith.  This church was important to him and I met him here often and in other churches in the Diocese at Sunday Mass.  His contribution, visible and invisible, to this parish and Diocese as well as to Maynooth College and other church initiatives provide clear testimony to that faith element in his life.
For John, faith provided or informed a foundation or motivation to the aspects of service, common good and principle that politics must involve.  Faith was important to him and the Christian ideal, the Commandments[2] and the Sermon on the Mount[3] informed his political thinking.  He was not, and rightly so, an advocate of a theocracy but was, in the best sense of the term, a Christian Democrat.  The Christian principles of  co-operation, dialogue, equity and respect, central to the teachings of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount are also evidenced in his work in relation to Northern Ireland and Europe.  This aspect of his vision and work is best acknowledged in the eloquent yet simple statement that many from varied backgrounds used over the past few days –  ‘He was a decent man’!  It is the supreme accolade in rural Ireland!
But in our prayers of commendation now, we leave that behind and focus on the future.  We talk of a joyful heavenly reunion, the resurrection of the dead, the gates of paradise being opened and an escort of saints and angels.  That is the promise and consolation that faith brings.  Death is not the end;  the road and reality does not end here.
In the words of an ancient Easter Hymn[4]Hath Christ that once was slain, n’er burst his three day prison, our hope hath been in vain, but now hath Christ arisen.
We commend John to God with our praise and prayers.  Like Shakespeare’s Othello, He has done the state some service but Saint Paul, as you would expect, puts it better, The life and death of each of us has it’s influence on others.[5] 
Acknowledging that positive influence, the prayer in the Rite of Funerals is surely ours today, Blessed are they who die in the Lord, Let them rest from their labours for their good deeds go with them.[6]

[1] Philippians 4: 14
[2] Exodus 20:2-17
[3] Matthew 5-7
[4] This Joyful Eastertide.(1894) George Woodward.
[5] Romans 14:7
[6] Order of Christian Funerals

Homily of Father Bruce Bradley SJ
Readings: Wisdom 3,1.6-9 (The souls of the virtuous are in the hands of God); 2 Corinthians 4,14-5,1 (He who raised the Lord Jesus to life will raise us); John 14,1-6 (My Father’s house has many rooms)            

John Bruton was an exceptionally good man, truly one of ‘the virtuous’ of whom today’s 1st Reading from the Book of Wisdom speaks. 

John was honest and honourable, patient and persevering, courageous and committed, ‘willing to lead even when it meant going against the grain’, as the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said, humble and unassuming, a man of integrity and truth … I could go on, but so much has been said already and there will be well-deserved eulogies and tributes to come.  It is not my function to add to these as such, although I willingly would.

My proper function at this point in the Eucharist we are celebrating in John’s memory is to understand and appreciate his life against the background of the Christian Gospel in which he so profoundly and thoughtfully believed and which he sought to live in the circumstances of his life.

We are now in a rapidly secularising age. The signs are all around us. Those signs are not all negative by any means – far from it, when we consider the growth in confidence and prosperity and diversity which our country as a whole continues to experience, notwithstanding the problems politicians like John Bruton must daily confront with and the shaming inequality which endures. But there are other less noticed, seriously troubling implications of secularisation too. Few have described what these feel like and how they affect us in our inner lives more graphically than John near-contemporary, the great poet Seamus Heaney. 

Not long before he died in 2013, Heaney told an interviewer,in a series revealingly called Interviews from a Changing Ireland: ‘[The] biggest shift in my lifetime has been the evaporation of the transcendent from all our discourse and our sense of human destiny’. ‘More bewildering still’, he added, elaborating on what ‘the evaporation of the transcendent’ means for a person’s inner life, ‘is exile into a universe with no up or down, no internalized system of moral longitude or latitude, no sense of a metaphysical roof over our heads’.  

Heaney was referring to the growing lack of any ultimate framework or structure of meaning for our lives, or any reliable moral compass.  Our culture of what has been well called ‘continuous partial attention’, secularisation and the decline of religious practice and self-understanding it tends to bring, allied to the anxiety and disorientation of our times.  People are tempted to focus on the immediate, because they feel they can have no larger perspective on their own lives. 

Marilyn Robinson, the American Presbyterian writer, entitled her recent book of essays What Are We Doing Here?  If they let it in, people struggle to face, much less answer, that question.  God, ‘the transcendent’ in Seamus Heaney’s remark, is progressively missing from our conversation and our discourse, external and internal alike.  It becomes unfashionable to refer to matters of religion or speak of ‘God’, in a country traditionally and for many reasons steeped – at times over-steeped – in religion. 

These tendencies, very much part of public life and discourse in Ireland now, were in the early stage of development in the 1960s when John Bruton was leaving the sheltered environment of home in Meath and boarding school in Clongowes, going to university in Dublin and embarking on his long and distinguished political career.  I couldn’t help noticing that the more developed secularism of our own times has expressed itself in the responses to John’s death and the accounts of his life and accomplishments in the media. The tributes have been unanimously warm.  

Courage, integrity, decency – the words recur again and again in the tributes paid to him since his death. His personal qualities and significant accomplishments have been rightly celebrated: his remarkable political career starting at the very early age of 22, his eventual leadership of his own party, the successes of the unexpected Rainbow Coalition he led in the 1990s, his patient, pioneering cooperative part in enabling a cessation of violence in Northern Ireland, his championing of the European Union and Ireland’s place in it, his valuable role as EU ambassador to the United States, his later work with the IFSC.  And so on.  

These accounts celebrate a very gifted and genuinely likeable man who enjoyed a varied and successful career, more than enough to fill many columns.

But anyone who knew him in a closer way realised that, underneath everything, he was a seriously religious man and this all-important aspect of his life and self-identity is largely missing from the public commentary.  There is a temptation in our culture just now to ignore this aspect of people’s lives, as if it were too marginal or too private and embarrassing to bring up in public or as having too little to do with the real world. 

John Bruton would have agreed with the Belfast-born writer of the Narnia Chronicles, CS Lewis, that ‘Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance; if true, is of infinite importance.  The one thing it cannot be is moderately important’.  For John, his religion was infinitely important in the literal sense.  Any account of what he was about without central reference to his Catholicism is seriously incomplete.  

The truth is that he was an instinctive, reflective Catholic.  He was rooted in his faith. His life cannot be understood properly apart from that.  

This was not a faith of slogans but a thoughtful faith lived out in his actions and choices, a faith that does justice, expressed in his life of public service. 

John’s steadfast support of the Pro-Life Movement was of a piece with his lifelong resistance, in the footsteps of his great hero John Redmond, to violence as a means to achieving political change.  He saw both as pro-life choices.  He was a Catholic in a deep and not at all sectarian sense.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ, which he heard faithfully here in his local parish church in Dunboyne and in many other places, shaped and guided his journey, personally and professionally, through all the challenges of his life.  John made that journey in the indispensable company of his much-loved wife Finola and their children, Matthew, Julianna, Emily and Mary-Elizabeth. 

John knew who he was and that’s who he was for whoever he met.

John Bruton lived in an increasingly large universe, acquiring a perceptive understanding of European and global politics, as he showed in his wise commentary on the issues confronting the EU, not least at the time of Brexit and its aftermath.  He understood better than most how to work for compromise in the midst of political tensions.  He was in no sense a bigot.  He understood the obligations of office in a pluralist democracy, as he showed in supporting the divorce referendum.  In all his interactions, with those who shared his outlook as well as with those who did not, he showed a capacity to stand in the other person’s shoes, a quality of particular importance in the discussions and negotiations with Northern Unionists as well as in the very successful management of the Rainbow Coalition when he was Taoiseach. 

President Michael D Higgins, paying tribute, spoke of how he ‘brought a particular sensitivity, a generous approach to inclusion with regard to the perspective of the “Other”’. 

I was particularly struck by one entry in the online condolence book, where someone, signing themselves ‘FF Supporter, Kildare’, wrote: ‘You treated your allies and those of us with different political persuasions equally and without malice’.  And, entirely consistent with that, he did not hold grudges and had a deep capacity to forgive.  He was indeed a man without malice.  And he was a careful reader of history and its lessons for those who come after.

What I am saying might seem to have turned into a simple eulogy, after all.  But its purpose remains essentially homiletic.  Human beings are the words with which God tells his story, according to a wise saying quoted by the Belgian Dominican Edward Schillebeeckx in his book Church: The Human Story of God a few decades ago.  John, as those who knew him best would probably confirm, was not perfect in every way. But, in all that has been described, he, as Marilyn Robinson might put it, ‘knew what he was doing here’.  John knew the larger journey we are all on.  His life itself spoke that.  

John knew, in the words of the 2nd Reading from Paul’s 2nd Letter to the Corinthians we heard, that ‘though this outer man of ours’ – the one who experiences and achieves and endures all we have been thinking about, the more or less public person, what Carl Jung might call John’s ‘Number 1 Personality’ – ‘may be falling into decay¸ the inner man’ – the one he was becoming through all his experiences – ‘is renewed day by day’.  

John’s faith-perspective on his own life, and on all our lives, gave him the guiding hope that, as Saint Paul in that passage goes on, ‘when the tent that we live in on earth has been folded up’, as his has now been, ‘there is a house built by God for us, an everlasting home not made by human hands, in the heavens’. 

John, may God, your Father, welcome you now into that house and the special room Jesus has prepared for you.  Amen.