Funerals (Canon Law)

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Christian funeral rites have traditionally consisted of three parts: the escorting of the body to the church or cemetery; rites at the house, the church and the cemetery; and burial in ground set aside for the interment of the faithful.

Right to a Church Funeral. As to who may receive Church Funeral, Codex iuris canonici (CIC) 1 c., 1176, states that the Christian faithful departed must be given ecclesiastical funerals in accord with the norm of law. In addition to Catholic Christians, CIC c., 1183 allows for the celebration of Catholic funeral rites for certain other groups (confer, CCEO 1, 2 c., 876). Catechumens are to be given Catholic funeral rites, as are children whom the parents intended to baptize, but who died before baptism could be administered. A local ordinary may allow a Christian enrolled in a non-Catholic church or ecclesial community to have an ecclesiastical funeral, if the person's own minister is unavailable, and if such is not manifestly contrary to the person's intention.

Denial of Church Funerals. With regard to those who may not be given Christian burial, CIC c., 1184 expressly forbids ecclesiastical funerals to three classes of Catholics (confer, CCEO c. 877):

(1) Notorious apostates, heretics and schismatics. CIC c., 751 gives definitions for apostasy, heresy and schism. The offense must be publicly known. One who ceased the practice of Catholic religion without formally abandoning the Church does not fall under this heading, and should not be denied Catholic funeral rites.

(2) Those who have commanded that their body be cremated for reasons contrary to Christian faith. Officially forbidden for centuries, cremation is now permissible, so long as "it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body" (CCC, no. 2301). The Eastern Code permits cremation "provided it does not obscure the preference of the Church for the burial of bodies and that scandal is avoided" (CCEO c. 8763). In the Order of Christian Funerals approved for use in the United States, guidelines have been provided for funeral liturgies involving the cremated remains of the deceased.

(3) Other manifest sinners who cannot be granted ecclesiastical funerals without public scandal. The term manifest indicates that the person must be publicly known to have lived in a state of grave sin. For example, some who might qualify are those involved in the drug trade and those who have admitted to murder. It is also required that having an ecclesiastical funeral would provoke public scandal among the Christian faithful. Only when both conditions are verified would Catholic funeral rites be prohibited. Persons who have divorced and remarried do not come under this heading. Nor are persons who have committed suicide included under this heading. According to most medical authorities, a person who commits suicide is considered deprived at least temporarily of the full possession of his faculties.

Doubtful Cases. If the deceased has given any sign of repentance, he is not to be denied a Catholic funeral. Such a sign of repentance might be summoning a priest or making an act of perfect contrition. These signs show that the deceased in some way preserved an attachment to the Church.

Bibliography: m. conte, De locis et temporibus sacris (Turin 1922) 125133, 150151, 253268. c. kerin, The Privation of Christian Burial (Catholic University of America Canon Law Studies, 136; Washington 1941). a. bernard, La Sépulture en Droit Canonique (Paris 1933). j. m. huels, OSM in j. p. beal et al., New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law (New York 2000) 14121413.

[c. a. kerin/

j. staab]