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Question Corner

First slide

Funeral Mass for non-practicing Catholic?

Q. May a Mass of Christian burial be celebrated for a baptized person who has been, for many years, away from the church? (East Springfield, N.Y.)

A. Yes, absolutely. The church's Code of Canon Law states, in fact, that every Catholic has the right to a Catholic funeral, and the wording of the canon is strong: "Deceased members of the Christian faithful must be given ecclesiastical funerals according to the norm of law" (No. 1176).

The few exceptions to that rule are stated specifically in a subsequent canon and include such categories as "notorious apostates, heretics and schismatics" and "other manifest sinners who cannot be granted ecclesiastical funerals without public scandal of the faithful" (No. 1184).

A person who has been away from regular church attendance could not, of course, receive holy Communion without going to confession first. But it is always possible that the deceased, in the privacy of his own conscience, may not have realized the gravity of his offense or may have expressed repentance and been reconciled to the Lord.

The church's rule on funerals gives a person the benefit of that doubt, and the funeral Mass commends the deceased to the tender mercy of God.

Mass vessels and vestments

Q. As I have reached old age (82), my thoughts have been on Jesus and the apostles being poor and humble. By contrast, I see priests, bishops and cardinals attired at Mass with gold-emblazoned apparel and celebrating the consecration using chalices of gold.

Yet the statuary of Christ and the saints depicts them as people of poverty. Why this obvious imbalance in celebrating our faith? (Derby, Ind.)

A. I agree in substance with your observation. It's probable that Jesus at the Last Supper used a humble clay cup in blessing the wine, and I don't think we should stray far from that simplicity.

At the same time, though, the church does want to highlight the "specialness" of the Eucharist. What we receive in holy Communion is the greatest gift of all, and sacred vessels denote the preciousness of the contents in a way that common and profane containers do not. The sacrifice of the Mass brings us into contact with the divine and "lifts us up" to heaven.

And so, the guidance the church offers us on this is contained in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which is the church's "rule book" on liturgical matters.

There we read, "Sacred vessels should be made from precious metal. If they are made from metal that rusts or from a metal less precious than gold, they should generally be gilded on the inside.

"In the dioceses of the United States of America, sacred vessels may also be made from other solid materials which in the common estimation in each region are considered precious or noble, for example, ebony or other harder woods, provided that such materials are suitable for sacred use" (Nos. 328-329).

In a section on sacred furnishings, the general instruction says that "noble simplicity" should be the governing goal in matters liturgical (No. 325). As applied to vestments, this would mean that "it is fitting that the beauty and nobility of each vestment not be sought in an abundance of overlaid ornamentation, but rather in the material used and in the design" (No. 344).

I have noticed over the years a tendency toward greater simplicity in liturgical vestments, and that trend is consistent with the church's goal.

Back to sacraments?

Q. A column of yours — about coming back to the sacraments — caught my eye. My husband and I were married 47 years ago by a justice of the peace. We were not able to be married in the church because my husband had been married before.

When he was 19 years old, he had married his 16-year-old girlfriend in a Catholic wedding. She had just told him that she was pregnant. Their marriage lasted about a year and a half; then she left him and went back home to live with her parents and her baby daughter.

My husband and I have three children; all of them went to Catholic schools, graduated and now have children of their own. We are still in contact, too, with my husband's daughter from his first marriage.

I have watched our children go through all the sacraments in the Catholic Church but have been unable to receive holy Communion due to my husband's first marriage. Last year, my husband's first wife passed away, and I've been wondering how this affects the status of our marriage within the Catholic Church.

Might there be an opportunity to rejoin the church and receive the sacraments once again? (city and state withheld)

A. Yes, definitely. Since your husband's first wife is now deceased, the way is open for the two of you to return to the sacraments. What you should do is visit with a priest soon.

He will recommend that you to go to the sacrament of reconciliation first, to return fully to the graces of the Lord, and then he will be happy to bless your present marriage.

What surprises me a bit is that your husband apparently never sought to have his first marriage annulled by the church.

The circumstances — a 19- and 16-year-old rushing into marriage, impelled by a pregnancy — present a classic case of a marriage where one or both partners probably lacked sufficient maturity to make a binding lifelong commitment.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021