Bishop's Blog

The Order of Catholic Funerals in the Diocese of Calgary

“If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord, so that alive or dead, we belong to the Lord.”

[Romans 14:8]

“We want to make sure you do not grieve like other people who have no hope.”

[1 Thessalonians 4:13]

At the death of a Christian, whose life of faith was begun in the waters of Baptism and strengthened at the Eucharistic table, the Church intercedes on behalf of the deceased because of its confident belief that death is not the end, nor does it break the bonds forged in life. The Church also ministers to the sorrowing and consoles them in the funeral rites with the comforting Word of God and the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

In every celebration for the dead, the Church attaches great importance to the reading of the Word of God. The biblical texts proclaim the story of God’s love and fidelity, reminding us of God’s design for the world in which suffering and death will relinquish their hold on all whom God has called his own. A careful selection and use of readings from Scripture will provide the family and the community with an opportunity to hear God speak to them in their needs, sorrows, fears and hopes.

The Catholic funeral rite is divided into several stations, or parts, each with its own purpose. For this reason we recommend following the complete structure and making use of each station.

I. The Vigil Service

(Wake)

At the vigil, the Christian community keeps watch with the family in prayer to the God of mercy and finds strength in Christ’s presence. The Vigil Service usually takes place during the period of visitation and viewing at the funeral home. It is a time to remember the life of the deceased and to commend him/her to God. In prayer we ask God to console us in our grief and give us strength to support one another.

The Vigil Service can take the form of a Service of the Word with readings from Sacred Scripture accompanied by reflection and prayers. The clergy and the funeral director can assist in planning such service.

It is most appropriate, when family and friends are gathered together for visitation, to offer time for recalling the life of the deceased. For this reason, eulogies, words of remembrance, or tributes are encouraged to be done at the funeral home during visitation or at the Vigil Service.

II. The Funeral Liturgy

The funeral liturgy is the central liturgical celebration of the Christian community for the deceased. When one of its members dies, the Church encourages the celebration of the funeral liturgy at a Mass. When Mass cannot be celebrated, a funeral liturgy outside Mass can be celebrated at the church or in the funeral home.

At the funeral liturgy, the Church gathers with the family and friends of the deceased to give praise and thanks to God for Christ’s victory over sin and death, to commend the deceased to God’s tender mercy and compassion, and to seek strength in the proclamation of the Paschal Mystery. The funeral liturgy, therefore, is an act of worship, and not merely an expression of grief.

III. Rite of Committal

(Burial or Interment)

The Rite of Committal, the conclusion of the funeral rite, is the final act of the community of faith in caring for the body of its deceased member. It should normally be celebrated at the place of committal, that is, beside the open grave or place of interment. In committing the body to its resting place, the community expresses the hope that, with all those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith, the deceased awaits the glory of the resurrection. The Rite of Committal is an expression of the communion that exists between the Church on earth and the Church in heaven: the deceased passes with the farewell prayers of the community of believers into the welcoming company of those who need faith no longer, but see God face-to-face.

The Church continues to prefer the practice of burying the bodies of the deceased. Nevertheless, cremation is not prohibited, unless it was chosen for reasons contrary to Christian doctrine. When cremation of the body has been chosen, the ashes of the faithful must be laid to rest in a sacred place, that is, in a cemetery or, in certain cases, in a church or an area, which has been set aside for this purpose, and so dedicated by the bishop or his delegate.

Diocesan Policy re Eulogies

A brief homily based on the readings is always given after the gospel reading at the funeral liturgy but there is never a eulogy.

The homily should have a narrative style. At a funeral, there is storytelling to be done – a real person’s story – not on its own, but in relation to God. Attentive to the grief of those present, the homilist should also help the members of the assembly to understand the mystery of God’s love and the mystery of Jesus’ victorious death and resurrection were present in the life and death of the deceased and that these mysteries are active in their lives as well. Through the homily, members of the family and community should receive consolation and strength to face the death of one of their members with a hope nourished by the saving word of God.

A eulogy is a certain kind of rhetoric or public speaking, focused on the deceased person, with the intention of praising him or her. In this set oration there may be an implication that the praise is exaggerated or even untrue.

A homily, on the other hand, is to be a discourse within the context of a worship service which invites the assembly to consider and interpret its life and experience in light of a biblical text or texts which have been proclaimed.

What is at issue in the question of preaching at a funeral is clearly not that any mention of the person who has died or of the person’s attributes and accomplishments be avoided by the homilist. Rather, it is that such references be consistent with the spirit of the liturgy and find a proper context within the homily.

At the funeral of a Christian, the homily should be genuinely Eucharistic, a statement of praise and thanks to God. It should invite the person’s family and friends to simultaneously hold on the values and lessons of this person’s life, entrust the person’s final destiny into the hands of God, and remember the shortness and fragility of human life and of God’s invitation in Christ to live every moment fully and abundantly.

There are three approved contexts for a eulogy, words of remembrance, or tributes.

  1. The Vigil Service (Wake) of the deceased.
  2. At the grave-site or the funeral reception after the interment.
  3. In the Church prior to the liturgy, i.e. prior to reception of the body at the entrance to the Church.

The guidelines, issued by the Alberta and NWT Conference of Catholic Bishops, for the celebration of the sacraments with persons and families considering or opting for death by assisted suicide or euthanasia, can be seen on the diocesan website at www.calgarydiocese.ca under the Our Faith menu or call (403) 218-5500 for more information.

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus

Related Offices Bishop's
Related Themes Euthanasia Life Issues Funeral Death and Dying

Collaborating Towards A Compassionate Society

As Catholic Christians we speak in terms that are informed by reason, ethical dialogue, religious conviction, and profound respect for the dignity of the human person. Our awareness is shaped by thousands of years of reflection, prayer, and by our actions as Christians following Jesus. He showed most fully what it means to love, to serve, and to be present to others. His response to the suffering of others was to suffer with them, not to kill them. He accepted suffering in his life as the pathway to giving, to generosity, and to mercy. In Jesus’ life and through his actions, we are offered a supreme example of humanity.

The values of Jesus of Nazareth are the basis for our views on euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.

In a spirit of collaboration in building a society that is more compassionate, more respectful of all human life, more just, and more generous, we have a number of issues to ponder, pray about, and discuss, for example:

  1. Euthanasia means killing someone - such as by a lethal injection to end his or her suffering. Physician-assisted suicide means a doctor provides the means for someone to kill oneself (proscribing a lethal dose of medication). The distinction lies in who initiates the process – the doctor or the patient.
  2. One of the most important principles of palliative care is to manage the pain, or illness, of patients while neither hastening death, nor prolonging the dying process. With proper palliative care, almost all requests for euthanasia would disappear.
  3. Euphemisms such as "medical aid in dying" or "mercy killing" or "dying with dignity" or "terminating the suffering" or "physician-assisted death" do not change the fact that allowing assisted suicide and euthanasia makes it legal to kill someone (euthanasia) or to aid in their suicide (assisted suicide).
  4. Physicians and other health care staff have a basic right to conscientiously object to hastening a patient’s death through assisted suicide or euthanasia and should never be forced to do so.
  5. Every person, at the end of life, would benefit from good palliative care, but in Alberta there are only a handful of qualified palliative care physicians and far too few palliative care and hospice beds.
  6. There is a huge difference between palliative sedation and euthanasia. With palliative sedation, the intent is to reduce consciousness to ease suffering. The intent of euthanasia, however, is to kill the person.
  7. A government advisory panel in December of 2015 and a joint committee in February 2016 recommended the widest possible access to physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia. One of the panel’s recommendation was to eventually allow terminally ill children ("mature minors") the right to ask their doctor to hasten their death.
  8. Doctors who are against euthanasia and who care for terminally ill children argue that virtually all pain and other symptoms can be managed to minimize suffering. If pain is not being managed well, a new doctor should be consulted. Don’t kill the patient.
  9. In jurisdictions where euthanasia has been legalized, the initial restrictions have eroded. Belgium, for example, now allows euthanasia for terminally ill children of any age, with the consent of parents and doctors.
  10. No human being dies in a social vacuum. Consider how other people will be impacted by assisted suicide and euthanasia. Consider the impact on the person who is responsible for ending someone’s life.
  11. Many doctors and other health professionals who want nothing to do with killing their patients may feel forced to leave the profession. Young adults considering a medical profession may choose another path if they are expected to become killers instead of healers.
  12. The legislation of assisted suicide could lead to the natural process of dying being recast as a process to be avoided. This could lead to pressuring patients or their families to choose a hastened death as a cost-saving measure.
  13. The normalization of suicide through legislation of physician-assisted suicide could significantly impact suicide prevention programs. What happens if suicide, instead of being a tragedy to avoid, becomes an acceptable option or a "responsible" choice?
  14. All persons deserve protection against discrimination, but especially those who are vulnerable and may not have a voice, including those living with disabilities, mental illness, or dementia. Allowing assisted suicide and euthanasia entrenches the idea that some lives are not worth living.

Let us pray:

Mary, woman of listening, open our ears; grant us to know how to listen to the word of your son Jesus among the thousands of words of this world; grant that we may listen to the reality in which we live, to every person we encounter, especially those who are poor, in need, in hardship.

Mary, woman of decision, illuminate our mind and our heart, so that we may obey, unhesitating, the word of your son Jesus; give us the courage to decide, not to let ourselves be dragged along, letting others direct our life.

Mary, woman of action, obtain that our hands and feet move "with haste" toward others, to bring them the charity and love of your son - Jesus, to bring the light of the Gospel to the world, as you did. Amen.

~Pope Francis, 2013

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus

Related Offices Bishop's Carillon
Related Themes Pastoral Care Euthanasia Palliative Care Health Care Life Issues Death and Dying Family Physician Assisted Suicide

Tweedledum and Tweedledee

My mom often used the expression - "tweedledum and tweedledee". My dad explained that it meant - "six of one, half a dozen of the other." For example, two matters, persons, or groups can be very much alike, as in Uncle George says, he's not voting in this election because the candidates are tweedledum and tweedledee.

I later discovered that these terms were actually invented by John Byrom, who in 1725 made fun of two quarrelling composers, Handel and Bononcini, and said there was little difference between their music, since one went "tweedledum" and the other "tweedledee." The term gained further currency when Lewis Carroll used it for two fat little men in Through the Looking-Glass (1872).

Reflecting on our federal political leadership, I thought that the terms applied rather well to Prime Minister Harper and leader of the opposition, Thomas Mulcair.

The former has repeatedly said that he doesn't support re-opening the abortion debate. The latter says that his MPs flatly oppose reopening the abortion debate and proceeds to clarify by adding - "No NDP MP will ever vote against a woman's right to choose."

Now we have a new player, I call "tweedledum-dumb", our want-a-be Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau with his own brand of bilingualism. He pledges open nomination races and at the same time: "I have made it clear that future candidates need to be completely understanding that they will be expected to vote pro-choice on any bills." Apparently, logic isn't his strong suit.

All of our current political leaders need to study a bit more history, medicine, law and philosophy.

Canadians do not possess a constitutional right to abortion.

On January 28th 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada , in the Regina v. Morgentaler decision, struck down the existing abortion law. They did not establish a constitutional right to abortion.

The 5-2 Supreme Court decision is split into no fewer than four separate judgments. No member of the Court intended theirs to be the last word on the subject. It was only the law in front of them at the time that they found unconstitutional - Section 251 of the Criminal Code.

Regrettably, our Members of Parliament are content to play a political game with life refusing to even discuss the question. Furthermore, their cowardice and silence is inconsistent with scientific facts and places them in compliance with the destruction of thousands of human lives.

Clearly, the legalistic view of the pre-born child as an extension of the mother, which some people favouring abortion still cling to, has proven to be outdated. Differences between pre-born babies and other people are not in species (human or not) but in size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependancy.

In addition, the Canadian Constitution and our history, do not include a negative secularist bias against religious pluralism and the guarantees of freedom of conscience and religion as many of our politicians and media pundits assume. On the contrary, both seek to protect religious freedom by equally encouraging, promoting and enforcing religious pluralism. Both envision not merely diversity of religion or faiths but the active engagement, not mere tolerance, of such diversity, and not in isolation, but in relationship to one another.

Specifically, it is important to remember and apply the interpretation given to Section 2(a) of the Charter: Freedom of Conscience and Religion by the Supreme Court of Canada in the R. V. Big M Drug Mart Ltd (1985) case. The Justices addressed what is embodied in freedom of religion:

"A truly free society is one which can accommodate a wide variety of beliefs, diversity of tastes and pursuits, customs and codes of conduct ...The essence of the concept of freedom of religion is the right to entertain such religious beliefs as person chooses, the right to declare beliefs openly, and without fear of hindrance or reprisal, and the right to manifest religious beliefs by worship and practice and dissemination (para.94).

Freedom can primarily be characterized by the absence of coercion or constraint (para.95).

... The Charter safeguards religious minorities from the threat of 'the tyranny of the majority.'" (Para.96)"

Why are Harper, Mulcair and Trudeau not listening? Why are we letting them get away with it?

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus

Related Offices Bishop's Life & Family Resource Centre (LFRC)
Related Themes Abortion Conscience Moral and Ethics Life Issues
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