Q. Unless illness prevented it, I have attended daily Mass most of my life. (I love starting the day with the Lord in his house!) Now in my late 80s, I have already paid for my funeral arrangements. Because I have only a few relatives still living, I have requested that there not be a wake. For the same reason, I do not want a funeral Mass. I would like only a private committal service at the grave site. Does the Catholic Church require both services? (Upstate New York)
Q. Catholicism is a strong part of my identity, and all my friends and loved ones know that. But on the other hand, neither my wife nor my children, nor most of my siblings or cousins, nor any of my closest friends is a practicing Catholic. Since they would be unable to participate fully in the Mass, I am thinking that I would prefer a non-Mass funeral service (in my parish church if possible), followed at some point by a memorial Mass. Does this choice make sense, given my circumstances? (Red Wing, Minnesota)
A. Strictly speaking, the church’s Code of Canon Law does not mandate a funeral Mass. Having said this, rarely should there not be a funeral Mass. The Eucharist is the central prayer of Catholics.
It is the act of worship that gives praise and thanks to God for the victory of Jesus over sin and death, and it commends the deceased to God’s tender mercy. This is the most powerful prayer that can be offered on a deceased person’s behalf, and why should a Catholic who has died be deprived of that benefit?
A funeral Mass can also be inspirational and educational for those in attendance, including non-Catholics as well as Catholics who may have fallen away from regular practice. Each element — the scriptural readings, the homily, the music and the prayers — reminds those in attendance that God conquers all things, including death. I would think long and hard before deciding not to have a funeral Mass — especially for myself!
Q. In my diocesan newspaper, I read recently that in 1966 Pope Paul VI reduced the Lenten days of fasting and abstinence to two: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
I am a cradle Catholic, still practicing and now 75 years old. I have fasted all 40 days of Lent for years and years, as I understood was prescribed. How is it that I am just hearing now about the lifting of that rigorous rule? For many years, fasting — with only one full meal a day — was extremely difficult for me. Why was there no broadcast of the change? (Indianapolis)
A: I have just read online an Associated Press story from Feb. 17, 1966, which ran on front pages of newspapers across America. The article leads by saying that “Pope Paul VI decreed major changes today in the centuries-old rules of fasting and abstinence for Roman Catholics.” It goes on to explain that “days of fasting during the Lenten season were reduced to two — Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.”
This does not mean, of course, that the change was explained well and thoroughly from every Catholic pulpit in America, so you may well have missed it through no fault of your own. But looking back now, what have you lost?
You made a greater sacrifice, in memory of the sufferings of Jesus, than you were required to do — and I can only believe that you have stored up credits where they matter most. (I should add, though, that if fasting might prove harmful to someone’s health, any reasonable priest would dispense that person immediately.)
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 40 Hopewell St. Albany, N.Y. 12208.
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