Father Kenneth Doyle

Q. I would like to have the “Dies Irae” played at my funeral Mass (which I hope will be in the distant future). Is this permissible? (Towson, Md.)

A. The “Dies Irae” (literally, “day of wrath”) is a 13th-century hymn that served until 1970 as the sequence prayer (following the Gospel) in the standard Catholic funeral ritual. It had been set to soaring and majestic music by such composers as Mozart and Verdi.

That hymn was removed from the “ordinary form” of the funeral ritual in the liturgical reforms following the Second Vatican Council.

In its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the council had called for the funeral rites of the church to “express more clearly the paschal character of Christian death.” The “Dies Irae” foretells the second coming of Christ as the frightful “day of wrath and doom impending … when the Judge his seat attaineth and each hidden deed arraigneth, nothing unavenged remaineth.”

A leading figure in the postconciliar reforms, Archbishop Annibale Bugnini listed the “Dies Irae” as one of the texts that had “smacked of a negative spirituality inherited from the Middle Ages,” had “overemphasized judgment, fear and despair” and so had been replaced by “texts urging Christian hope and arguably giving more effective expression to faith in the resurrection.”

It should also be noted, however, that the “Dies Irae” still remains in the now-“extraordinary” 1962 form of the Roman funeral rite. In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI issued an apostolic letter (“Summorum Pontificum”), which specified rules for offering Mass according to the 1962 Missal (in the form known commonly as the Tridentine Mass, celebrated in the Latin language).

Funerals are one of the occasions on which the letter states that “for faithful and priests who request it, the pastor should also allow celebrations in this extraordinary form.”

This presumes that the priest asked to celebrate the funeral Mass is familiar with the Latin language and with the rubrics of the earlier rite. And even if the current “ordinary” form of the Roman Missal is used for the funeral Mass, I suppose that technically the “Dies Irae” could still be inserted, not as a sequence hymn following the Gospel, but perhaps as a post-Communion meditation.

I would caution, though, that there are multiple goals in a funeral liturgy: not only is its purpose to pray for the deceased and to honor his wishes, but it is also celebrated for the consolation of the bereaved family and the other mourners. All of that should enter into the choice of hymns and their texts.

Q. On several occasions when I attended Mass with friends at a neighboring parish in our diocese, I saw women retrieve the ciborium (a cup with a cover used to distribute Communion) from the tabernacle — after which the priest handed the eucharistic host to the extraordinary ministers prior to the priest’s consuming the host after saying the words, “Behold the Lamb of God …”

(At those words, the lay ministers elevated the host right along with the priest.) This did not sit well with me, and rather than be uncomfortable, I decided to ask the priest politely about it and explain my conflicted feelings.

Without going into the whole conversation, I basically received a harsh response and felt personally insulted. I do not plan to go back to that church, but I want to know whether I was out of line. (I’d rather not tell the bishop, as the priest dared me to do, but is there another option?) (Missouri)

A. You are correct in thinking that the eucharistic host should not be given to the extraordinary ministers of holy Communion before the priest himself has received Communion.

The current General Instruction of the Roman Missal is explicit in No. 162, stating that: “These ministers should not approach the altar before the priest has received Communion, and they are always to receive from the hands of the priest celebrant the vessel containing either species of the most holy Eucharist for distribution to the faithful.”

You were certainly within your rights, following Mass, to approach the priest courteously and voice your concern. I am sorry that your courtesy was not returned, and as a fellow priest, I apologize.

I can only imagine that the priest in question, burdened by many cares and responsibilities, may have felt your issue to be of lesser importance than some others.

Hopefully, he will take the time to reconsider and to address your concern in fidelity to the general instruction.


Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.