The Laity and Funeral Rites

In under a week, I have had to attend two Vigils for the Deceased. Both times, they were “presided” over by laity. We do not have a severe priest shortage in our diocese, nor are we lacking in permanent deacons. In fact the parishes where the deceased belonged to each had two priests and a deacon assigned to them.

Ecclesiae de Mysterio notes that:

Article 12

Leading the Celebration at Funerals
In the present circumstances of growing dechristianization and of abandonment of religious practice, death and the time of obsequies can be one of the most opportune pastoral moments in which the ordained minister can meet with the non-practicing members of the faithful.

It is thus desirable that Priests and Deacons, even at some sacrifice to themselves, should preside personally at funeral rites in accordance with local custom, so as to pray for the dead and be close to their families, thus availing of an opportunity for appropriate evangelization.

The non-ordained faithful may lead the ecclesiastical obsequies ***provided that there is a true absence of sacred ministers ***and that they adhere to the prescribed liturgical norms. (111) Those so deputed should be well prepared both doctrinally and liturgically.

The laity are not properly trained. During the first service, the layman leading the vigil declared in his reflection that the deceased was in heaven and that he would be helping out the survivors. He also made a point of going to the body after the service as it to bless the corpse. I spoke to him after the service and told him that the Church only makes that kind of judgment when a canonization is involved and this is not the time for us to be making statements like that. I also told him that only clergy should be blessing. The man told me that he was annointed to do this and that he does not follow what the Pope says, but, what God says. That was a big red flag. He also said that he did not have to obey someone who sins. I was flabbergastged, to say the least.

Tonight, I went to the second Vigil. I was disappointed because a layman led the service. He really had no clue as to what he was doing, but, at least he did not attempt to bless and pray over the body. As I said in my opening comments, the parish where the deceased was from has two priests and a deacon. After the service, I spoke to one of the religious brothers who was in attendance and I told him that what happened should not have occured. He told me that it was time for the laity to start taking over these duties. I told him to read Ecclesiae de Mysterio. He told me that if I didn’t agree with empowering the laity, then I should found my own church. Once again, I told him to read the documents, but, he ignored the comment.

This was very disappointing. I am going to send the first pastor a copy of Ecclesiae de Mysterio in Spanish. He is not known for following the rubrics, but, I am hoping that maybe something might happen.:shrug:

Our pastor is a strong believer in ‘empowering the laity’. In his previous position that was a necessity since he was responsible for some 30 or so parishes, separated by hundreds of miles. Only 1 or 2 might see a priest on any given Sunday. BUT, even with a priest there he expected the laity to do whatever it was they had to do when no priest was there. So, bishop happens to be available for a funeral Mass? Great! But the laity still do all the funeral rites while the bishop sits. A Mass rather than a ‘communion service’? Great, but the priest sits at Communion and the EMHCs distribute. “You have to show the community that the people who were appointed to do these things have that mandate and are to exercise it. You have to validate them.” Documents? “Those are fine for Rome but even the local Roman churches don’t obey, why should we?”

Did the family specifically request the priest or deacon?

Unfortunately, the family lets the funeral home make the arrangements. In the case of the second one, the daughter really didn’t know what was going to happen. She is an old Catholic school friend of mine and when I asked her who was going to do the Vigil, she did not know.

What is rather odd is that the second funeral home has an ordained deacon who serves as one of the directors (owners). I am wondernig as to why he didn’t just do it. He’s handled it quite a few other times. :shrug:

You may not think it’s appropriate for a layperson to preside and you may claim there’s not a priest shortage, but neither of those statements actually means anything when it comes to a vigil service.

The parish my mother belonged to has three priests and two deacons. She was a member of that parish for over 50 years. When she died they claimed they had no one available to preside at the vigil service. They offered to send an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion to lead a rosary. When I said I wanted the whole vigil service, not just a rosary, I got a shrug in response. They had no intention of having one.

A friend of mine led the service and it was beautiful. Though he was *only *a layperson, he did what the clergy of her parish refused. If you had been there and thought he didn’t dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s, too bad. He lovingly did what the clergy refused to do.

However, Ecclesiae de Mysterio notes things rather differently. As the document clearly states:

It is thus desirable that Priests and Deacons, even at some sacrifice to themselves, should preside personally at funeral rites in accordance with local custom, so as to pray for the dead and be close to their families, thus availing of an opportunity for appropriate evangelization.

This is their duty, not ours. We only come into play when there is a genune need. Granted, the person you cited did help, but, the fault lies with the clergy for being all too quick to abdicate their responsibilities. This is the time when the family needs them the most.

Documents are meaningless when they are ignored.

Thank God for laypeople who will step in and do what is needed. (And thank God for the many priests and deacons who do everything possible to meet the spiritual needs of their parishioners. I know many of them as well as the ones who treat ministry like a 9 to 5 job.)

I realize what you are saying. Iin fact, truth be told, I very reluctantly had to do the rosary for my beloved paternal grandmother because the funeral home couldn’t find a priest in Austin to do it. I was very disappointed with my grandmother’s pastor. Having seen what the laywoman did at my step-grandfather’s rosary, I did not want the same thing to happen for my grandma. It was frustrating.

My PV had celebrated the funeral Mass but could not make it for the Rosary because he had to tend to the prisons back in the diocese. Since we had her burial at Fort Sam Houston, the military makes logistics very difficult. The funeral Mass was on Thursday, the rosary was Thursday night and the burial was in San Antonio on Friday morning at a very early hour. Thank God a friend of mine in San Antonio was able to get a deacon for us so that he could be there at the cemetery.

My point is this: it should not be a question of empowering the laity. Rather, priests and deacons should own up to the responsibilities given to them at their ordinations. We should only come into play in the event that there is a grave necessity. It is a very sad statement that authoritative documents of the Holy See are ignored, let alone, not even read.

While I do not want to defend a situation I do not know, I will relate mine. I am in a parish with two priests and I am one of the two deacons. I also serve another parish as well. There are times I get called to do a vigil service when I already have something else scheduled at one of the two parishes. I usually can’t cancel because it involves other people who may be traveling long distances, or it may be a meeting that’s been set up and involves many people. I know my pastors (both of them) are very involved with the life of the parish. The parochial vicar is also quite busy and the other deacon is caring for a grandchild with ADD and he or his wife (who is also a parish employee) split who can be out in the evenings.

Sometimes there is so much going on that there isn’t a cleric available – regardless of how much we are willing to sacrifice. I still haven’t learned how to be in two (or more) places at one time.

Deacon Ed

I can understand your perspective, given what you indicated from your own personal experience, but, when it comes to pastoral care, should not the priests make themselves available in these times of need? Granted, the funeral is not a sacrament; however, the rites associated with it should be treated with respect.

Phemie presents an interesting situation in Canada where there are cluster parishes and a priest has to care for three or four communities. That is understandable, especially if they are miles apart. However, could not another priest or a deacon substitute or offer some assistance?

Before Mass today, I spoke to one of the older priests and I told him about the situations that I witnessed. He was unaware of the document that I quoted, but, he agreed that, at least in our diocese, the priests and deacons need to make themselves available for the funeral rites.

Inasmuch as I tend to praise my parochial vicar a lot in many of these threads (there are times, though, when we have had some screaming matches), he does make every effort to be of assistance and do the Vigil of the Deceased and the Funeral Mass (even on his day off). He is not super-priest, by any stretch, but, he does recognize that a member of the clergy should be there. He will do this for folks who aren’t even members of the parish. Of course, when he is out of town he cannot, but, when he is he makes every effort to help. That also goes for our deacon, as well. He will help, provided that he is not on active duty (reserves).

In most dioceses in Canada deacons are as scarce as hens’ teeth. We have none in my diocese and the last time I looked there were a grand total of 26 for 11 dioceses in Eastern Canada. 98% are in one Archdiocese. Often, the priest assigned to these parishes is all there is unless he’s lucky enough to have a retired priest living in the vicinity.

I got to visit over the phone with our parish deacon. He said that the laity are supposed to be the last resort, as it falls to the priests and deacons to make themselves available for the funeral rites. He also observed that those laity who are engaging in this practice are poorly trained, or, not even trained. He expressed the same consternation that I have experienced. However, unless change comes from the top down, I am afraid that we will be seeing more of the same.

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