Definition of Eulogy
Eulogy is defined as a speech or writing in praise of a person or thing, especially a set oration in honor of a deceased person. It may also be used to mean a high praise of commendation.
Its origins are the Greek word “eulogia” meaning “praise” and the Latin word “eulogium” meaning “epitaph”.
In practice today, a eulogy is a tribute spoken to honor someone who has recently deceased. Eulogies are most often rendered at a wake or funeral service or mass.
A eulogy is an important step in the grieving process. The funeral service is a time for family and friends to gather and pay their last respects. It is a time to visit with others who shared a relationship with the deceased and during this time the loss is mourned and the life is celebrated.
The eulogy speech itself is a means to punctuate the character and passions of the deceased. It is a public tribute in which we remember together the significance of a life shared by all those in attendance.
The individual delivering the eulogy is called the Eulogist. The immediate family typically selects the speaker or eulogist based on factors including relationship and comfort or ability to deliver such an emotional speech.
Often the eulogist is a member of the clergy. Performing the role of eulogist is considered a common responsibility for a pastor, priest, rabbi, or equivalent for a member of their congregation. This is a logical selection given their comfort with public speaking along with their ability to appropriately recognize and speak to the spiritual aspects and implications of a life whose course has run.
A family member or close friend may also be chosen to serve as the eulogist. Having someone with a closer relationship adds an intimacy to the proceedings.
For this reason, it is not uncommon to have multiple persons contribute to the memorial service. This approach shares the responsibility while consciously demonstrating the multi-faceted nature of an individual’s life.
If the multiple speaker approach is chosen, it may be appropriate for the speakers to coordinate their messages so specific stories or events are not repeated.
Eulogy vs. Elegy
Frequently the terms Eulogy and Elegy are confused. This is somewhat natural due to both terms sharing a common theme of tribute for a life which has past.
Eulogy is used to define the words or speech delivered at a wake or funeral service. While an Elegy is a lamenting song or poem composed to express regret for a loss.
A summary comparison is provided below.
Definition – a speech or writing in praise of a person or thing, especially a set oration in honor of a deceased person.
Tone – Respectful, uplifting, reminiscing, intending to recall the individual and how they lived
Timing – Prepared and delivered soon after the death. Most commonly delivered at the funeral or burial service.
Form – spoken language, prose
Definition – a mournful, melancholy, or plaintive poem, especially a funeral song or a lament for the dead
Tone – lamenting or melancholy, an expression of regret over the loss
Timing – Less defined. A poem or song may be commissioned for delivery at the memorial service; however, an elegy may be composed and performed months or even years later.
Form – melodic in nature, most commonly a poem or song written in verse
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Photo: Library of Congress