Q. My husband is very ill with cancer and it is probably terminal. He last went to confession several months ago. I would like him to go to confession once more and receive the anointing of the sick, but I am reluctant to suggest it because he is still ambulatory and is unaware of the gravity of his condition. (We decided not to tell him how sick he is, lest it cause him to despair.) What can I do? Should I just wait until the last minute? (Milwaukee)
A. No, you definitely should not wait until the last minute. (For one thing, how can you forecast when that minute will arrive?) The sacrament of the anointing of the sick, which some of us learned as kids to call the “last rites,” is meant to be far more than that.
It asks first, if it be God’s will, that healing take place — and you surely would not want to deprive your husband of that opportunity. If, however, the disease is terminal, the sacrament prays that your husband’s suffering will be eased and that he will feel the peace of God’s presence throughout his days.
Why not look for a chance to say casually to your husband something like this: “I hate to see you not feeling well. How about if I ask (Father X) to stop by when he’s out visiting homes? He could say a couple prayers for you and give you a blessing.”
You should clue the priest in private that your husband is unaware of the seriousness of his condition, and the priest will know to offer the chance for confession and anointing.
Q. I am a baptized Catholic who was married in a Catholic Church with a Mass. My husband and I raised all of our children Catholic, sent them to Catholic schools and have supported the church financially throughout our married life. My husband was never baptized in any faith. (His family considered themselves nonsectarian Christians but never had any of their children baptized.)
Will my husband be allowed to have a Catholic funeral Mass when the time comes? He would have no objection to that, would actually support the idea, and I can honestly say that he is a better Christian than anyone I know. He invited my aging father to live with us and took care of him for four years until he passed away. He encouraged our children’s faith throughout the years, and it seems logical that he should be allowed to have a Catholic funeral Mass. (I assume there would be no problem with his being buried in our family plot in a Catholic cemetery.) (City of origin withheld)
A. Your second question is the easy one: Your husband can certainly be buried with his loved ones in your family’s Catholic burial plot, and this happens regularly.
Your first question requires a longer response. In the church’s Code of Canon Law, No. 183 provides that “ecclesiastical funerals can be granted to baptized persons who are enrolled in a non-Catholic church or ecclesial community unless their intention is evidently to the contrary and provided that their own minister is not available.”
Notice, though, that this permission applies specifically to those who have been baptized. The same canon makes only two exceptions: catechumens (i.e., those who, at the time of their death, had been under instruction preparing for Catholic baptism) and children who died before receiving the sacrament of baptism that their parents intended.
While I wish that these exceptions were broader (so that they could include your husband), the requirement of baptism has a certain logic. The ritual for a Catholic funeral Mass is called the Order of Christian Funerals, and some of the prescribed prayers make direct reference to the baptism of the deceased.
At the very beginning of the ceremony, for example, the priest sprinkles the casket with holy water while saying: “In the waters of baptism, (name of deceased) died with Christ and rose with him to new life. May he/she now share with him eternal glory.”
One of the first petitions recommended for the prayer of the faithful also begins: “For (name of deceased), who in baptism was given the pledge of eternal life, that he/she now be admitted to the company of the saints.”
Here is what I would suggest with regard to your husband: When he passes, ask your parish priest to conduct a funeral service in the funeral home. The priest will use some of the prayers customary at a funeral Mass, along with passages of your choosing.
He may also make some personal remarks about your husband’s goodness and his support of your family’s faith. Additionally, soon after his death, you might request that one of the regularly scheduled parish Masses be offered for the repose of your husband’s soul. (A priest can pray for anyone for whom a Mass may be offered. Canon No. 901 says, “A priest is free to apply the Mass for anyone, living or dead.”)
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 40 Hopewell St. Albany, N.Y. 12208.