Father Kenneth Doyle

Q. During the current pandemic, given the limitation on attendance imposed by civil authorities, we are planning to hold simultaneous Masses in our church and parish hall. We anticipate having to hold a total of 11 weekend Masses, but there are only two priests assigned to our parish, with another one coming to help on a regular basis.

So my question is this: Can a bishop dispense from the limitation by which a priest may celebrate only two Masses on a particular Sunday? (San Jose, California)

A. The governing statute in this regard is Canon 905 in the church’s Code of Canon Law. It provides that, in normal circumstances, a priest is permitted to celebrate Mass only once a day. However — directly to your question — that same canon also says, “If there is a shortage of priests, the local ordinary can allow priests to celebrate twice a day for a just cause, or if pastoral necessity requires it, even three times on Sundays or holy days of obligation.”

Also, of course, a Saturday afternoon or evening vigil Mass can be celebrated, which fulfills the Sunday obligation. And note, by the way, that many dioceses have now extended the dispensation from required attendance while the coronavirus pandemic persists.

So, in regard to your own parish, with three priests — and the bishop’s permission — you should be able to cover the 11 weekend Masses. I will say, from my own experience, that such a schedule will be wearing on the priests involved, so I would hope it won’t need to endure for very long.

Q. Can the cremation place bury my ashes in an urn in the ocean without my relatives and friends present? (The people close to me plan on having a memorial Mass for me afterward, without my ashes.) (San Francisco)

A. Burial at sea is permitted by the Vatican’s 2016 guidelines, so long as the cremated remains are not scattered over the waters but buried in a dignified and well-protected container (such as the urn you mentioned.) There is no requirement that relatives and friends be present, but it would certainly be nice to have a religious context to your burial.

Do you suppose the “cremation place” could arrange for a chaplain to say some prayers at the ceremony? The church’s Order of Christian Funerals has a beautiful prayer written just for such occasions.

It reads: “Lord God, by the power of your word you stilled the chaos of the primeval seas, you made the raging waters of the flood subside, and calmed the storm on the sea of Galilee. As we commit the body of our brother/sister N. to the deep, grant him/her peace and tranquility until that day when he/she and all who believe in you will be raised to the glory of new life promised in baptism.”

It’s very good that you are planning to have a memorial Mass celebrated later on, but might I suggest another possibility?

You could have a funeral Mass offered in church within a few days of your death, in the presence of the urn containing your remains.The urn would be placed on a small table near the altar — perhaps with a picture of you and some flowers, and sometime later the urn would be buried at sea.

If it were my own future at stake, I know that I would want to have a priest and congregation offering the Eucharist, the church’s most powerful prayer, for me at the earliest opportunity!

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Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.