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Proper funeral procedures
Q. I was really distressed recently when our parish would not allow the casket of my mother to stay overnight in the church after the vigil service for her funeral. They insisted, for insurance reasons, that the casket return to the funeral home and then be brought back next day for the funeral Mass. Is this a growing trend?
A. Here’s a reply from OSV columnist Msgr. M. Francis Mannion:
Unfortunately, what you describe is a trend in many parts of the country — and one that good pastoral and liturgical thinking does not condone. The traditional arrangement is that after the vigil in the church, the body remains overnight until the funeral Mass next morning. The procedure you mention is partly the result of funeral directors not wanting to leave responsibility for the body of the deceased to the local parish and of diocesan lawyers and insurance personnel intruding upon pastoral and liturgical practice.
If the body cannot be brought to the church for the vigil, then it makes more sense to have the vigil at the funeral home, and then to bring it next day to the church for the funeral Mass. This is not the perfect arrangement, but at least it makes more sense than what you describe.
Catholics ought to assert to pastors their desires to follow the prescribed liturgical rites and procedures of the Church and their unwillingness to let the legal and insurance arms of the diocese make policies at variance with solid pastoral principles — and be choosy about which funeral homes they select for family funerals.
A Fourth Wise Man?
Q. Concerning the legend of the fourth magi, is this just a story, or is this true?
A. Here’s a reply from Father Reginald Martin:
In the Church’s liturgical year, “The great feast of Epiphany celebrates the adoration of Jesus by the wise men … representatives of the neighboring pagan religions” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 528). St. Matthew says these figures brought Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh, yet does not tell us how many wise men made the journey to Bethlehem. Because Matthew mentions three gifts, and because the Venerable Bede (672-735) gave three names to Jesus’ visitors, we assume there were three of them, but we have no idea how many came to pay homage.
Legends surround a mysterious fourth wise man, supposedly prevented from making the journey. The American author Henry van Dyke wrote a popular short story, “The Other Wise Man,” about the pious scholar Artaban, which can easily be found online.
La Befana (a name derived from “Epiphany”), a witch, is a popular folk figure in Italy. Legend says the wise men extended an invitation to her to join them, but she was too busy. She changed her mind, gathered some gifts, and set out on her own, but could not find the Christ Child. Ever since, at Epiphany, she has flown about on her broom, leaving gifts for children, hoping she will leave one for Jesus.
Seat of Wisdom?
Q. What is the origin of Mary’s title “Seat of Wisdom”?
Elisa Kreiner, via email
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D
In the 10th century, Masses began to be offered for Our Lady as Mother of the Incarnate Wisdom of God. Readings for these Masses were taken from the Wisdom literature, especially the Books of Sirach and Proverbs. Beginning in the 12th century, records show litanies in honor of the Virgin which emphasize her relationship with eternal Wisdom. As mother of the Incarnate Lord she is referred to as “fountain of Wisdom,” “mother of Wisdom,” “house of Wisdom” and “seat of Wisdom.” This latter term became most commonly used.
Q. We use processional candles instead of the processional cross at our church to escort the gift-bearers to the altar. I have read commentary that using the candles for this action is not proper, but I have been unable to find the rubric anywhere in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM). Is it absolutely forbidden to use the processional candles?
Dan Centurioni, Alta Loma, Calif.
A. Here is a reply from Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
Let’s start with the GIRM. While entrance, recessional, offertory and Communion processions are addressed in the GIRM, the only mention of a crucifix and candles to be used in a procession is at the entrance. Nevertheless, it is common practice, and in fact the custom, that the servers also carry the processional cross and candles when they exit in the recessional.
So, as for the use of processional candles and processional cross as a way to escort the gift-bearers to the altar during the offertory, if it is not specifically prohibited by the GIRM, it could be difficult to make the case that it should not be done.
In answer to your question, from the documents I have studied, it is not “absolutely forbidden to use the processional candles during the offertory.”
Brothers of Jesus
Q. Can you explain to me that if Mary is ever virgin how is it that Paul refers to James as the brother of Jesus?
—Ron Simpson Sr.
St. Ignatius of Antioch, who is said to have worked with St. Paul, refers several times to Mary’s virginity, and the title of “perpetual virgin” was given to Mary by one of the Church’s councils in 553. The earliest Christians, therefore, had no difficulty reconciling their belief in Mary’s virginity to the Bible’s mention of Jesus’ “brothers.”
So who were these brothers? St. Matthew names them “James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas” (Mt 13:55), and mentions some sisters as well, but the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that the Church has always considered them to be offspring of “the other Mary” (No. 500) mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel (27:56; 28:1).
The difficulty appears to arise from a lack of nuance in the English understanding of the word “brother.” The New Jerome Biblical Commentary discusses the Greek form of the word Paul uses in his Letters to the Galatians, when he writes of “James the brother of the Lord” (1:19). The author concludes, “In view of the problem created by Mark 6:3 … where ‘Mary, the mother of James…’ can scarcely be used by the evangelist to designate the mother of the person crucified on Calvary, [‘brother’] used of James is best understood as ‘kinsman, relative.’”
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