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10/30/2012 10:49:00 AM
Guidelines and laws help shape meaningful funerals
Catholic News Service photo
Fr. Patrick O'Toole blesses the casket of Constance Wall during her funeral Mass at St. Bede the Venerable Church in Holland, Pa.
Catholic News Service photo
Fr. Patrick O'Toole blesses the casket of Constance Wall during her funeral Mass at St. Bede the Venerable Church in Holland, Pa.

Here are some funeral policies from Catholic canon law as well as from Archdiocese of Portland funeral policies established by Archbishop John G. Vlazny and a council of priests:

• Since all aspects of Catholic life are to flow from the Eucharist and should lead back to the same Eucharist, a funeral Mass with the body of the deceased is preferred for those baptized or received into the Catholic faith.
The Catholic Church also allows for funeral Masses to be celebrated for those who were not Catholic. These allowances would presume the Catholic faith of the family or those responsible for funeral arrangements, and that such a funeral would not be contrary to the wishes of the deceased. Unbaptized children may also have a Catholic funeral if the parents intended baptism.

• Catholic funerals can be celebrated without the Eucharist if solid pastoral reasons apply.

• The Catholic Church recommends burial of the body. But since 1963 the church has permitted cremation and since 1997, with the approval of the Holy See, many bishops of the United States have allowed for the presence of the cremated remains at the funeral. It is preferred that cremation of the body not take place until after the funeral Mass or funeral service so that the complete life and death of the person may be more clearly realized.
Cremated remains are to be buried in the usual manner or entombed in a columbarium or mausoleum. Scattering cremated remains is not the reverent treatment of a body that the church requires. Burial at sea is allowed; cremated remains should be submerged in a container.

• In certain circumstances, a Catholic funeral is allowed without the body or the cremated remains.

• Funerals cannot be held on days of obligation, Holy Thursday, the Easter Triduum, and the Sundays of Advent, Lent and the Easter season.  

• Generally, a funeral Mass for any deceased member of the Catholic Church is to
be celebrated in his or her parish church. Exceptions are allowed but the pastor should be notified.

• A funeral Mass should be celebrated only in a parish church, chapel, or oratory where Catholic Mass is normally celebrated.  

• The casket may be opened for viewing before and/or after the vigil. The casket should be closed before the funeral liturgy begins and would not normally be opened again.  

• Parish clergy should make a reasonable effort to respond to the request of any family requesting a funeral even if they are not members of the parish.  

• Canon Law does not prohibit a church funeral for someone who commits suicide.  

• Those who may not have church funerals are apostates or those who express a total post-baptismal repudiation of the Christian faith; heretics or those who hold an obstinate post-baptismal denial or doubt about some truth that is to be believed as part of divine and Catholic faith; schismatics or those who hold a post-baptismal refusal of submission to the Holy Father or of communion with the members of the church subject to him. The local bishop makes the determination and The sins noted above must be "notorious or publicly known and would be of great cause for scandal." In the Archdiocese of Portland, in the case of someone who is not allowed an "ecclesiastical" funeral, a priest or parish minister may lead a service of prayer and scripture for the deceased at the cemetery or in the funeral director's chapel.

• Following the funeral liturgy, the family of the deceased may accompany the body or cremated remains to the cemetery or mausoleum. Prayers are offered for
the deceased as the body is committed to its final place of rest.

• Funeral homilies are not to be eulogies. The homilist should dwell on God’s compassionate love and on the paschal mystery of the Lord, as proclaimed in the Scripture readings. A member or friend of the family may speak in remembrance of the deceased after Communion. Guidelines say no more than three people who speak no more than 15 minutes total.

• According to canon law, offerings given in conjunction with the celebration of the sacraments or funerals belong to the parish unless the donors clearly state they wish the gift to go to the priest.

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