25 October 2016

Holy See: The ashes of the faithful departed MUST be buried or entombed

The Holy See released today the Instruction Ad resurgendum cum Christo "regarding the burial of the deceased and the conservation of the ashes in the case of cremation." The instruction is issued "with the intention of underlining the doctrinal and pastoral reasons for the preference of the burial of the remains of the faithful and to set out norms pertaining to the conservation of ashes in the case of cremation" (1). Before we take a look at the provisions of the document, we should first consider what an instruction is.

The Code of Canon Law states that instructions "set out the provisions of a law and develop the manner in which it is to be put into effect" (canon 34 § 1). To put it perhaps more simply, an instruction tells us how to carry out a law already in force. Ad resurgendum cum Christo seek to clarify how Catholics are to honor the remains of the faithful departed.

From the earliest days of the Church, Christians have buried their dead. This is one of the things that set them apart from the pagans who normally cremated their dead. Ad resurgendum cum Christo explains why burial is preferable for Christians:
In memory of the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord, the mystery that illumines the Christian meaning of death, burial is above all the most fitting way to express faith and hope in the resurrection of the body.

The Church who, as Mother, has accompanied the Christian during his earthly pilgrimage, offers to the Father, in Christ, the child of her grace, and she commits to the earth, in hope, the seed of the body that will rise in glory.

By burying the bodies of the faithful, the Church confirms her faith in the resurrection of the body, and intends to show the great dignity of the human body as an integral part of the human person whose body forms part of their identity. She cannot, therefore, condone attitudes or permit rites that involve erroneous ideas about death, such as considering death as the definitive annihilation of the person, or the moment of fusion with Mother Nature or the universe, or as a stage in the cycle of regeneration, or as the definitive liberation from the “prison” of the body.

Furthermore, burial in a cemetery or another sacred place adequately corresponds to the piety and respect owed to the bodies of the faithful departed who through Baptism have become temples of the Holy Spirit and in which “as instruments and vessels the Spirit has carried out so many good works [St. Augustine, De cura pro mortuis gerenda, 3, 5: CSEL 41, 627]" (3).
Moreover, Christians bury their dead in cemeteries to encourage prayers for the dead, to foster devotion to the saints and martyrs, and because "Christian tradition has upheld the relationship between the living and the dead and has opposed any tendency to minimize, or relegate to the purely private sphere, the event of death and the meaning it has for Christians" (3).

While the Church prefers and encourages the burial of the body, she "raises no doctrinal objections" to the practice of cremation provided that it "is chosen because of sanitary, economic or social considerations" and if cremation does not "violate the explicitly-stated or the reasonably inferable wishes of the deceased faithful" (4).

It should be noted and remembered that while the Church allows cremation, she "continues to prefer the practice of burying the bodies of the deceased, because this shows a greater esteem towards the deceased" (4).

When cremation is 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 competent ecclesial authority" (5, emphasis mine). The Church insists on this because "it prevents the faithful departed from being forgotten, or their remains from being shown a lack of respect" and because "it prevents any unfitting or superstitious practices" (5).

The instruction explicitly states that "the conservation of the ashes of the departed in a domestic residence is not permitted" and that "the ashes may not be divided among various family members" (6). Moreover, "it is not permitted to scatter the ashes of the faithful departed in the air, on land, at sea or in some other way, nor may they be preserved in mementos, pieces of jewelry or other objects" in order that "every appearance of pantheism, naturalism or nihilism be avoided" (7).

Lest there be any question as to the authority on this instruction, it is noted that "the Sovereign Pontiff Francis, in the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect on 18 March 2016, approved the present Instruction, adopted in the Ordinary Session of this Congregation on 2 March 2016, and ordered its publication." The instruction was published "from the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 15 August 2016, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary." Why the text is only now being made available to us is not explained.

As we approach the month of November when we remember our beloved dead in a particular way, please be sure to read the full text of Ad resurgendum in Christo (it is not very long).

Though it may useful, precisely why this instruction is needed is unclear to me. The General Introduction to the Order of Christian Funerals says, "for the final disposition of the body, it is the ancient Christian custom to bury or entomb the bodies of the dead" (19). That seems clear enough. The same paragraph also says, "cremation is permitted, unless it is evident that cremation was chosen for anti-Christian motives."

Moreover, the Introduction to Appendix 2 of the Order of Christian Funerals for rites involving the ashes of the faithful departed is clear to say that "the cremated remains of a body should be treated with the same respect given to the human body from which they come" (417). The Introduction goes even further:
The cremated remains should be buried in a grave or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium. The practice of scattering cremated remains on the sea, from the air, or on the ground, or keeping the cremated remains in the home of a relative or friend of the deceased are not the reverent disposition the Church requires (417).
Because Catholics routinely ignored and violation these directions, the Holy See felt the need to repeat more clearly and to explain why the Church requires what she does. 

That said, might I suggest another instruction should be written, namely one on the use of eulogies at funeral Masses.

The Introduction to the Order of Christian Funerals states quite clearly:
A brief homily based on the readings is always given after the gospel reading at the funeral liturgy and may also be given after the readings at the vigil service; but there is never to be a eulogy (27, emphasis mine).
Regrettably, this is also routinely ignored and violated, which can deprive the departed of needed prayers. I hope such an instruction will be forthcoming.

24 October 2016

Islamic State Ongoing Updates - October 2016

Previous Updates: September 2016August 2016 | July 2016 | June 2016 | May 2016 | April 2016 | March 2016 | February 2016January 2016 | December 2015 | November 2015 | October 2015 | September 2015 | August 2015 | July 2015June 2015 | May 2015 | April 2015 | March 2015 | February 2015 | January 2015 | December 2014 | November 2014 | October 2014 | April - November 2014

25 October 2016

24 October 2016
23 October 2016
22 October 2016
21 October 2016
20 October 2016
19 October 2016
18 October 2016
17 October 2016
16 October 2016
15 October 2016
 14 October 2016
13 October 2016
12 October 2016
10 October 2016
9 October 2016
8 October 2016
UPDATE (10-09-16): Almost 400 ISIS jihadis trained in Iraq and Syria are now at large on Britain's streets . . . as it's revealed just 14 fighters who have returned to the UK have been jailed
7 October 2016
6 October 2016
5 October 2016
4 October 2016
3 October 2016
2 October 2016

20 October 2016

An additional appointment

Returning to my office in the Catholic Pastoral Center Monday morning, I found a new Decree of Appointment from His Excellency the Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki, Bishop of Springfield in Illinois, dated October 12th. The text of the decree reads as follows:
By this decree, I appoint
to be EPISCOPAL DELEGATE FOR MATRIMONIAL CONCERNS, with the delegated power to grant dispensations and permissions for the marriage of parties in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, effective immediately and for as long as he holds an office in the diocesan Curia.
What are these dispensations and permissions that I can now grant?

Before we consider what specific dispensations and permissions I can now grant, we should first distinguish between dispensations and permissions. To do so, we must remember that canon law does not function in the same manner as American civil law.

The Code of Canon Law defines dispensation as "the relaxation of a merely ecclesiastical law [as opposed to a divine or natural law] in a particular case" (canon 85). A dispensation "can be granted by those who possess executive power within the limits of their competence, as well as by those who have the power to dispense explicitly or implicitly by the law itself or by legitimate delegation" (canon 85). When a dispensation is granted, the law remains but it is lifted, if you will, from a particular individual.

The most common dispensation Catholics request is from the obligation to abstain from meat on the Fridays within the season of Lent (cf. canon 1251 and 1253). If a dispensation is granted for "a just and reasonable cause," the law remains in force but for the person to whom a dispensation is granted (canon 90 § 1). An example here may be helpful.

Some years when I was on pilgrimage in Turkey following in the footsteps of Saint Paul, we were taking an excursion to Korykos Castle in an attempt to fight off jet lag. As we made our way on the bus, our guide explained that the road would soon split, with the road to the right being for cars, buses, and trucks, and the road to the left only for cars. This was unfortunate, he said, because we were a bit behind schedule and the road to the left - which we could not legally use - was faster.

We got stopped by a stoplight before the road split and a police car happened to pull up alongside the bus. Our guide stepped off the bus and, after talking with the police returned to the bus and told the driver to take the road to the left, the road only for cars.

Given what he had just told us, we were all a bit confused. He explained to us that he told the police we were running behind and asked if we might use to the road to the left to save some time. The policeman said yes and gave his name in case another policeman should pull us over. He gave a dispensation to all of us (I do not know if Turkish law technically gave him that power, but he did so); the law remained in force, but not for our bus. American law, unfortunately, does not work like this.

A permission, on the other hand, is foreseen in the law itself and must simply be requested before it is granted. A permission is not a relaxing of the law, but a following of the law.

There is - so far I can foresee - only one permission I will be asked to grant. The Code of Canon Law contains this declaration:
Without the express permission of the competent authority, marriage is prohibited between two baptized persons of whom one is baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it and has not defected from it by a formal act and the other of whom is enrolled in a Church or ecclesial community not in full communion with the Catholic Church (canon 1124).
To put it perhaps more simply, a Catholic is ordinarily bound by law to marry another Catholic. (For more on what the Church means by ecclesial communities [more commonly - if inaccurately - known as Protestant churches], see the important document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith titled "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church.")

Using the power of the keys, the Church prohibits marriage between a Catholic and non-Catholic Christian because she knows that differences in religious faith and practice can cause great strain on a marriage, particularly once the couple have a child or two (cf. Matthew 16:19). Even so, there may be times when the granting of a permission for what is called a Marriage of Mixed Religion may be beneficial. It may, for example, be of a spiritual good to one or both of the spouses or there may also be a well-founded hope that the non-Catholic will seek to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church.

Before the competent authority decides whether to grant a requested permission for a Marriage of Mixed Religion, he must be certain the following stipulations have been - or will be - met:
  1. the Catholic party is to declare that he or she is prepared to remove dangers of defecting from the faith and is to make a sincere promise to do all in his or her power so that all offspring are baptized and brought up in the Catholic Church;
  2. the other party is to be informed at an appropriate time about the promises which the Catholic party is to make, in such a way that it is certain that he or she is truly aware of the promise and obligation of the Catholic party;
  3. both parties are to be instructed about the purposes and essential properties of marriage which neither of the contracting parties is to exclude (canon 1125).
The permission for a Marriage of Mixed Religion is most always when requested, but it does not have to be granted; indeed, if one of the requirements for the permission is not or will not be met, the permission cannot be granted.

The most common dispensation that is requested is from the impediment of Disparity of Cult. Using the power of the keys (cf. Matthew 16:19), Holy Mother Church binds a Catholic to marry another Catholic, Moreover, Catholics are required to enter into marriage "before the local ordinary, pastor, or a priest or deacon delegated by either of them, who assist, and before two witnesses" (1108 § 1). In additon, "the rites prescribed in the liturgical books approved by the Church or received by legitimate customs are to be observed in the celebration of a marriage" (canon 1119). In common language, all of this is known as the canonical form or marriage.

These requirements came about several centuries ago because of an increasing number of secret marriages, that is, of marriages entered into through the exchange of consent of the couple without any witnesses present (it is, after all, consent that makes the marriage (cf. canon 1057 § 1), not the exchange of rings or the lighting of candles or mixing of sand). As husbands sought to have these secret marriages declared null to the detriment of the wives, the Church imposed the obligation for Catholics to marry in the presence of a bishop, priest, or deacon and two witnesses. 

Because we no longer have many secret marriages, it may seem strange for the Church to continue to require Catholics to marry according to the Church's form when she does not require it of baptized non-Catholics whose marriages are valid. The Church continues this requirement as a recognition that marriage is a public good; because marriage is not simply a private affair but impacts the community, it is right that it be celebrated and entered into in a public ceremony.

It sometimes happens that, by way of example, a Catholic wants to marry a baptized non-Catholic whose father is, say, a Lutheran minister. The non-Catholic may strongly desire his or her father to witness their marriage and so the Catholic will petition for a dispensation from the impediment of disparity of cult. If the dispensation is granted, the Catholic is no longer bound by the canonical form (though he or she would still need to receive permission to marry a non-Catholic, which would, presumably, be granted at the same time). 

There are other principle dispensations that may be requested, that from the impediment of consanguinity and that from the impediment of affinity, but those are not commonly requested.

For those keeping track, the current list of my appointments is as follows:
  • Parochial Vicar of St. Agnes Parish, Springfield;
  • Associate Director of the Office for Divine Worship and the Catechumenate;
  • Chief Master of Ceremonies to the Bishop;
  • Diocesan Judge of the Diocesan Tribunal; and,
  • Episcopal Delegate for Matrimonial Concerns.
Please remember me in the charity of your prayers as I seek to faithfully carry out the duties entrusted to me.

15 October 2016

Homily - 16 October 2016 - Moses and the Sign of the Cross

The Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Dear brothers and sisters,

Nine hundred and fifty years ago this past Friday, King Harold II Godwinson and William, then Duke of Normandy, campaigned against each other at the Battle of Hastings. Having recalled the strategies employed in this pivotal conflict, I find myself rather intrigued by the military tactics employed by Moses against King Amalek. Whereas the two claimants to the English crown made use of volleys, charges, and even a feigned retreat in the battle that saw the end of Saxon rule over Britain, Moses, after sending Joshua to the front line, went up a mountain, sat on a rock, and extended his hands in prayer (cf. Exodus 17:8-13). It is a curious battle strategy, to be sure, yet it was successful one. Why?

Before exploring this approach of Moses, we might do well to explore the names of the persons involved in this battle. The ancient Romans had something of a proverb that said, Nomen est omen, the name is a sign. Sometimes it proved true, and sometimes not. According to the rabbis, the name “Amalek” means the “people who lick blood.”[1] Because the Lord God said to the sons of Israel, “No person among you shall eat blood” because “the life of the flesh is in the blood,” this was akin to calling Amalek and his people grave sinners and evil doers (Leviticus 17:12, 11). When Moses then, whose name means “drawn from the water,” engaged Amalek he battle, Moses battled against sin (cf. Exodus 2:10). Aaron, whose name means “mountain of strength,” and Hur, whose name means “fire,” assisted Moses in this fight.[2] As Moses prayed with the aid of Aaron and Hur, Joshua, whose name in Hebrew is the same as our English Jesus and whose name names “the Lord saves,” was victorious over sin (cf. Matthew1:21).

Here, then, we have a case where nomen est omen is true, where names are indeed signs. However, before we seek to understand what is signified for us in these names and in this battle tactic, we have to remember a key principle to the reading of Sacred Scripture; we have to remember that, as Saint Augustine said, “The New Testament lies hidden in the Old, and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.”[3]

The early Christian Tertullian pondered what light the New Testament could shine upon this Old Testament battle. He saw in the action of Moses a foreshadowing of Christ on the Cross. He asked:

But, to come now to Moses, why, I wonder, did he merely at the time when Joshua was battling against Amalek, pray sitting with hands expanded, when, in circumstances so critical, he ought rather, surely, to have commended his prayer by knees bent, and hands beating his breast, and a face prostrate to the ground; except it was there, where the name of the Lord Jesus was the theme of speech – destined as he was to enter the lists one day singly against the devil – the figure of the cross was also necessary, through which Jesus was to win the victory?[4]

Saint Justin Martyr agreed with this interpretation and said, “In truth it was not because Moses prayed that his people were victorious, but because, while the name of Jesus was at the battle front, Moses formed the signed of the cross.”[5]

If we, then, wish to be victorious in our battles with temptation and sin, if we wish to trample Satan and his legions, then we, too, must fight with the sign of the Cross and the name of Jesus. This is why the Sign of the Cross “is a formula not to be spoken lightly.”[6]

But there is something more, for as Moses engaged in battle with the name of Jesus before him, he needed the support of Aaron and Hur to form the sign of the Cross with his body. “For that reason the people conquered when they performed works not carelessly but with full consideration and virtue – not with faltering souls nor with a wavering disposition but with the stability of a firm mind.”[7] Is this not why Jesus spoke to the people “about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary” (Luke 18:1)? Is this not why Saint Paul says, “remain faithful to what you have learned and believed” (II Timothy 3:14)?

As we collected our prayers together at the beginning of this Holy Mass and presented them to the Father, we asked of God two particular graces. We prayed first that we might always conform our will to God’s, and, second, that we might serve his majesty in sincerity of heart (cf. Collect). We do not often give enough attention to the prayers at the beginning of Mass, but they contain a trove of spiritual insight.

If we wish to truly conform our will to God’s and recognize his lordship over our lives, if we wish to live in sincerity of heart as we serve the King of heaven and earth, then we should frequently remember the Cross, the sign of the Lord’s love for us and of his victory over sin and death. The sign of the Cross is, on the one hand, a most simple gesture and, on the other, a most profound statement of faith. To often do we enter the church, dip our fingers in holy water, and make some hurried gesture as if swatting away flies, not recognizing the great power that is in the sign we should make.

When we enter the doors of the church, we pass, as it were, from earth to heaven and doing so we become aware of our sins. We make the sign of the Cross to place ourselves at the service of the Lord Jesus Christ and to remind us of his grace and mercy. Indeed,

by signing ourselves with the Cross, we place ourselves under the protection of the Cross, [we] hold it in front of us like a shield that will guard us in all the distress of daily life and give us the courage to go on. We accept it as a signpost that we must follow… The Cross shows us the road of life – the imitation of Christ.[8]

It is on the Cross that we see the fullest sign of Jesus’ loving obedience to the Father, and for this reason the Cross shows us how to conform our will to the Father’s and how to serve his majesty in sincerity of heart.

The faithful have been signing themselves with the Cross for nearly two millennia now. We treasure the sign of the Cross because it calls to mind the essential elements of the Christian faith. Indeed, the first mention we have in writing of the sign of the Cross comes from Tertullian, who died in 220. “At every step,” he said, “when going in and out, when putting on clothes and shoes, when washing ourselves, when kindling the lights, when going to sleep, sitting down, and in every action we place the sign of the cross on our foreheads.”[9] We would do well to do the same, and to do so with attentive reverence and love, fully conscious of the sign we make, without being ashamed of doing so or afraid of being seen to do so in public.

On the day of our baptism, the priest or deacon, together with our parents and godparents, traced the sign of the Cross on our foreheads. As the minister did so, he “claim[ed us] for Christ our Savior by the sign of his Cross.”[10] The sign of the Cross is, then, a sign of ownership; it is the sign that marks us out as belonging to Christ and to no other. The Bishop, likewise, traced the sign of the Cross on our forehead with the sacred Chrism when he sealed us with the seven-fold gift of the Holy Spirit. We, too, make the sign of the Cross on our foreheads – and on our lips and over our heart - at every Mass when we prepare to hear the words of the Gospel so that we might keep the Lord Jesus in our mind, on our lips, and in our heart.

Like Moses, we, too, have been drawn from the water, from the water of Baptism, and so we, too, are called to fight against temptation and sin, relying on the strength that Jesus gives and on the fire of the Holy Spirit, keeping the Cross always upon us. If we entrust ourselves to its power by keeping the Lord in our mind, we can learn to conform our will to his; if we keep the name of Lord on our lips, we can serve his majesty; and if we keep the Lord in our hearts, we can live in sincerity of heart, living in the truth of love.

If we intentionally devote ourselves to staying within the shadow of the Cross and to lifting it high, the Lord will turn his eyes toward us, he will rescue us from eternal death, and bring us into the glory of his presence. There, we shall gaze upon the wondrous beauty of his Face and know the joy of his merciful love forever (cf. Psalm 32:18-19). Amen!

[1] Cf. David Patterson, A Genealogy of Evil: Anti-Semitism from Nazism to Islamic Jihad, Cambridge University Press, 2011, pp.43,244.
[2] Cf. Pope Saint Gregory the Great, Dialogue with Trypho, 97. In Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Old Testament Vol. III: Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Joseph T. Lienhard, ed. (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 2001), 92.
[3] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Quaest. In Hept., 2.73. In Catechism of the Catholic Church, 129.
[4] Tertullian, Answer to the Jews, 10.10. In Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Old Testament Vol. III, 92.
[5] Saint Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 90. In ibid.
[6] Thomas Howard, If Your Mind Wanders at Mass (Steubenville, Ohio: Franciscan University Press, 1995), 53.
[7] Saint Ambrose of Milan, Letter 7 (37).33. In Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Old Testament Vol. III, 92.
[8] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, trans. John Saward (San Francisco, California: Ignatius Press, 2000), 177-178.
[9] Tertullian, in Klemens Richter, The Meaning of the Sacramental Symbols: Answers to Today’s Questions, trans. Linda M. Maloney, (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1990), 132.
[10] Rite of Baptism for Children, 41.