Paris Aims to Put Meaning Back into Funeral Rites

Archdiocese Countering the Tendency to Commercialize Death

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PARIS, NOV. 1, 2002 ( Disturbed that death has become a mere business for many undertakers, the Archdiocese of Paris is launching its own service to provide funerals.

ZENIT interviewed Christian de Cacqueray, 40, director of the Catholic Funeral Service, to better understand this pilot project.

De Cacqueray has just published a book, «Confiscated Death: Essay on the Decline of Funeral Rites» («La Mort Confisquée, Essai sur le Déclin des Rites Funéraires,» Editions CLD), with a preface by Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, archbishop of Paris.

Q: Why do you speak of «confiscated death»?

De Cacqueray: More than being confiscated, death is hidden. It is the result of many social tendencies that have arisen in Western societies; in particular, the present concept of medicine. Concealment, which banishes the reality of death from social life, favors the extreme professionalization of funeral services.

Given that relations among neighbors and religion no longer make it possible to respond to the needs of a family in mourning, funeral service companies occupy a place that has been left empty. This can be seen especially in the new places where the deceased and their families are received, for example, crematoriums.

In this connection, it may be said that death — our death — is turned into a confiscated reality. And, as you can imagine, this confiscation has particularly grave human and religious implications.

Q: How have you come to this conclusion?

De Cacqueray: I have been involved in the funeral sector for professional reasons for over 10 years — first as director of communication of a large funeral services company, and then as director of the Catholic Funeral Service [SCF] , which I created in Paris in the year 2000, at the request of Cardinal Lustiger. Beginning Nov. 1, 2002, the SCF will become a funeral ceremony service.

Q: What services will be offered?

De Cacqueray: Like any company, but maintaining the identity of its association, the SCF will offer all funeral services in the event of death. The fact that SCF is an association means that the logic of the market is not our first concern.

Q: Given the scene that you describe, in which death is increasingly «confiscated,» how do you see the future?

De Cacqueray: We are facing a decisive moment in France. Before increasingly de-Christianized generations, what answer will the Catholic Church give, which does not allow herself to be influenced by the logic of organizations or money? Funeral pastoral care, so dependent on these systems, runs the risk of losing its true identity. What is needed, therefore, is a reaction, and proposals for proper funeral pastoral care.

Q: Of what type?

De Cacqueray: The SCF of the Archdiocese of Paris offers a modest and simple answer: Given that funeral service structures have a preponderant role in the organization of funeral rites, we have decided to give the Church an equivalent structure.

There are three objectives. For the families, it is a concrete sign of the Church’s solicitude in regard to the people in mourning. For the Church’s pastoral care, it is a concrete means to transmit her Christian view of death. For the funeral sector, it suggests a new way of working, presenting itself as a potential regulatory instrument in face of ever possible excesses.

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