Q. I am 83 years old. All my life I’ve been taught that when a Catholic dies the body must be brought to the church for a funeral Mass. Now some of my friends are telling me that it’s all right, instead, to have a priest conduct a funeral service in the funeral home. Which is correct? (Richmond, Va.)
A. Your question is answered most succinctly in the church’s Code of Canon Law in No. 1177: “A funeral for any deceased member of the faithful must generally be celebrated in his or her parish church.” So the expectation is, and the general policy is, that a Catholic’s funeral rites should center around a Mass. The dying and rising of Christ, celebrated and represented in every Mass, is what offers hope to the mourners that the person who has died will await them in the peace of God’s presence. The Eucharist also is the most powerful prayer that can be offered on the deceased’s behalf.
The funeral guidelines of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., say this: “Because of the centrality of the Eucharist in our Catholic life, the celebration of a funeral without the Mass should be a rare occurrence, and only for the most serious reasons.” Clearly, I would think, convenience is not a qualifying reason, and I see it as a disturbing trend that more and more Catholic funeral services seem to be held in funeral homes.
A priest is not permitted to offer Mass or distribute Communion in the “chapel” of a funeral home, and the symbols inside of a church, the music of the liturgy and especially the reception of the Eucharist, are powerful reminders to the bereaved that Jesus has conquered all things, including death.
While it is true that, technically, there is some legal latitude as to the place of a funeral, the strong presumption and the most sensible decision is to have the funeral in church. A person is, after all, baptized in a church, receives first Communion, is confirmed and married there. Why then, wouldn’t you bring someone to church at the time of death, which is also a sacred event?
Q. I teach CCD to children preparing for their first Communion. Can you explain to me how the Catholic Church can allow 7-year-old children to receive from the chalice? The law does not allow them to consume alcohol, and the church should not be encouraging children to break the law. (Port Republic, N.J.)
A. The reception by children of holy Communion under the species of wine would probably break no law because most jurisdictions allow minors to consume alcohol under specific conditions, including as part of a religious service. The amount of alcohol consumed by sipping from the chalice is minute and may well be less than when a child drinks cough medicine.
Having said that, no one should be forced to take from the cup; it should be explained to first communicants that receiving under both species is optional and that Communion is received in its fullness even when only the host is taken. Parents, of course, may elect to have their children refrain from drinking from the cup; and when first communicants do receive from the chalice, it is probably a good idea for them to try a sip of wine ahead of time at home, so that they will not have an adverse reflex reaction to the taste.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, NY 12208.