QUAERITUR: Pastor “refuses” to let visiting priest say funeral

From a reader:

Is it right for a pastor to refuse a family’s request for a certain priest to say the funeral mass of a loved one?

There is no way to answer your question, given the lack of additional information needed to understand what is really going on.

The arrangement of funerals often must occur when people are under great stress. Emotions may be high and clear thinking may be low. It can happen in some cases that people think they should be able to have or do A, B, or C simply because they want A, B or C.

On the other hand, the Church and her ministers must maintain good order with the celebration of Holy Mass and with all her rites, including all rites having to do with her deceased members.

In general pastors of parishes will accommodate a visiting priest for a funeral or wedding. However, it may be that the circumstances in the diocese, diocesan policy, require the parish priest to be more restrictive. In those cases, the pastor is forced to say ‘no’.

The question, though it lacked details and is thus unanswerable, if I understand its tone correctly, was not without a measure of anger. Whatever else I can offer here, don’t work things through with the pastor in anger.

The most important thing is this situation is not so much your feelings – though they are not unimportant – but rather prayers for the person who has died. Funerals are to help the living, it is true, but they are mostly for the sake of prayers for the dead. It is possible to lose sight of that in the midst of the pain of loss of a loved one.

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18 Responses to QUAERITUR: Pastor “refuses” to let visiting priest say funeral

  1. Father S. says:

    Off of the top of my head, here are a few reasons–aside from local law–why a priest might refuse another priest from offering a funeral Mass:

    1. The visiting priest is known to have preached against the existence of Purgatory.
    2. The visiting priest is from a different diocese and has not provided proper credentials.
    3. The pastor has concelebrated a funeral with the visiting priest wherein the visiting priest preached with certainty that a person was already in Heaven.
    4. The visiting priest may offer the Holy Mass illicitly.
    5. The visiting priest may offer the Holy Mass invalidly.

    The reality is that these are all very real possibilities. The pastor must protect his flock.

  2. Supertradmum says:

    I have many friends who have suggested priests for funerals and weddings and been refused because the pastor feels that these families are just using the parish facilities without a relationship with the parish. I think the nature of the family relationship with the priest who is the pastor is of the utmost importance. On the other hand, there are some parishes where the priests have a policy, sometimes written, of allowing a priest to come in for a special reason. Of course, if the priest is outside the diocese, a bishop’s permission is involved. We had a bishop for our wedding and he was not in the same diocese where I was living, but it was not a problem, as the particular church is frequently used for weddings with “outside’ priests, or in this case, a bishop. A few parishes with which I am familiar have a written statement regarding weddings and funerals and “outside” priests. One needs to be sensitive to the pastor involved. I cannot understand families which get upset just because they are not getting what they want for such Masses, and I can imagine pastors having to deal with this type of request more than one would think. Recently, some friends wanted a Solemn High Mass for a wedding, when there was no way the needed priests would be available. Sometimes requests are unreasonable. One way of dealing with funerals is to have all this planned ahead of time, as my parents have done, including the Mass, the Wake, etc.

  3. JohnMa says:

    It is important to remember that “Any member of the faithful or those competent to take care of the funeral of a deceased member of the faithful are permitted to choose another church for the funeral rite with the consent of the person who governs it and after notification of the proper pastor of the deceased.”

  4. Phil_NL says:

    I have many friends who have suggested priests for funerals and weddings and been refused because the pastor feels that these families are just using the parish facilities without a relationship with the parish.

    That strikes me as an odd position from the pastor. Obviously, just as there is a reason why the family prefers a certain priest, they also prefer that church, for whatever reason. Especially with funerals, you normally don’t go around picking a random church for a funeral Mass – the church is likely to be the deceased parish (either de facto, or geographically) and you may presume the deceased contributed to its upkeep. That would make the accusation of ‘ using the parish facilities without a relationship with the parish’ rather odd. Or, alternatively, it’s the church of one of the deceased relatives, which again would have an obligation to support that parish and would therefore have a relationship.

    And even if a totally unknown person would have his or her funeral Mass in another church with no link to him/her or his family, wouldn’t it be becoming to make a donation to that parish commensurate with the burden you place on them? (I’d say most parishes are strapped for cash and would happily accept it) And if that’s not possible, wouldn’t it be an act of charity for the pastor to have the Mass there regardless?

    The only way I can place this type of reactions is that the pastor feels insulted because he isn’t asked to say this Mass. (Ok, I could also see objections to a hippy-like priest being flown in who violates every rubric, but my guess is that in such a case the family wouldn’t be mailing Fr. Z. …) Simply denying a request because the priest feels offended doesn’t reflect well on him, in my book.

  5. HyacinthClare says:

    I wasn’t refused when I asked the new pastor of the parish if the pastor who had been there 15 years prior (and had been the pastor of the deceased) could do the funeral… but he was obviously very irritated by the request. As I remember, he said, “I guess there’s nothing I can do about it,” turned on his heel, and walked away from me. I had tripped a mine I really had not known was there. He was very new (not young) and had not even visited the elderly lady once. What should I have done?

  6. acroat says:

    Don’t know for sure but my pastor might be concerned about a priest who ‘canonizes” the deceased in the homily.

  7. Supertradmum says:

    I think that now in America and in England, one cannot have a funeral in a parish, unless the deceased was actually a member of that parish or at one time, a member. If you look at the handbooks from dioceses, one will see that there are diocesan regulations on who can actually have a Catholic funeral and where, in some dioceses. In other words, it is not merely a question of approaching a pastor or a priest, as not just anyone or everyone can be buried from the Catholic Church, or at least, with a funeral Mass. In addition, this applies to graveside prayers. My grandmother, who died fifteen years ago, had her funeral Mass in one diocese where she was a member of a parish, but was buried in St. Louis, in the family plot. No priest would come to her graveside service, as she was not part of that diocese, as my parents phoned several parishes. My family just made up prayers at the site. One cannot take these things for granted and we need to plan ahead of time,as I suggested.

  8. frleo says:

    I will, with proper permissions for the priest to celebrate Mass in the diocese/parish, invite the other priest to con-celebrate the funeral Mass with me and then preside at the committal. I know of a few who would like me to come back to a former parish to say their funeral Masses. I would have them ask the pastor for his permission for me to con-celebrate. The pastor may then give the permission for me to do the funeral myself, but it rests with the pastor, who has the authority in the parish.

    Phil_NL, it could be just the opposite of the hippie priest coming in. The pastor may be concerned the visiting priest will be too much by the book for his standards and make him look bad.

  9. Phil_NL says:

    @Fr. Leo

    Of course, but since that argument is purely one of personal sensitivities rather than concern for the state of the liturgy, I think it’s not inappropriate to classify it as part of father’s unduely long toes. And being offended does reflect poorly on the priest, in my book.

    @supertradmum

    That must have been very akward. Again it looks like somneone took the simplest way out: instead of verifying with the home parish if there might be reasons not to sent a priest over (provided there is one with time, of course), just forbid it entirely. Somehow that brings various unflattering reflections on pharisees to mind…

  10. Supertradmum says:

    There are at least fifteen pdf files online concerning diocesan or parish rules concerning funerals. I have no trouble with such and encourage all to plan ahead of time. The parish priest has a perfect right to be in charge of the sacramental life in his church and all requests are not reasonable. For example, I know that in the Southwark Cathedral in London, that only regular members of the parish or those who regularly participated in the parish could have funerals there. Likewise, when I lived in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and got cancer, I asked the pp of the traditional Latin Mass parish is I could have a funeral there instead of in my residential parish, where the priest was trendy and liberal. The pp asked me to join his parish in order for that to happen, which, I am happy to state, obviously did not.

  11. moon1234 says:

    @Supertradmum

    That is strange. Most of the traditional orders are VERY open to having Masses said in their chapels, Oratorys, etc. The only thing they want is to know what kind of a person you are. They can not take at face value your request. They know nothing about you.

    Before my wife and I were married we requested that the priest providing our preparation instructions have a Tridentine Mass for our wedding. He told us that would not be possible as the Bishop at that time was very liberal and would never approve (Ecclesia Dei time and all of the supposed permissions required).

    We went to the ICRSS in Rockford and asked if we could be married there. This was 1.5 months from our hoped for date. Fr. Bovee was very accomidating. He called our marraige prep Priest (Older priest who started out saying TLM, but was now only N.O.). He interviewed him as to what had been covered in our prep. He then required us to attend two or three (it has been 12 years now) additional classes with him to make sure we understood our requirements, etc.

    We were them married at a High Mass. It was one of the best decisions we have made in our lives. The ICRSS was very accomidating. I think that the priest MUST know who WHO he is shepherding. He doesn’t know if your the next Mario Cumo, etc.

    Make SURE that you place your requests IN YOUR WILL or you will be subject to the whims of grieving family. We have our wishes for a Pontifical Requiem (knowing it will most likely never happen), followed by a solemn, then high then low Requiem Mass. We have listed the Church where we are members. Since pastors change and some may be unwilling or unable to say the Requiem, we have also listed the ICRSS parish where we were married as a possible backup location followed by the local SSPX parish.

    I think the only the Pope can say Mass anywhere without needing any permission. So if you know the Pope and he can fly in on a moments notice, consider yourself VERY lucky.

  12. Joe in Canada says:

    When I worked in a parish I occasionally heard of people who wanted Fr X (not in the parish) to do a funeral because he would let them have it the way they wanted. I wasn’t the pastor but I agreed when he said “no”.

  13. ipadre says:

    When an unknown priest enters a parish and wishes to offer Mass or preside over another Sacrament, he must present a celebrit ( a letter of good standing from his Bishop or Religious Superior). In the past, I did not think much of it, however with the scandals we have faces and so many pseudo priests online, it is very important to know who is in one’s parish. As pastor, you also don’t want some priest undoing years of hard work in one Mass. When I was a seminarian, a famous priest (from the 60′s peace movement) celebrated a wedding in the parish. He was seen to use a large loaf of bread for Mass (probably invalid), and no one could find what remained. So, sometimes there are very good reasons for a pastor’s or Bishop’s decisions, and you will never know why.

  14. samgr says:

    The non-pastor who planned to celebrate the funeral mass of my mother, whom he had never acknowledged in life, seemed rather miffed when two monsignors, her first cousins, showed up and upstaged him, apparently without warning. The church was a personal parish, German in fact, and all three were fourth-generation members, as well as grandchildren of a Lutheran.

  15. FrAWeidner says:

    I concur with Fr. Leo that if a family asked me to come back to their parish for a funeral or some similar situation, I would encourage them to ask their parish priest if I could concelebrate.

    Unless your requested visiting priest is a family member – the relationship is that close – you are insulting the current clerical staff of the parish by flying the visitor in for the funeral. Father (the parish priest) is the spiritual father of parish. It is highly irregular for he or one of delegated assistants not to do the services of the parish, of which the funeral is one. There are extenuating circumstances which could make bringing in an outside priest somewhat understandable – perhaps to preach, or to do the wake service, if nothing else. The better Father knows you, the more cognizant he is likely to be of those legitimate circumstances.

    As others have noted, it is far more likely that, in the case of someone asking Fr. Z. for help and advice, if there was an ecclesialogical disjoint, it was that the home parish priest was more liberal and the requested visiting priest was more traditional. While I would have probably have little or no overall theological concordance with Father (the parish priest, not Fr. Z.), I can understand in terms of ecclesial etiquette why he would be deeply annoyed. Depending on the circumstances, of course.

  16. Another factor that may enter into this is the occasional parish that uses its regular daily Mass for funerals. In such cases, the pastor may be particularly reluctant to allow an unknown visitor to preach in front of the regular daily Mass congregation.

  17. Fr_Sotelo says:

    I don’t say this to brag, but in the years I have been pastor at six parishes, I have never declined the request of a family to have a visiting priest offer the funeral Mass. Usually there is some kind of close connection between the family and the priest, and I see it as the visiting priest helping me out with my pastoral labors.

    On the other hand, I am loathe to visit another parish and offer the funeral Mass as the main celebrant. I have received many, many requests over the years, but I tell my friends, “Please understand that Fr. So-and-So is the pastor of that parish. He works on the upkeep, he worries about its needs, he has the canonical mandate of the care of souls there, and whether you are close to him or not, or whether you know him or not, he has the right to officiate at the sacraments in his parish.” I let people know I will be happy to assist the pastor at the funeral, in whatever capacity he may need me, and with respect and deference to his orders.

    Many Catholics, albeit sincere, do not realize that the pastor is not some kind of caretaker of a physical plant who can be just swept aside because he is not needed for your special occasion, including a funeral. If he is good enough to slave for the parish’s well being throughout the year, and if he is good enough to raise money, pay the bills, keep the heat or AC turned on, referee the endless conflicts and misunderstandings between parishioners and parish groups, etc. etc., he is certainly good enough to offer funeral Mass and impart the teachings and directions which he so wishes to impart on that occasion.

    Basic rule of thumb here: your pastor is your pastor, whether you like him or not, whether he does things according to your likes, or not, whether he is “established” or recently arrived. Bringing in someone else, whether you want to use these words or not, is “pushing him aside.” And guess what? He still has the keys to the buildings, and is legal custodian to those buildings. He has every right to say, “the Church gave me the canonical mandate here, the mission over this parish. If that does not please you, for your special occasion, you are welcome to find another parish, where the pastor doesn’t mind you pushing him aside so you can use his church to bring in your own priest.”

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  18. Supertradmum says:

    Fr_Sotelo,

    Bravo and coming from you, it means so much more. I am ashamed at the “uppity-ness” of so many lay people. You deserve our little gold stars in addition to Father Z’s big, grand one….