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Deacon-structing Funerals – Part 4 | The Burial

Deacon Pedro

Sunday, April 28, 2019

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These past weeks, leading up to Easter, we looked at the Order of Christian Funerals. I spent a bit of time reflecting on some experiences I’ve had and then shared some thoughts on what I think my own funeral could be like. The next two weeks we then looked at the Funeral Rites and Prayers as they could happen in order: immediately after the death, before the funeral and the actual funeral.

Today I’d like to look at what happens after the funeral.

Let me begin by reminding you that the funeral can take place with a Mass or outside of the Mass. It is common to have Funeral Prayers at the funeral home, but they can also take place in the home. Sometimes Vigil Prayers can take place at the church just before the funeral.
Whether there is a Mass or not, a funeral will always end with the Final Commendation. Quite often this leads immediately to the procession to the place of committal or burial.  The Rite of Committal is what concludes the Funeral Rites and can take place at the grave site or crematorium and can even be used for a burial at sea.
The Order of Christian Funerals offers several options for the Rite of Committal, including one for infants. This one can be used (and is recommended) for a stillborn or newborn infant that dies shortly after birth.

The ritual even includes a prayer that is used if the infant died before Baptism.

Many people who suffer the death of an unborn child don’t usually think that a funeral is appropriate or even an option. But it is. Health care professionals and hospital chaplaincy teams should be made aware that this should be an option, especially for Catholic parents. I know that Catholic Cemeteries and Funeral Services of the Archdiocese of Toronto offers special burial options for stillborn infants, and there is a section in their cemeteries reserved for them.
The longer Rite of Committal is a simple rite that includes an invitation, a scripture verse, a prayer over the place of committal, the actual committal, intercessions, the Lord’s Prayer and a concluding prayer. It closes with a Prayer over the People, a responsory, and a closing prayer. A shorter version is also available and recommended when there is inclement weather.
In some cases the Rite of Committal can also include a Final Commendation, if it did not take place during the Funeral Liturgy. The Committal always includes sprinkling with holy water and can include incense.
I mentioned that the Rite of Committal can take place at the grave site or crematorium. It can also take place when the ashes of the deceased are interred in a grave site, columbarium, or niche in a mausoleum.

This leads me to say a few words about cremation.

Current Canon Law states:
The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burying the bodies of the deceased be observed; nevertheless, the Church does not prohibit cremation unless it was chosen for reasons contrary to Christian doctrine. (Can. 1176 §3)
This means that cremation is allowed even though traditional burial is preferred. The reason is that cremation is so common today and is no longer associated with non-Christian burial rituals. The Church understands that our belief in the Resurrection of the Body is not changed whether our bodies are burned to ashes or decomposed in a grave underground. It was in 1966 that the Church published a document allowing the cremation of amputated body parts or the remains of a miscarried infant. This led to the beginning of the change in Canon Law regarding cremation. (For more details as to how the teaching on cremation changed, read Deacon-structing Doctrine part 3: Changing Doctrine.)
Still, the Church is very clear as to how cremated remains must be treated. They must be buried and should not be kept on the mantle or scattered. This is not so much because God can’t take the scattered remains and pull them all together at the End in order for you to be resurrected in body but because the practice of scattering or keeping the remains at home is something that confuses our Catholic beliefs and practices with those who are of different beliefs.

It is recommended that cremation take place after the funeral so that the body can be present during the Funeral Rite.

In Canada, a funeral liturgy in the presence of ashes is permitted if the cremation is not inspired by motives contrary to Catholic Teaching (Canon 1176 §3) or if the bishop has judged that it is the pastorally appropriate thing to do given the particular circumstances. If this is the case, the ashes must be in an appropriate vessel and not placed near the altar. A Paschal Candle is not used.
Most of us are not thinking about our death. Still, it is not a bad idea to consider the options (including pre-planning your funeral and making all the proper arrangements) before you die. You will give your loved ones some peace of mind (especially financially), and you can be sure that nothing will be left out.

Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: [email protected]

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