Q: Thank you in advance for your help with our question. We truly appreciate your writing and your blog!
Here’s our question “of the day”:
When a catechumen dies and has requested a funeral Mass, what adaptations, changes, or omissions are to be used, especially in the use of holy water, the pall, crucifix, incensing and Paschal Candle? Are there other guidelines for Scriptures, or for the prayer of final commendation or even graveside services?
Are there modifications if there is a funerary urn rather than a casket?
Perhaps the guidelines are in the Order of Christian Funerals but we could not find any specific directions.
Thank you for all you do for so many!
A: I didn’t treat this in my book Light in the Darkness, though I do cover some material about a related concern, a child who dies before an intended baptism.
Regarding your specific questions, you can find guidance in the Order of Christian Funerals 266, 267, 278, 279 and 281. Here’s how I read it:
The paschal candle may be used as a symbol of hope in eternal life. The placing of a cross on the coffin may also be used for someone who is not yet baptized.
However, the use of blessed water, incense, and the pall are appropriate only after baptism.
Regarding the scriptures, see the section for a child who died before baptism for ideas, but there is no specific limitation for a catechumen.
For the prayers at the end, see the adaptations in chapters 8 and 10 of the OCF for inspiration.
In general, the only modification relating to the use of an urn is that it is not covered with a pall, even if the person was baptized.
Q: The non-use of holy water at a funeral then, for me, raises the question whether we should be having our catechumens take holy water and bless themselves on entering and leaving church. Our explanation has been that while the baptized do so as a reminder of their baptism, the catechumens do so in anticipation of their baptism. We have also talked about “baptism of desire” which is an old term, I realize, but it helps direct their attention to their status in the Church and the commitment they have made through the Rite of Acceptance. I think that’s a little different from an unbaptized child.
I understand the non-use of the pall, but not holy water?
In a parish situation when we have a catechumen who is terminally ill, we would then use the initiation form for a person in danger of death, even in death is not imminent, so that our catechumen is Catholic and can receive all the blessings, prayers and rites/symbols of the Church for her funeral. Would that be the best path? We understand that if there is a healing and recovery, our neophyte would continue her faith formation to the best of her ability as soon as possible.
Thanks again in anticipation of your reply.
A: The Ceremonial of Bishops 110 acknowledges the “old and honored practice” of signing oneself with holy water upon entering a church, an action it calls “a reminder of their baptism.” This is the only reference to the action in the liturgical books. Best practice is probably for catechumens to skip the holy water, but if some sign themselves in anticipation of their baptism, that does no spiritual harm. (There is no reference to the custom of signing oneself with water upon exiting a church. I presume that is because of the significance of the communion in which one has just partaken.)
Yes, for a terminally ill catechumen, initiate as soon as it is appropriate in the proper form for a person in danger of death.