Formula at Priest's Funeral

And More on Christmas Decorations

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ROME, DEC. 13, 2005 ( Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.

Q: Recently, at a funeral for a priest, a concelebrant read the prayer for the dead in Eucharistic Prayer II in this way: “Remember Joseph, whom you have called from this life. In baptism and holy orders he died with Christ; may he also share his resurrection.” I have heard this said many times at priests’ funerals or anniversaries of death, so I took it as a valid formula. However, one of the laity was offended by the formula, which to her seemed to equate baptism with ordination. Could you tell me whether the addition of “holy orders” in the prayer for the deceased priest is allowed during the Eucharistic Prayer? I was not able to find a separate book for priests’ funerals to answer it on my own. I would certainly like to continue this tradition if possible, but not if it is incorrect to do so. — K.H., Rochester, New York

A: There is, as far as I know, no special book for priest’s funerals, although there are particular prayers for a deceased priest.

There are some marks of distinction. The coffin, for instance, is placed in the direction that a person held in the liturgical assembly. Thus, the body of an ordained minister lies facing the assembly and the body of a layperson lies facing the altar.
<br> Where it is customary, the insignia of the minister’s order may be placed on the coffin.

Apart from this, No. 832 of the Ceremonial of Bishops notes that “The funeral Mass is celebrated in the same way as other Masses. In Eucharistic Prayers II and III the intercessions (interpolations) for the deceased are added.”

I do not consider that the addition of the phrase “in holy orders” to these interpolations is quite correct, and I believe that the layperson’s objection touches on a valid point.

First, there is the general principle that nobody, not even a priest, may add or remove anything from the sacred liturgy, and this addition is not found in any official liturgical text.

During the funeral of Pope John Paul II the First Eucharistic Prayer’s formula of intercession for the dead was faithfully followed except, as is usual in funerals, in substituting the deceased’s name for the usual silent pause. To wit: “Remember; Lord, those who have died … especially the Roman Pontiff Pope John Paul, whom today you have called to you from this life …”

Second, although the reception of holy orders is a wonderful thing, and the soul receives an indelible sacramental seal, it is not quite true to say that N. has died with Christ in holy orders. The expression “in baptism he has died with Christ” is redolent of St. Paul’s theology in which baptism is in itself a death to sin and a foretaste of the resurrection through the reception of a new life in Christ.

Including another sacrament in this phrase tends to obscure the scriptural and theological background and, I believe, weakens rather than enhances the depth of the interpolation.

Finally, if this addition were legitimate, then logically we would also have to include the other sacrament that leaves an indelible seal on the soul and say “in baptism, confirmation and holy orders he has died with Christ …”

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Follow-up: Christmas Decorations

Unsurprisingly, given the haziness or inexistence of norms on the subject, some readers dissented from our opinions regarding the appropriate arrangement of Christmas decorations (see Nov. 29).

One reader took umbrage with our opinion that Christmas tress (that is, trees decorated with tinsel, silver balls, etc.) should not be placed in the sanctuary. He writes: “Christmas trees were always in the sanctuary since I was a child. Our monsignor was a graduate of the Roman Seminary, [and] taught there, became our pastor, and had a good idea as to what was appropriate … and not ….”

I have no difficulty with Christmas trees. But, with all due respect to the good monsignor, I think that placing them in the sanctuary is not a common practice in the Church. It is not advisable because, as a ubiquitous symbol, it no longer has an exclusively religious meaning and can easily evoke the more material and commercial aspect of the holy season.

The recovery of this original religious sense inspired a priest from New South Wales, Australia, to comment:

“Christmas decorations often have a local history and need explanation so that their meaning can be universalized and not just seen as something nice [and belonging] to the secular culture surrounding Christmas.

“Once the Christmas tree had been introduced to Europe sometime in the 16th century, decorations were made of bread dough, to symbolize Jesus Bread of Life. Shepherds’ crooks — the forerunner to the candy cane — [and] candles — the forerunner to tree lights and stars — were made and then handed out to children on the feast of Christmas.

“Today, in our parish, I get the children to make biscuit dough decorations and ice them. They are then given out to parishioners the last Sunday of Advent. On that occasion we also bless the families’ crib figures and other home decorations.”

I am happy to pass along these useful pastoral suggestions hoping that they may help many readers live this Christmas with true spiritual depth.

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Readers may send questions to Please put the word “Liturgy” in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country.

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