Question of Faith: A Catholic Funeral for a Non-Catholic?
Q: Most of my family is Catholic, but my father is not. He is in declining health and has asked if it would be possible for his funeral to take place in a Catholic church. Is this permitted?
A: The Church seeks to minister to families during times of illness and grief, including family members who are not Catholic. A funeral in a Catholic Church for someone who is not Catholic may be possible. Depending on the circumstances, this could include a Mass for the deceased or funeral rites outside of Mass.
Catechumens & Children
If a person is a catechumen seeking to enter the Church, they can be counted among the Christian faithful because of their desire to be joined to Christ and His Church. By virtue of this desire, they are granted the “prerogatives which are proper to Christians,” including a Catholic funeral (Code of Canon Law, 206). For the same reason, children born to Catholic parents whom the parents intended to baptize may be given a Catholic funeral (Canon 1183).
However, the majority of non-Catholics who might ask to receive a Catholic funeral are neither catechumens nor unbaptized children. Non-Catholics may have a funeral in a Catholic church if they are a baptized Christian and their own minister is unavailable (Canon 1183). This could occur in the case of someone who, because of physical distance, cannot seek out a minister of their denomination or even “moral distance” created by their not practicing the faith of their Christian community. In short, someone who desires a Catholic funeral can often receive one, but the wishes of the person should be respected. A funeral should not take place in a Catholic church if it would be contrary to the intention of the deceased.
The funeral for a non-Catholic can include the various parts of the funeral rite: the Vigil, the funeral liturgy (with or without a Mass, depending on the circumstances), and the committal. The liturgies, if desired by the deceased and his or her family, should be carried out according to the norms of the Church. If a funeral Mass is celebrated for a non-Catholic, for instance, the name of the deceased should not be included in the Eucharistic prayer, but their name can be used in the other prayers.
For a family member who is non-baptized, a priest or deacon could, if requested, offer prayers for the deceased in a funeral home. However, the Church envisions the possibility of a Catholic funeral only for baptized Christians.
Ill Family Members
For an ill family member who is not Catholic, he or she should be invited to consider the possibility of becoming Catholic. In many cases, the non-Catholic family member may have a Catholic spouse and/or children and may have attended Mass for years. Even if a Catholic funeral can be arranged, please don‘t overlook the importance of receiving the Holy Eucharist, confirmation and anointing of the sick.
The Church, recognizing the importance of funerals for the deceased as well as their family members, offers the consolation of its funeral rites. Catholic clergy, parish staff and bereavement ministers can help families in making funeral arrangements for family members even if the family member was not a practicing Catholic.
Father David Endres is associate professor of Church history and historical theology at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary / The Athenaeum of Ohio.