... the church teaches that the cremated remains are to be treated with the same reverence as a body of the deceased. This means that the cremains are to be placed in a worthy vessel and, following the religious services, to be buried or entombed in consecrated ground.
Q. Recently, at a Catholic boys' high school, the priest who is the campus minister gave first holy Communion and also (during the same ceremony) the sacrament of confirmation to six young men. I'm certain that the priest received permission from our bishop to do this, but I have two questions.
First, isn't the local parish the place where these sacraments should be administered? And second, this ceremony took place a week before Easter, but I thought that converts were supposed to be brought into the church at the Easter Vigil. (City of origin withheld)
A. I have no doubt that the priest you speak of had permission to confirm the young men in question. While the ordinary minister of confirmation is the diocesan bishop, there are a number of circumstances in which the church's canon law permits a priest to do this. The most common one, as stated in Canon 883, No. 2, is when a "presbyter (priest) ... baptizes one who is no longer an infant or admits one already baptized into the full communion of the Catholic Church."
As you indicate, adult converts are usually received into the church at the Easter Vigil, but the ceremony is not restricted to that one night. I imagine, in this situation, the school would have been closed for vacation over Easter; the priest probably decided that, for all of the students to be able to see (and be inspired by) their classmates taking these steps in faith, the ceremony should be held earlier.
With regard to your suggestion that such a ceremony is best held in a parish (again, there is no canonical mandate), I agree that normally it is wise (for the long-term benefit) to "plug the student in" to his local parish. In this situation, though, the chaplain may have decided that the "teaching opportunity" outweighed the rest.
Q. I am a Catholic convert, and I learned recently that the church discourages keeping the remains of cremated relatives in the home. My mother and father (both of whom were non-Catholic) specifically requested no funeral service and no burial at their passing. They opted instead for cremation, an in-home wake and asked that their cremains be kept by me, their only child. I followed all of their desires, including keeping their cremains in my home. Now, I wonder whether I am doing wrong.
Also, is there any concern that keeping cremains in the home somehow "traps" a person here on earth and keeps them from moving on to heaven -- or is that simply something made up by "ghost-hunting" shows on television? (Corydon, Indiana)
A. Cremation has been permitted in the Catholic Church since 1963. However, as explained in an appendix to the church's Order of Christian Funerals, the church teaches that the cremated remains are to be treated with the same reverence as a body of the deceased. This means that the cremains are to be placed in a worthy vessel and, following the religious services, to be buried or entombed in consecrated ground.
Without knowing the religion of your parents but guessing that they may have been Protestant, I can tell you that cremation is widely accepted in the Protestant churches and that there are generally no strictures as to the final disposition of the ashes.
Since your parents were under no obligation to follow Catholic guidelines, I think you can feel comfortable in honoring their wishes and keeping their remains in your home, where I am sure they are being treated with honor and respect.
I have never before heard the theory you propose, that keeping cremains at home precludes the deceased from moving on to heaven -- and to be honest, that doesn't make much sense to me: How would people be any more "trapped" in an urn on your mantelpiece that in an urn in the cemetery?
My strong suspicion is that your parents are already at peace with the Lord in heaven, regardless of where their ashes now rest.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at email@example.com and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.
Father Kenneth Doyle is a columnist for Catholic News Service