A good friend of mine died this week of cancer. She was Catholic but her husband is not, so he is asking me lots of questions.
My friend decided to donate her remains for scientific research, in accordance with the permission given by Pope Pius XII in 1956 and the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services issued by the USCCB. The recipient organization normally returns the ashes to her family for burial within 12 weeks, but if her remains are used in one particular program (the university medical school) it could be one to two years before the ashes are returned. Her family will be informed of the timing.
My questions regard the timing of the funeral or memorial mass for my friend (yes, I know the difference). The lady in charge of our Bereavement Committee, who plans funerals, says that a post-mortem body donation is a very unusual situation at our church. She told us that the pastor’s directions are to schedule the mass within 10 days or less; he will not want to postpone the mass for 12 weeks or longer waiting for the ashes to be returned.
- Is there something in Catholic law or USCCB guidelines that says a memorial mass needs to be offered within a brief window after death, if the remains can not be present for an immediate funeral mass? Is it a violation to postpone the mass until the ashes are present?
- If a memorial mass is offered now, can a funeral mass be offered later when the ashes have been returned for burial? If not, should we request a graveside service to bless the ashes?
Thank you for your help. My friend was passionate about bringing people to God, and saw the donation of her remains as a way to continue performing that mission after her soul had gone to heaven.