PITTSBURGH, PA

Church can deny Christian burial

Friday, March 15, 2019 - Updated: 8:42 am

QUESTION: I have heard there was a time when the church would not permit a funeral Mass for someone who took their own life. Is that true?

QUESTION: Does the Catholic Church ever deny Christian burial to a Catholic?

 

ANSWER: Before we begin to deal with these two questions, it is important to address exactly what the church does in its Rite of Christian Burial. The official text of the Order of Christian Funerals (paragraph 4) says: “At the death of a Christian ... the church intercedes on behalf of the deceased because of its confident belief that death does not break the bonds forged in this life.” It goes on to say: “The church also ministers to the sorrowing and consoles them in the funeral rites. ...” There is, then, a twin focus to the rites of Christian burial: the deceased, and those who mourn. With this as a basis, we can address the individual questions above.

It is accurate that the former (1917) Code of Canon Law (Canon 1240) did prohibit the celebration of funeral rites for certain people (for example, those who committed suicide). The present law of the church (1983), however, does not include that same prohibition.

The church now understands that the emotional state of a person committing suicide is complex. It may not represent the genuine religious disposition of the person at that moment or throughout his or her life. The church is also aware that it is possible that the person committing suicide regretted the decision at the last moment, but was unable to change its outcome.

It is also evident that the loved ones and friends of a person who dies such a tragic death are very much in need of the consolation and hope offered by the rites of Christian burial. For all these reasons, the Catholic Church today celebrates the rites of Christian burial for those who have committed suicide.

Regarding the second question, current church law does envision the possibility of withholding the rites of Christian burial. Canon 1184 of the present Code of Canon Law provides for the denial of church funerals to those who are considered “notorious” public sinners, unless they gave signs of repentance before their death.

In understanding the intent of the law, it is important to give appropriate emphasis to the word “notorious.” This would include those who, for example, led a life of crime or those who caused the suffering or death of others. It would also include those who publicly rejected the sacraments of the church. The church would be conscious, therefore, of not providing Christian burial to those who clearly in life gave no evidence of desiring it.

At the same time, the church believes that the final judgment of a person lies in the hands of God. Therefore, the church intends to offer its pastoral concern and sacramental assistance as widely as possible.

  

Father Bober is administrator of the grouping that includes St. Kilian in Adams/Cranberry townships and Holy Sepulcher in Glade Mills.


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