Monday, February 11, 2013

Are Catholic Funerals Still Denied?

Last night, my husband and I had tickets to see a one-woman performance re-enacting Edith Piaf's life. We really enjoyed it, me especially, since I am a sucker for melodramatic lounge music.

One interesting fact about Piaf's life, which came to light as part of the performance, was that she was denied a Catholic funeral. This triggered a memory that the French author, Colette, was also denied a Catholic funeral. The stated basis for these two decisions was, in summary, that both these artists had led sinful, scandalous lives.

This got me thinking about whether or not, in more modern times (post-Vatican II), if Catholic funerals are ever still denied? Note that Colette died in the 1950's and Piaf in the early 1960's.

My husband and I were talking about this and we both came to the conclusion that such a decision is the ultimate in hope-less-ness. Also the ultimate in judgementalism. We couldn't fathom, no matter how strict a take one might have on public sin, as to why such extreme measures would be necessary for baptised Catholics? It's a truth of the faith that God knows everything and is the ultimate judge, is it not? So what harm would there be in having a funeral for an open sinner, since God's in control anyway?

Besides, at the time of Colette and Piaf- and taking into account more traditionalist France - their Catholic funerals would likely have been the all-black, somber affairs that marked pre-Vatican II times. Thus, their funerals probably wouldn't have painted a picture of assured salvation for either woman.

Perhaps some reading this blog post know personal stories of denied funerals of older relatives? If so, I'd be interested in hearing them.


  1. Remember Ted Kennedy's Catholic funeral? Should he have had one, yes. Should it have been televised and filled with political overtones and what was essentially a "canonization" speech by Obama? No. The purpose of a Catholic funeral is to pray for the dead and bring to mind the hope we have in Christ.

    Our priest presides over funeral Masses of regular Mass goers, funeral services of fallen away Catholics (a service, no communion) and will also have a service for non-Catholics (most of whom had some sort of affiliation with our parish because a family member went there, but not limited to that) because as our priest says "this is the universal church and as priest I serve everyone". (Serve as in help and look after - not serve their whims.)
    Angela M.

  2. I have no idea if Catholics are still denied funeral Masses in current times. I do know, however, that my grandmother did receive a full funeral Mass when she died and she had been raised Jewish. But she had married a Catholic, no longer kept in touch with her family, raised her children Catholic, and, although she never converted, she hadn't been a practicing Jew in decades. In a funeral Mass for a non-baptized person, the pall over the coffin is not used (the white drape).


    This wasn't so long ago. In this case, though, after the local parish decided to cancel the funeral upon finding out that the deceased was known to be a prominent gay in the community in a very public relationship, the diocese over-rode the decision and allowed the funeral to occur. I haven't researched it enough to know where the funeral ended up being held or who presided.

    So it does still happen. I've read that "scandal" is what can be the deciding factor. If it is going to "scandalize" the community to hold a Catholic funeral, it can be denied. However, it seems that these days, the community is far more likely to be scandalized by the denial of a Catholic funeral/burial than by holding one for--gasp!!--real sinners who never publicly repented.

    It's always about the scandal, it seems. Only the institution of the Church at times seems mightily confused about what causes true scandal. Thus the cover up and shuffling of child molesters that occurred to "prevent scandal" in the Church. Epic fail!!! And not exactly rocket science, either......

  4. Charlotte, I found a news article which contained this quote:

    "Canon 1184 provides several conditions under which Catholics must be “deprived of ecclesiastical funerals.” They include: “notorious apostates, heretics and schismatics; those who chose the cremation of their bodies for reasons contrary to Christian faith”; and “other manifest sinners who cannot be granted ecclesiastical funerals without public scandal of the faithful.”"

    The quote goes on to say that even manifest sinners should be given funerals if they've summoned a priest or otherwise seemed to be open to the possibility of repentance, and adds that funerals are rarely denied.

    So a lapsed or non-practicing Catholic would not necessarily be denied, but a person who has left the Church for another faith and has not made any act, not even a private one, of wanting to return to the Church might be (especially if, say, a Catholic who became a Lutheran to marry a Lutheran died leaving only grandchildren, some of whom are Catholic and some Lutheran--if the former Catholic was still actively involved in the Lutheran church and had made no attempt to reconcile with the Catholic Church the Catholic Church would likely not get involved in a fight over where to bury Grandpa, etc.).

    It is possible that Church authorities were more strict about the "manifest sinner" aspect in the past when one's status would certainly be known. In Piaf's case, her having been rather callous regarding her own child, been credibly suspected of involvement in a notorious murder, and her generally loose lifestyle were probably compounded by her not having made the slightest gesture (however shallow) toward reconciling with the Church--though whether her case would be treated similarly today is something I can't really speculate about. The archbishop who denied her the Catholic funeral called her "irreligious," which in France at the time meant something different than merely lapsed, and implies a bit of hostility toward the Church. Hard to say from this distance in time.

  5. It sounds like both women died under the censure of excommunication since remarrying after a civil divorce carried with it that penalty at the time. I think the denial of Catholic burial was supposed to make a person think good and hard before committing a sin that would cause them to be excommunicated, but as cultures became less Christian and other forms of burial became more common, it became clear that it was hardly a deterrent and it denied the public sinner prayers that they clearly needed. I can see where a modern Catholic would think that the Church was harsh and a Trad would think that the Church has become soft, but I think of it more that the Church, like a good mother, changes her discipline when it becomes clear that what once worked no longer works.

    1. Alice, you hit the nail on the head, and in application to more than just the funeral thing. That's what the traditional Catholics often don't understand....that we're in different times and we need to do what works. I suppose that comment opens up a whole can of worms.....

    2. When Céline Dion's husband René Angélil died, he received a service overseen by the archbishop of Montreal Christian Lépine and Ibrahim M. Ibrahim, epoch of the Greek Melkite Catholic Church in Canada was expected to join with Rev. Miguel Castellanos to lead mass.
      This was a man who was twice divorced. Should he have been given such a funeral?

  6. Agreed! Society was hard back then, not just the Church. Shunning and treating sinners as less than dirt was a handy tool for keeping people in line. (I remember my mother talking about how people would cross the street rather than walk on the same sidewalk that a divorced woman or an unmarried pregnant woman was walking on........funny how that shunning/degrading of sinners seemed to apply to women much more frequently to men, though, isn't it...)

    It just doesn't work anymore. Plus it was just plain un-Christ-like. But I do think it worked pretty well for many centuries (if by working, we mean keeping people, especially women, in line---being unmarriageable could be almost a death sentence, or at least a sentence to a life of penury with or whoredom. Now that is a pretty strong motive to follow social mores). Or at least it ensured that people who had the means to do would hide their sins and live a double life so they could remain respectable and society could conveniently pretend it just wasn't happening.

  7. Now the only people who are shunned and shamed are smokers.

    Funny, because last time I checked, that was neither illegal nor immoral.

  8. LOL, ain't that the seems to be working pretty well, too, doesn't it? It's probably just a matter of time before they basically make it illegal to smoke just about everywhere but in your own home. And I would say it is considered immoral by many in that a person can (supposedly) harm people with his/her second-hand smoke.

    Many of my older nurse friends remember the days of puffing away at the nurse's station in between caring for the sick. Ah, the good ole days!

  9. I would really prefer that Anonymous commenters at least sign off with a moniker or made up name so that I can differentiate who it talking. Thanks!