Catholic Funeral Rites for a Protestant

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.

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Q: Can a Catholic priest celebrate the funeral of a Protestant in a setting such as a university campus? According to Canon 1183.3, “such a person may be allowed Church funeral rites” under certain conditions. Does this imply that the ceremony must take place in a Catholic church? — F.D., Montreal

A: The actual text of Canon 1183.3 (corresponding to Canon 876.1 of the Eastern code and No. 120 of the Ecumenical Directory) says the following:

“In the prudent judgment of the local ordinary, ecclesiastical funerals can be granted to baptized persons who are enrolled in a non-Catholic Church or ecclesial community unless their intention is evidently to the contrary and provided that their own minister is not available.”

Canonists comment that the permission may be granted even if the validity of the baptism is in doubt. The non-Catholic minister may be physically unavailable insofar as there are none in the area. He may also be morally unavailable, for example, if the person was only nominally a member of a denomination but did not practice his faith whereas his next of kin was a practicing Catholic.

Likewise the permission may be granted if the non-Catholic had expressed interest in becoming Catholic, even if the wish had not yet been formalized by enrolling in a conversion program.

The Ecumenical Directory adds one proviso:

“120. In the prudent judgment of the local Ordinary, the funeral rites of the Catholic Church may be granted to members of a non-Catholic Church or ecclesial Community, unless it is evidently contrary to their will and provided that their own minister is unavailable, and that the general provisions of Canon Law do not forbid it.”

The “general provisions” of canon law referred to are those forbidding a Catholic funeral. To wit:

“Can. 1184 §1. Unless they gave some signs of repentance before death, the following must be deprived of ecclesiastical funerals:

“1/ notorious apostates, heretics, and schismatics;

“2/ those who chose the cremation of their bodies for reasons contrary to Christian faith;

“3/ other manifest sinners who cannot be granted ecclesiastical funerals without public scandal of the faithful.

Ҥ2. If any doubt occurs, the local ordinary is to be consulted, and his judgment must be followed.

“Can. 1185. Any funeral Mass must also be denied a person who is excluded from ecclesiastical funerals.”

Once all of these conditions are met, then other questions, such as the rite to be used and the location of the funeral celebration, are left up to the “prudent judgment” of the local bishop.

Since funerals always require great pastoral sensitivity, and each situation is in some way unique, the bishop together with the priests involved are best placed to decide as to the most suitable options that respect the will of the deceased, the family and all others involved.

For that reason the Church does not attempt to give detailed instructions for such cases.

One of the few ritual conditions is that, if a funeral Mass is celebrated, the non-Catholic’s name is not mentioned in the Eucharistic Prayer. This is quite logical, since such a mention would imply that deceased lived in full communion with the Church.

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Readers may send questions to</a>. Please put the word “Liturgy” in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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Fr. Edward McNamara

Padre Edward McNamara, L.C., è professore di Teologia e direttore spirituale

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