Why funerals matter

Question: When I die, I want to be cremated to avoid expense to my family. Is this acceptable to the Church? Also, I have no wish for a funeral. Can my ashes still be buried in consecrated ground? 

— Barbara Grant, Everett, Wash.

Answer: In a recent column, I dealt with the matter of cremation, and stated that while the Church prefers traditional burial, cremation is acceptable. Like many people, you are choosing cremation to avoid expense to your family. That is thoughtful. However, I do not think people should feel that their funeral and burial are a burden on their family. If the family is very poor and there is no one left able to take care of matters, planning for one’s funeral in advance makes sense. But burying the dead is one of the corporal works of mercy and one’s descendants should not be denied the opportunity to take care of this obligation. 

You say you do not wish to have a funeral. Certainly, one can get into heaven without a funeral, but the world becomes a little more impoverished when people choose not to have funerals. The purpose of a funeral is well expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The Church who, as Mother, has borne the Christian sacramentally in her womb during his earthly pilgrimage, accompanies him at his journey’s end, in order to surrender him ‘into the Father’s hands.’ She offers to the Father, in Christ, the child of his grace, and she commits to the earth, in hope, the seed of the body that will rise in glory. This offering is fully celebrated in the Eucharistic sacrifice” (No. 1683). 

The funeral liturgy expresses, dramatizes and makes tangible the many aspects of the Christian reality of death: purification and cleansing, supplication and petition, thanksgiving and joy. Funeral rites express the wide range of emotions mourners feel and allow the larger community to say farewell and to pray for the deceased. Most of all, funeral rites state the truth that death is not the end, but the door to eternal life. 

Certainly one can be buried in consecrated ground without a funeral. But should there not be at least a graveside committal? The prayers of committal summarize the Catholic faith about death. If left unsaid, the burial is left bereft of meaning. 

Priest and people 

Question: Isn’t the Mass a prayer of all the people and not a solo performance by the priest? It would appear that the revision of the Roman Missal addresses the performance of the priest by recapturing the “awe” of the Mass rather than helping to improve the prayer of the people. Please comment. 

— Donald J. Wright, Campbellsport, Wis. 

Answer: The revision of the Roman Missal (which will be implemented at the end of 2011) has as its fundamental purpose the deepening of the people’s engagement with the liturgical presence and activity of Christ through an improved translation of the prayers of the Mass. I do not think the new missal will expand or modify the role of the priest or serve to make the Mass seem like a solo performance by the priest. 

I hope the new missal will serve to recapture the sense of “awe” in the Mass not in any sense that would estrange or befuddle people, but by helping manifest more fully, through more poetic and theologically weighty translations, the beauty and glory of the Mass. If the prayer of the people were not to be improved, then the new missal would be a failure. 

Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to mfmannion@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.