Wednesday, October 26, 2016


When people lose a loved one or a loved one leaves detailed directions about their funeral rites, and what is requested is absurd, sentimental, superficial or down right dumb in a Catholic funeral rite, what is a priest suppose to do? I hate entering into arguments at the time of death with those to whom I am suppose to be ministering.

As a pastor, I have strict guidelines on what can and can't be sung at a funeral Mass and that in my parish, the propers will be chanted even if other approved religious songs are chosen. I can mandate that and I do and I follow through.

I do not allow non Catholics or non practicing Catholics to plan the funeral rites of the deceased nor in any way have a formal participation such as lector or gift bearer. I can mandate that. 

I also have mandated that funeral eulogies after Holy Communion are not allowed but there can be as many as the family wants after the Vigil for the Deceased at the funeral home or their residence.

However, I cannot mandate the burial of cremains. I emphasize that Church Law requires that these be interred with a proper Catholic prayers and at a place that can be visited. But once the body is cremated, the family has complete control over the cremains, unlike the dead body, which state law requires be interred and not brought home after the funeral rites!

So with an intact body, the state makes the decision about "disposal" which in the past has always  been a burial or entombment. I have the state's backing. The Church is impotent to require this sort of thing if the state allows otherwise.  With cremains, the state has no laws although the Church does--but these laws and those who implement are impotent!

I do not think it wise to deny a Catholic funeral to a person who has requested the family to keep the cremains or distribute or spread them.

What are your thoughts??????


Anonymous said...

"Control"......"Mandate"....Words of a shepherd? Words of a drill sergeant?

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

"I do not allow non Catholics or non practicing Catholics to plan the funeral rites of the deceased nor in any way have a formal participation such as lector or gift bearer."

So, a non-Catholic spouse or non-Catholic children would, in your parish, be forbidden from placing the pall on the casket, bringing up the gifts, or in any other way participating in the funeral Mass for their husband/wife, mother/father beyond sitting in the pew?

Why do you see "mandate" this as a desirable thing?

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Who are you to judge?

Nonwe of these practices are important or even required. Superlous busy work.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Obviously, I am judging your "mandate" to be wrong-headed, unnecessary, and potentially damaging.

Be that as it may, why do you find it desirable to bar non-Catholic family members from participating in these ways?

gob said...

"None of these practices are important or even required. Superfluous busy work. (First of all...maybe you should save the vino until AFTER you write stuff.)

To the grieving family and friends of the deceased, these "practices" may be...probably are VERY, VERY important. Are you just trying to just do the minimum? Just what's "required"?

"Superfluous busy work." You really said that....!...?

Anonymous said...

Bee here:

In my experience at having been in charge of arranging or attending funerals for my parents and relatives, many times I have seen great dramatic acts of "caring" and "weeping" by non-Catholic or non-practicing (baptized) ex?-Catholics who want to be involved in some way in the funeral rites. They vie for a "role" it seems, (in the drama that is being carried out.)

The irony is these people often showed very little or minimal concern for the person when they were alive. I have sometimes thought their wanting a role in the funeral was to signal to others just how much they cared, when in reality they did not (as was evident from their actions when the person was alive.)

So Fr. McD, I agree with you for being cautious of this trend to turn Catholic funerals into some kind of funeral Passion Play, where all the key mourners get a "part" and the importance of their role reflects their status in relation to the deceased. The funeral Mass is a prayer to God for the repose of the soul of the departed, not a play where parts are handed out to honor the attendees.


Anonymous said...

Anonymous @ 11:23 on October 26, 2016 said...

" "Control"......"Mandate"....Words of a shepherd? Words of a drill sergeant?"

What exactly do you think a shepherd does? Doesn't he control the movement of the flock, and prevent them from eating whatever is deadly, or from going to places of danger? Doesn't he determine (by mandate) the movements of his flock, deciding what is best for them? Because his role is one of protector.

A weak or push-over shepherd who gives the sheep what they want (even if it's poisonous) or lets them do what they want (even if it's dangerous) is a bad shepherd. A priest who doesn't guide and direct people in the correct way of the Church, especially the un-churched or lax, is not doing his job.


Anonymous said...

The funeral Mass is said for the soul of the departed. Why turn it into entertainment or an opportunity to manage the feelings for whoever?

Comforting of the family by the Church is most appropriate and efficacious when they are reminded of the possibility of life everlasting for the dceised in heaven. If that is unconvincing for the grieving nonbeliever or poorly catechized the funeral Mass is unlikely to be the occasion for correcting their misunderstandings. To do otherwise would be to deny why the funeral Mass is said in the first place.


Victor said...

Fr M:
As for your last point, that "I do not think it wise to deny a Catholic funeral to a person who has requested the family to keep the cremains or distribute or spread them.", the instruction says:

8. When the deceased notoriously has requested cremation and the scattering of their ashes for reasons contrary to the Christian faith, a Christian funeral must be denied to that person according to the norms of the law. (CIC, can. 1184; CCEO, can.876, § 3.)

In other words, you need to determine whether this was requested for reasons contrary to the Christian Faith.

Anonymous said...

How are supposed to explain the Holy Father honoring the anniversary of the Reformation?


Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

We simply lose control of cremains. People keep them for sentimental reasons which I personally believe to be extremely unhealthy. If someone wants something from their loved one as a reminder, maybe a lock of hair. Others keep them for financial reasons, it is cheaper than a burial. I despised this because i was in a parish which had many, many poor African Americans who were determined to make sure they were treated properly in death and who had purchased burial insurance from their local funeral homes precisely for this.

I have never had parishioners keep cremains as a statement against the resurrection.

Jusadbellum said...

We're all going to die. And funerals, plots, and coffins are expensive. In fact, the whole idea of 'insurance' and companies was originally designed at least for Christians to help fellow believers handle the funeral expenses that would otherwise crush a typical family. By spreading out the burden, everyone was helped.

The other category of life covered by insurance or companies was shipping freight given how the sea is dangerous and one's entire cargo often would get lost. So insurance against catastrophic loss was also created in the Roman era to spread out the economic impact of lost ships.

The Knights of Columbus originally started out for this purpose - to provide funeral and life insurance for widows and orphans.

Every pastor should promote life insurance via the KofC and encourage parishioners around All Saints and All souls to consider their wills and estate planning both for their loved ones and for their own parish, the local school, and any ministry they might want to leave a legacy gift to.

I'm sure there are materials online for parishes to use for this promotion and some of them spell out for family members what sorts of Catholic rites are involved in wakes and funerals etc. including Masses said for the repose of the soul.

Andrew Rex said...

Non-Catholics (usually visiting dignatories eg the Archbishop of Canterbury) have read the readings at various Masses including services at the Vatican - and vice versa - so why do you think only Catholics can do so at your parish? Surely, in the example of Pope Francis, we should be showing mercy and a pastoral attitude in such circumstances rather than causing unnecessary division. I would have thought that allowing a non-Catholic spouse / sibling / child to give a reading or bring up the gifts / funeral pall would be an admirable way of them respectfully being included in the funeral service.

I think you should re-think your position in light of the pastoral sensitivity encouraged by Pope Francis.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

I have never seen any one other than a Catholic read at Vatican Masses. When there is the Prayer for Christian Unity Even Prayer with the pope, yes, others have taken various ministries who are not Catholic. Could you point out an example at a papal Mass when a non-Catholic preached or was a lector or proclaimed the Gospel????

Jusadbellum said...

• The Church is intolerant in principle because she believes;
she is tolerant in practice because she loves.
The enemies of the Church are tolerant in principle because they do not believe;
they are intolerant in practice because they do not love."
- Rev. R├ęginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.

I think we need to simultaneously use every occasional encounter with non-Catholics as 'occasions of grace' to introduce them to the faith in as tactful and respectful a tone as we can given the circumstances.

Sometimes we can't allow them to do things such as partake in Communion. Other times we can make a big deal about "allowing" them some merely symbolic thing. So, the modern practice of 'coming forward for a blessing' is I think a decent and well motivated gesture. It's no harm to our faith and can be moving to non-members to 'join the crowd' shuffling forward.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Jus - There is no good reason to exclude non-Catholics from participating in a funeral as lector, gift bearer, or pall placer.

I can imagine the scene: Johnny, the only child of the deceased and her care-giver for the last 7 years, was not raised as a Catholic. At the time such decisions are being made, Johnny indicates that he and his equally non-Catholic wife would like to present the gifts during the funeral mass, recalling that his mother had requested such.

The priest asks, "Are you and your wife practicing Catholics, Johnny?" "No, Father, we are not." "That being the case, I have mandated that, in this parish, no non-Catholics may have, in any way, formal participation in the funeral liturgy. No, you and your wife are not allowed to present the gifts."

There are good reasons why, especially at the time of death, such inclusiveness is both beneficial to the grieving family members and to the local Catholic parish.

Johnny, having seen his mother's wishes respected and having been touched by the inclusiveness of the priest and the Catholic parish. leaves thinking, "They are good people and I appreciate their way of doing things."

On the other hand, Johnny and his wife, having been barred for no good reason from a simple act of participating in the funeral rite, leave thinking, "What a bunch of you-know-whats those Catholics are."

Jusadbellum said...

Does Johnny even believe that the gifts being brought forward are important? To him everything in the liturgy is just symbolic. So why not propose some other truly symbolic act for Johnny and spouse to do like drop a rose into a basket or say some words after the final Amen?

I get that we feel like we should 'include' non-believers into our rites and that this will somehow make them FEEL good and this feeling will lead them to become Catholics? I get that. And so I propose you don't dilute our liturgical rites for the sake of non-believers but instead create some non-liturgical symbolic gesture of good will that they can participate in since the only point in this exercise is to respect THEIR FEELINGS.


Rood Screen said...

How does someone who does not live by the the Word of God stand up and proclaim that very Word to a congregation? Where is the integrity in such a practical lie?

How does someone who does not believe in the Sacrifice of Christ present to a priest the congregation's sacrifice, which becomes that of Christ? Where is the integrity in such a practical lie?

How does someone who does not believe in Baptism or Christian resurrection present the mortal garb of baptismal resurrection for use on a coffin? Where is the integrity in such a practical lie?

We must console mourning non-believers, but we shouldn't make liars out of them.

TJM said...

Father Kavanaugh,

I assume you would honor the feelings and wishes of those of us who would ask for the traditional Latin Requiem. It certain would promote "inclusiveness" and be a supreme act of mercy

rcg said...

This thread is shocking. There are many things the friends and family can do as a part of the funeral process that are appropriate and, frankly, far more meaningful, dignified and less embarrasing than playing at being Catholic over the remains of their relative. I hope all of my non-Catholic friends and relatives will be moved to participate through conversion.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Jus - What Johnny believes about the importance of the gifts is not the point, nor is it, at this juncture, important.

Denigrating Johnny's grief, as you are doing, is unsympathetic. Yes, he is FEELING the loss of his mother. Yes, he is FEELING her absence profoundly. Yes he is FEELING sad and, maybe, resentful.

But to say that these FEELINGS are to be overlooked simply because he is not a Catholic is really hard-hearted.

These FEELINGS are as real as any belief he may have, as any understanding of Catholic beliefs that may be in his mind or his heart.

Having a non-Catholic present the gifts at the funeral mass of his/her mother is in no way disrespectful of "our liturgy."

I hope that I never become so callous due to an idiosyncratic appreciation of how the liturgy of the Church should be carried out that I would even think of enforcing some such "mandate" in the parish I serve.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Dialogue - Everyone who reads at mass is sinful. Does the fact that a sinful person proclaims God's Truth have any effect on that Truth? No.

Does the fact that a sinner reads the Sacred Scriptures make the reader a liar? No. (This goes for the priests who proclaim the Gospel, too.)

If the regular 8:00 a.m. Sunday mass reader is a sinner, is the priest going to mandate the she/she be banned from reading? The answer is, again, No.

None of us who participate in the liturgy is does so without some defect, some sin, some failure.

The placing of the pall is not a sign of belief in Christian resurrection. I am sure that Fr. McDonald has presided at MANY funerals where the pall is placed by members of the funeral home staff. Does he verify their belief before they participate in this formal way in the ritual? No, he does not.

If a person does not believe in God at all, is he/she going to be banned from the Church altogether while the sacrifice of the mass is carried out? If not, are we making that person into a liar simply by allowing them in?


There's no good reason to "mandate" that non-Catholics be banned from participating in appropriate ways in funeral liturgies.

TJM said...

Father Kavanaugh, no surprise on your remarks, after all, you vote for the Abortion Party, so your views need to be taken with a grain of salt

Anonymous said...

The Atlanta paper has a lot of obituaries each day (I mean, in a metro area of some 6 million people, thousands die up here each month), and it is disgusting to read some who say the ashes of such-and-such will be scattered at sea, scattered on a golf course or back yard, etc, or even spread out over different locations. I think the area is to the point that there are more cremations than burials, even though in this sprawling metro area we're not exactly out of burial space or running low. Then again, we don't usually think of large urban areas being particularly pious (Rome? Paris? London?), do we? Smaller cities and parishes tend to be idolized.

My parish has a memorial garden for cremains; I think the cathedral (Christ the King) does too. We also have lay people doing remembrances, sometimes before Mass and sometimes after communion (I did one myself years ago for a deceased father).

Gene said...

The Christian Faith and the Catholic Liturgy are exclusivist by their very nature...the very doctrine and theology upon which they are based is exclusive. People like Kavanaugh and others like to read 20th century, enlightenment based philosophy and post Vat II unbelief back into the faith established by Christ and embodied in the Church. You people need to re-read the New Testament.

Rood Screen said...

Father Kavanaugh,

While I haven't said anything about sinners, I agree that being a sinner does not prevent exercise of liturgical ministry. One should, however, understand and believe in the ministry one exercises.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Dialogue - Placing a pall on a casket or bring up the offerings of bread and wine and not "ministries."

Gene - The New Testament is anything BUT exclusive.

1 In Christ there is no east or west,
in him no south or north,
but one great fellowship of love
throughout the whole wide earth.

2 In Christ shall true hearts everywhere
their high communion find;
his service is the golden cord
close-binding humankind.

3 Join hands, disciples of the faith,
whate'er your race may be.
All children of the living God
are surely kin to me.

4 In Christ now meet both east and west;
in him meet south and north.
All Christly souls are one in him
throughout the whole wide earth.

What better source for Divine Revelation can we have but the Presbyterian Hymnal, #317? (The scriptural bases are multiple: Psalm 33:13; Psalm 133:1; Luke 13:29; Acts 10:35; Acts 17:26; Romans 8:14-17; Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:26-28; Ephesians 4:1-6; Colossians 3:11; James 2:1; 1 Peter 2:17).

Notable among these references is Galatians 3:28 "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

No one is suggesting that our denominational differences are serious. The original unity of the Church is a goal that ecumenists continue to work for, since it is the will of Christ. No Catholic ecumenist I know aims for a false irenicism or a muddy syncretism.

James said...

@Fr. Kavanaugh
Amen to that (but there's a 'not' missing from your penultimate sentence)

Rood Screen said...

Father Kavanaugh,

Then what are they? The Latin for "minister" means "one who provides a service". Granted, such persons are certainly neither clergy nor members of any liturgical order.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

James - Yes, add the not!

Dialogue - They are grieving spouses, children, parents, friends, etc.

Here's another bit of data for the discussion.

From the "Introduction to the Order of Christian Funerals":

"Funeral rites are to be celebrated for catechumens. In keeping with the provisions of CIC, can. 1183, celebration of funeral rites may also be granted to . . . 2) baptized members of another Church or non-Catholic Ecclesial Community at the discretion of the local ordinary., but not of it is known that they did not wish this nor if a minister of their own is available."

Good Fr. McDonald has created an unnecessary paradox with his "mandate." He might celebrate a funeral mass for a non-Catholic Christian, but, given his ill-considered mandate, would refuse to allow the non-Catholic family members to "in any way have a formal participation such as lector or gift bearer" in the liturgy.

This is what happens when some people assume too much authority and don't think through the consequences of their misuse of their positions.

rcg said...

I am not sure that is a response to Gene's Point

Rood Screen said...

Father Kavanaugh,

Believe it or not, we all want to comfort mourners, perhaps even as much as you do, but I see no need to diminish the ritual integrity of the Funeral Mass in the process.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Dialogue - How does allowing a non-Catholic grieving family member to place the pall or present the gift "diminish the ritual integrity" of the Funeral Mass?

Rood Screen said...

Fr. Kavanaugh,

For the reasons I've already mentioned above.