Question: At a recent funeral of a friend, her ashes were brought into the Church for the Mass. I thought this was not allowed.
— Madeline Kerek, Huntington, Ind.
Answer: The practice you describe is allowed. In 1997 the American bishops received permission from the Congregation for Divine Worship for the celebration of funeral rites in the presence of cremated remains.
There are some adaptations to the rites, however. The priest may greet the remains at the door and sprinkle them with holy water, but the covering of the remains with the cloth (the pall) is omitted. The Easter candle may be placed near the cremated remains, but there was no mention of the priest incensing the remains.
Prayers that do not make reference to honoring the burying of the body of the deceased should be chosen instead of those with these references (see Order of Christian Funerals, Appendix 2, No. 428). The prayers of final commendation at the end of the funeral Mass are largely followed in the normal way. It is uncertain at this point whether the remains are to be incensed or not. It would seem this is permitted, but not required. The deacon or priest concludes the funeral Mass with an alternate dismissal listed in the rite, which makes no reference to the body.
The forbiddance of cremation by the Church in the past was due to those who denied the resurrection of the body. This is seldom the case today, but such an attitude must be ruled out. But note, “Although cremation is now permitted by the Church, it does not enjoy the same value as burial of the body. The Church clearly prefers and urges that the body of the deceased be present for the funeral rites, since the presence of the human body better expresses the values the Church affirms in those rites.” (No. 413)
Children and marriage
Question: Since the Church says that having children is intrinsic to sex and marriage, should we strip the sterile and older people of the right to marriage?
— Name withheld, Wisconsin
Answer: The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that sex must be ordered per se to the procreation of human life (No. 2366). “Per se” does not mean every act can be fertile but only that “by itself” the act is not intentionally hindered from its natural ends. This is what contraception, homosexual acts and certain heterosexual practices that do not completely or naturally render the marital act do. But it is clear to any biology novice that not every sexual act results in conception.
By analogy, consider that I call a friend, and this might result in speaking with her or perhaps being sent to a voice mail. Whatever the final result, my reason and purpose for calling was to try to reach my friend. One would likely consider me a madman if, in dialing the numbers, I had no intent of reaching my friend and was angry if she did pick up. Whatever the result, calling my friend is per se related to speaking with her.
This is what it means that marriage, and sexual activity, must be “per se” related to the procreation of children, even if the results do not always attain the full purpose of the action.
Older and sterile people do not intentionally exclude one of the two fundamental reasons for marriage and sexual activity.
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.