ASK FATHER: Funerals for those who commit suicide

From a reader…


A long time member at our parish committed suicide just the other week. He was heavily involved in the parish and loved by all. They had a funeral Mass said for him. Why are those souls who commit suicide now allowed to have funeral Masses and a Christian? This didn’t used to be permitted did it?

Canon 1184 is our guide here.

Funerals are to be denied to notorious apostates, heretics, and schismatics, those who choose cremation for anti-Christian motives, and those manifest grave sinners whose funerals would be a cause for scandal among the faithful.

If there is any doubt, the judgment of the local Ordinary is to be sought and followed.

The former prohibition of funerals for suicides is no longer in force.

Someone who kills himself would be, objectively, a manifest grave sinner. However, we also have to consider the person’s active subjectively.  The Church recognizes that many people who commit suicide are in difficult psychological conditions, which might impact their freedom, and therefore their culpability.  While the act of suicide itself is a grave sin, the person might not have been fully guilty of a mortal sin because he did not have full use of will.

No matter what his soul should, most certainly, be prayed for.

Moderation queue is ON.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. robtbrown says:

    We gather to celebrate the life and suicide of Joe Schmoe . . .

    The problem is that the Novus Ordo funeral liturgy, in which Purgatory is all but ignored, is an inadequate expression of Catholic doctrine. It assumes a best case, e.g., the death of an 85 year old woman who was a serious Catholic beloved by all and dies a holy death. The frequency of such situations, however, continues to decline.

    In addition to the usual grief over the death of a close friend or relative, suicide leaves mourners confused. The Requiem Mass, including the Dies Irae, is a proportionate expression of Catholic doctrine. Consequently, it also offers a proportionate outlet for mourners’ grief–and confusion in cases of suicide and sudden death.

  2. dans0622 says:

    It is also important to note that even in the old Code (1917), funerals were to be denied to those who were culpable in suicide. At least, that is how one could understand c. 1240.3, which said “Qui se ipsi occiderint deliberato consilio.” The commentary of Bouscaren & Ellis says: “Suicides are included in this privation (of ecclesiastical burial) only if their act was deliberate, and notoriously so; though the word “notorious” does not occur in this place in the text, it is correctly inferred from the fact that suicides are classed with “other public and manifest sinners” (in n. 6 of c. 1240). Such notoriety will be rare, and scandal unlikely, where the more or less common opinion prevails that suicide usually results from nervous or mental derangement” (p. 669).

  3. rtjl says:

    It seems to be that there are two attitudes to avoid with respect to suicide. The first is the belief that one who has committed suicide is doomed to Hell and is without hope. The other is that one who has committed suicide is safe in heaven and is now free from suffering. Both attitudes are presumptuous. We do not and cannot know about anyone’s particular judgment after death. Charity requires us to hope and to pray.

  4. Auggie says:

    Fr. Z, your answer is a good mix of clarity and charity.

  5. JesusFreak84 says:

    I thank God for giving us folks smart enough to develop the brain imaging that’s allowed us to see, visually, how severe Depression affects the brain; IMHO, makes it harder to pin it on someone as moral weakness or whatever nonsense.

  6. John of Chicago says:

    My grandmother had a beloved set of engraved crystal wine glasses that she had inherited from her mother. So beautiful and so fragile. One Thanksgiving dinner when I was a child, as grandpa lifted his wine glass it suddenly and without warning shattered in his hand sending tiny shards all across the dining table. I think of that long ago moment when I hear of those suffering from the shattering tragedy of suicide–the victim and those who knew and loved him/her.

    It may have taken the Church a long while but it has come to grips with how fragile a person can be; how a never before detected, tiny but “fatal” flaw can suddenly shatter a life. The Scriptures knew this long, long before the laws. As the Psalmist wrote:
    He has not dealt with us as our sins merit,
    nor requited us as our wrongs deserve.
    For as the heavens tower over the earth,
    so his mercy towers over those who fear him.d
    As far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our sins from us.
    As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him.
    For he knows how we are formed,
    remembers that we are dust.
    Psalm 103

    Given that, how could trust in Divine mercy ever be presumptuous?

  7. Papabile says:

    I am trying to understand the reasoning for allowing funerals for suicides, and I can not.

    Father, you suggest we must evaluate the action bot objectively and subjectively, and yet, for so many other things, we usually only evaluate at an objective level.

    Objectively, there’s little doubt that a suicide is a manifest grave sinner and should be denied a funeral. However, subjectively, we may have some doubt – so give the suicide a funeral.

    Now, a divorced and “remarried” person is obviously a manifest grave sinner, and should be denied communion. However, subjectively, catechesis is so poor, the person may not even believe they are sinning. So, should it be denied?

    Now, I think the answer it yes, deny it to both. One may claim this is apples and oranges, and I would understand why. To me, though, this new approach to suicides seems to be a radical disconnect between tradition and our understanding of the funeral rite.

    Right now, today, we have a culture that wants to enshrine assisted suicide as a powerful way to control the end of one’s life. The current policy of giving funerals to suicides only gives the impression that there is a hope for salvation, thus encouraging more of it. And, the reality is, in some of the literature for the pro-suicide groups, they specifically cite the “developed opinion” of the Catholic Church.

    This is bad praxis.

  8. The Masked Chicken says:

    “I am trying to understand the reasoning for allowing funerals for suicides, and I can not.”

    Schawn Mcaffee tells the story about St. John Vianney from the book, The Cure of Ars:

    In it, there is a woman who told St. John Vianney that she was devastated because her husband had committed suicide. She wanted to approach the great priest but his line often lasted for hours and she could not reach him. She was ready to give up and in a moment of mystical insight that only a great saint can receive, John Vianney exclaimed through the crowd, “He is saved!” The woman was incredulous so the saint repeated, stressing each word, “I tell you he is saved. He is in Purgatory, and you must pray for him. Between the parapet of the bridge and the water he had time to make an act of contrition.”

    Suicide can, sometimes, be repented of at the last minute before death. Divorce and remarriage can, also be repented of, by living as brother and sister. In both cases, a hope for salvation exists. If the divorced and remarried do not repent, what can be done until they do, except pray for them? The reason a conditional Catholic funeral may be given for suicide is because we do not know what transpired within the soul between God and the person before death, so we make no judgment on the matter. In the case of the divorced and remarried, we do know, by outward signs, of their repentance or lack of it. The Church will permit (after confession) a couple living as brother and sister to receive communion, because they are no longer sinning.

    Thus, everything depends on knowledge of repentance. The Church provides for Catholic funerals for suicides on the theory that, lacking definitive knowledge, it is better to have one than not – and it challenges people not to make judgments about affairs they cannot know. The situation for the divorced and remarried is similar, but the ability of direct knowledge is greater. The unrepentant divorced and remarried, still, cannot receive Communion.

    The Chicken

  9. ReginaMarie says:

    John of Chicago,
    I believe rtjl is saying the assumption that one who commits suicide (or dies in any other manner) is immediately assured the blessedness of Heaven is what is presumptuous. Most of us are all too familiar with the instant canonization of the recently deceased, even at Catholic funerals. Absolutely, we should trust & hope in God’s Divine Mercy…but this isn’t the same as assuming the deceased do not merit some kind of punishment or purification before entering into the Presence of the Lord.

    Thankfully, the wake & funeral services of the Eastern Catholic Churches have held onto the truth of the awesome judgment of God. In the early days of Christianity, funeral services were an all-night prayer vigil that ended at dawn with the celebration of the Divine Liturgy & subsequent burial of the deceased. Today we use but a small segment of those ancient rites. Our modern wake service is called the Parastas or Great Panachida. Panachida is literally translated from the Greek as “All Night Services”; Parastas is translated as “A Standing Service”, denoting the ancient custom of standing to pray (still practiced in many Parastas services today).

    There is a 3-way dialogue within the structure of the Parastas. In some prayers, the faithful pray & intercede for a merciful judgment for the deceased; in other prayers the deceased admits to the weakness of sin during life & now beseeches forgiveness & acceptance into everlasting life; in still other prayers we hear the voice of Christ as the Merciful Judge.

  10. Gerard Plourde says:

    In examining the question of culpability regarding suicide it is important to remember that the Church has always taught, as Fr. Z points out, that when determining whether a sin is mortal or venial the intent of the individual is of paramount importance. Given this paradigm, it is also relevant to note the increased understanding we now possess concerning the workings of the mind beset by depression. Often the reasoning process is impaired to the extent that full comprehtnsion of the act, let alone full consent of the will is unlikely. It is fr this reason that that Church, in her wisdom, removed the blanket ban on funerals for suicides.

  11. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Papabile – This is exactly the same as the Church refusing to bury unpenitent murderers, but being happy to bury insane murderers and penitent murderers. That doesn’t encourage murder.

  12. Geoffrey says:

    I recall a story about a woman who visited Saint “Padre” Pio. Her husband had committed suicide by jumping off a bridge. She feared for his soul and asked St Pio if her husband was in hell. St Pio said that her late husband was in Purgatory, as he had suddenly regretted what he did and asked for mercy “on the way down”.

  13. Desertfalcon says:

    I know that comments that have emotional rather than logical and reasoned basis, are probably not wanted but I can’t help but to think of those who feel so unloved, even by God, who commit such a terrible act, not out of willful sin or selfishness, (I loath when suicide is called “selfish”.), but by those who are utterly and completely convinced, that they are unlovable and will know only a life of pain. To then efficiently say, “Well, they are likely in hell for eternity. It’s what they deserved. Best to just quietly bury them without notice and move on.”, would in a sick way, lend credence to the very reasoning of the person who took their own life.

  14. Neil Addison says:

    In England when an Inquest is held on a Suicide the verdict is “Suicide while the balance of the mind was disturbed” which is an old wording which was introduced to distinguish such suicides from suicide simplicitur.

    The Church of England adopted the practice of giving Christian burial to those who had committed suicide “while the balance of the mind was disturbed” whilst still refusing Christian burial to suicides. Nowadays the assumption is that anyonw who committs suicide is in some way or other mentally disturbed and therefore the Church should bury them and commit them to the mercy of God “to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden” as the Book of Common prayer puts it. So far as I am aware the Catholic Church in England adopts the same attitude to the burial of suicides,

    We need to keep in mind also the family of the suicide, who are having to deal with the shock and horror of what has happened. For them to then see their loved one denied a Christian burial would add to their grief

  15. Imrahil says:

    Dear Papabile,

    sed contra is the Old and New Code.

    Nonetheless, what you say is among other things precisely why Cardinal Marx and others want to do a change here – and why many pious peope say that the divorced-remarried should give witness for the indissolubility of the bond by not Communicating, tacitly assuming that there’s still good hope if the person should die suddenly (for they also assume that quitting the new partnership, or have the partner quit it because there ceases to be sex, is not asked from them under pain of mortal sin).

    But there is an actual difference – and an additional thought to make.

    First, Communion is for the living. “Merely objective sin” is not a “way out”, but merely an excuse for those who happen not to know or not to will. That excuse will (if it really holds) “work” (they go to Heaven after, we might think, Purgatory), but it doesn’t make the thing right, and so, withholding Communion among other things has a teaching effect. But the dead person cannot learn any more.

    Second, there’s two things: necessity, and policy. So, even if we could admit, say, the divorced-remarried to Holy Communion, holding them subjectively excused from grave sin in a situation that cannot be escaped from without further harm, still we may think we cannot admit them, for otherwise a powerful incentive for the really married couples to stay together would fall away, and the world would say that we’ve quit to think the bond as indissoluble; so, who sinned by entering a remarriage should at least pay the price of not receiving Holy Communion now.

    (That happens to be my own, albeit not firm, position; I hesitate to think that all of them, no matter how complicated the situation is, are bound, under pain of mortal sin, to say to their partner [the remarriage already having been entered into, which is a sin, as St. Paul teaches] here-and-now “I will no longer have sex with you, and if that’s a problem with you, good bye”. Even if we’d consider that course good – and as Catholics we have, at least, to consider it legitimate – , can the impossible be demanded even if it is merely psychologically impossible? On the other hand, the Church cannot afford to admit them to Holy Communion, if she doesn’t want people to think that “if it doesn’t work out, we’ll divorce and look for new partners”, the latter of which St. Paul explicitly forbade. – But I’ve digressed, and needless to say I’m entirely obedient to the Church on this.)

    Likewise, previous times may have thought it making sense to even if they did hope for the suicide’s eternal well-being, still bury his body at the cross-roads with a stake drilled through his body, to discourage others.

  16. MAJ Tony says:

    Papabile, you’re comparing apples and oranges here. A person who commits suicide is most often mentally incapable of making such a decision. The same can’t be said at the same level as someone getting married and deciding they made a mistake. I would go as far as to say it’s wrong to deny a funeral to a suicide VICTIM (because they are the first victim of the suicide) unless you have valid reason to believe the suicide wasn’t the result of a person being in a severe mental state.

  17. John Nolan says:

    Misericordia Domini inter pontem et fontem. Suicides are given the benefit of the doubt. Also we need to remember the coroner’s qualification: ‘The balance of his mind being disturbed.’

  18. wolfeken says:

    Papabile — outstanding comments and excellent comparison/example.

    I would only add that denying a funeral does not necessarily prevent our Lord from admitting the deceased into heaven. It does, however, make a strong public statement on what is good versus what is evil on earth.

    Like so many other issues that have fallen apart in the last 50 years (nuptials, communion…), due to relaxations by popes, bishops and priests, the standard set by the Church needs to be the gold standard, not the negotiable standard.

  19. mburn16 says:

    “I am trying to understand the reasoning for allowing funerals for suicides, and I can not”

    Simply put, for something to be a mortal sin, it must be made by a person who willfully and voluntarily engages in it. They must have the mental capacity, in other words. Most people who kill themselves are not of sound mind, and, therefore, their culpability is uncertain. So we assume that they *may* be under…shall we say…the umbrella of grace.

  20. Aquinas Gal says:

    I’ve had a suicide in my family and it is agonizing for those who are left behind.
    To those who would so eagerly deny a funeral for such a troubled person, please consider that to deny a funeral would only have the effect of driving people away from the Church. The funeral is to pray for the person’s soul. No one on earth can say with absolute certainly that such a soul is in hell. Only God can judge that. So we trust in divine mercy and pray.

  21. Papabile says:

    I think many of you misunderstand me.

    1) I AGREE people may repent in the last moment.

    2) I AGREE that we can hope people obtain salvation even though they suicide (though the theological opinions of the Fathers and the Church’s long tradition seem to contraindicate this …)

    3) I will NEVER deny that many suicides are mentally unstable and entirely not responsible for their actions.

    4) This is FUNDAMENTALLY DIFFERENT from “unrepentant murderers” and “insane or mentally deranged murderers.” In that case, one can make an objective assessment of whether someone is unrepentent or insane. One CANNOT do that in the case of a suicide.

    5) My raising the issue of Canon 915 only had to do with using an example as to how the Church evaluates actual actions of people. I was leaving aside the actual differences, and I thought I said that.

    Perhaps I am extremely sensitive because I spent years of my life working on the opposing the legalization of assisted suicide as a matter of public policy. And then, I had a family member actually commit assisted suicide. It was all about her “taking charge of my life” and “dying happy.”
    Oh, and one of the reasons which assuaged her was “I’ll still get a Church funeral.” “It’ll all be ok.”

    Subsequently, she was given at least two of the three Last Rights (Annointing and Viaticum, though I am not sure if she was Confessed), and then punched out. (And, yes, she received a funeral.)

    She had been diagnosed with no underlying depression and mentally stable.

    My point here, is that offering funerals to suicides assuages some, and actually assists in their decision making process. This is a BAD policy.

    Perhaps one can explain to me how it was wrong to deny them previously? This is simply a canonical policy, but just like communion for the divorced and “remarried”, theology underlies the praxis.

    It is bad praxis.

  22. Papabile says:

    By the way, I am not against having mass said for the soul of a suicide.

    My main contention is that a funeral is bad praxis.

  23. pigg0214 says:

    Objectively, suicide is a MORTAL SIN, period. All the visible conditions are met. Humans cannot judge the interior forum of another. So unless the suicide perpetrator explains his motives or intentions or there is a visible history of mental issues, then the Church can only judge what is seen and we have no way of knowing the unseen. Not having a funeral for these people does not mean they are in hell but sets a very clear teaching for those who are left behind.

    The Church today does exactly what it has condemned in the past: to judge the interior forum of another. Everyone’s intentions are judged to be “good” when it is really impossible to know unless they are made manifest. To prove this all one has to do is make the claim at the next funeral that the person is in hell. You will immediately be condemned for such a comment and rightfully so, but nothing will be said to the one who makes just the opposite claim. Yes, we are a people of hope, but not of that cheap secular version of hope we have so clearly adopted.

    We need to not make the norm of those wonderful examples we have from our saints. God is free to make as many accommodations He wishes for anyone but that is not normally made known to us, thus we can’t judge it to be the case with all or any.

    This is all about perception and Papabile is exactly right with his comparison.

  24. eymard says:

    Please help me with this scenario (actual & recent):
    A Catholic woman’s father had denigrated all belief in God all of her life, disallowed the wife from practicing Catholicism, was nasty in all exchanges with the daughter relating to Catholicism. He becomes seriously ill, goes into coma, when the daughter baptizes him. He revives enough to be taken to the hospital, never knowing he had been baptized by the daughter. He lapses into a coma again, she has a priest arrive to do the last rites, again without his cognizance. He dies.

    The pastor accepts the baptism as valid. A “Memorial Mass” is held, at which the body is present, and follows the rubrics for a funeral Mass except that certain prayers are omitted. The diocesan office says these “Memorial Masses” can be celebrated as long as one member of the family is Catholic, and said person will make all arrangements to have the body in the church for the Mass.

    Is his baptism valid? Is this use of the term “Memorial Mass” acceptable?

  25. SharonB says:

    My nephew committed suicide. He was obviously suffering psychologically before he took his own life. My sister prayed countless prayers for him in the years before he died. She prayed all his life for him of course, but novena after novena was said for him in the last few years. When St. Augustine’s mother, St. Monica, was suffering greatly over her son’s sinful life, she was told by a bishop that “it is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish.” Should my sister be told otherwise? Are we to have no hope in our prayers and in God’s mercy? In spite of the violent way he took his life, my nephew survived until he reached the hospital, where he was given Last Rites. We have supreme hope that he was reconciled to God and that he is receiving or has by now completely received the healing of which he had been in such need.

  26. Imrahil says:

    Dear eymard,

    the Baptism is, from the facts presented and unless there was some private talk with his daughter somehow involving religion which we don’t know, invalid. An adult cannot be baptized validly against his will; if he be unconscious, he must have desired Baptism when awake, or at the least there must be hope that he would not reject it (you’d have to ask a theologian, or someone better informed on the details than I am, about the precise conditions).

    And maybe that was what, though you said otherwise, the priest thought: for if he really would have held him baptized and fully Catholic at the time of his death, why not simply go the whole hog and give him a Catholic requiem, funeral & all?

    Giving an appropriately changed version of the Catholic requiem and funeral seems a good idea, to me. Memorial Mass? They’ve got to be called with some name, and preferably one that is not as long as a half-sentence. (I personally would think that among the elements changed from the normal form, the presence of the body should belong; that celebrating a Mass over a body is something we might only do for Catholics, or maybe non-Catholic baptized Christians; but then around here we don’t ever celebrate a mass in the presence of the body, so I’m foreign to the question.)

  27. oldconvert says:

    In the course of my professional life I had to deal with many persons recovering from botched suicide attempts, as well as listening second-hand to the stories of those who succeeded. I came to the conclusion that while there are as many motives and intentions to be found before this act, one can form a rough grouping into types.

    First, you would be surprised how many people do not, in fact, intend to kill themselves. Self-poisoners frequently simply want unconsciousness as a relief from pain (physical or mental), but don’t in fact intend this relief to be permanent; self-stranglers often mean to make some kind of a statement (I mean by this people who try to hang themselves, because tragically few people know how to do this effectively, and end up with prolonged strangulation). People who set fire to themselves often survive these days where previously they could not be saved, and again it’s usually a statement they are making. All these have ample time to repent of their actions, as those who survive usually have done; but, tragically, many are not found in time.

    That said, I once had a colleague, poor soul, who rigged up a self-combusting arrangement on a time fuse AND then took an OD on barbiturates in whisky. I think he meant it.

    Believe it or not, young people are often inspired by Satan to suicide simply out of a kind of copycat hysteria – I remember one, a twelve-year-old child, OD’ing on aspirin [not a good choice of drug] who told us that she had done it simply because her best friend had also done it. (The friend died.)

    People who throw themselves off high buildings or cliffs, or in front of trains or cars, usually mean to kill themselves. But, again, you never can tell, not only inter pontem et fontem, but I think of a poor girl who (as she admitted afterwards), intending only to frighten her boyfriend into compliance during a row, threw herself backwards out of a ground-floor window, landed awkwardly, broke her neck and was left a tetraplegic. I also recall another young lady who made regular attempts at self-harm, but the knives were always blunt, the gas about to be cut off, and it is not convincing to be seen throwing yourself in front of a parked car. I don’t know what happened to her, but if she succeeded in killing herself, I doubt if it was on purpose.

    All told, in western Christian/post-Christian society, where suicide is generally condemned as selfish and cowardly, I suspect that the number who both commence and persevere in that intention to the bitter end are far fewer than the recorded fatalities.

  28. The Masked Chicken says:

    Dear Papabile,

    You wrote:

    “Perhaps one can explain to me how it was wrong to deny them previously? This is simply a canonical policy, but just like communion for the divorced and “remarried”, theology underlies the praxis.

    It is bad praxis.”

    There is a profound difference between an unrepented suicide and a repented suicide (which, technically, is no longer a suicide, but, rather, a course of actions set into motion that cannot be stopped). Unrepented suicides should not be given a Catholic funeral. That is reasonable. Doubtful suicides, where repentance is questionable, deserve a conditional funeral (if only we had such a thing). Suicides where repentance is known (call 911, but they get there too late) is a sin repented of and even if it is a mortal sin by type, the actions of the individual constitutes an act of contrition. The situation, in that case, is identical to someone facing death without the benefit of a priest. The Church has not denied a Catholic funeral to such people. It is similar to soldiers on a battlefield. They may have used the Lord’s name in vain during battle or slept with a prostitute (as, sadly, happens in war) and repented of the sin, but had no chance to get to confession.

    In the case of an unrepented suicide, no funeral should be given, since it is a manifest grave sin, but to deny the repented suicide or the suicide non compos mentis a Catholic funeral, if logically carried through, would mean that the Church would have to deny a Catholic funeral to anyone where proof of being in a state of grace could not be ascertained.

    Doctrine develops; the Church gains wisdom. As the Church matures, it’s ability to work with increasingly subtle situations, likewise matures. There are some classes of drugs (even antibiotics and, paradoxically, anti-depressants for certain young people) that can induce suicidal depression. These drugs did not exist in 1917 (or, even 1983). The Church must be allowed to deal with hard cases without a one-size-fits-all legislation.

    In the case of assisted suicides, I definitely agree that no Catholic funeral should be given. If the bishops made such a policy universally known, it might make a few people stop and think. What we are dealing here with is an insufficiency in language, where all suicides are lumped together. Clearly, they are not all equal.

    The Chicken

  29. Papabile says:


    Having had a suicide in my own family, albeit an “assisted one”, I too will hope and pray for your nephew. I will offer my next rosary for him.

  30. Papabile says:

    The Chicken:

    I actually appreciate your post, and agree with you re: the way you are defining “repented suicides”. In fact, my understanding is that even under the old Code and the Decretals, what you are describing was never in fact prohibited a funeral. In fact, morally and theologically, they were generally not considered suicide, or were considered it of a different class. Hence, the funerals which were allowed for those were almost always done privately as a result.

    However, outside those suicides which are repented in a way which can be determined from an external action by the person committing suicide, the Church has always denied funerals, dating back to the time of the Fathers funerary rites. The key to allowing any rites was always that there had to be some very clear external action showing a rejection of such intent.

    I would take exception to your comparison to this with that of a soldier as there is a fundamental assumption that the soldier does not intend to let himself be killed. This was the virtual unanimous assumption of all the moral manualists dating back to the time of Pope Alexander III. In fact, I believe one of his decretals explicitly rejects a similar comparison for being inadequate, making a clear distinction between the two.

    With respect to your statement “The Church must be allowed to deal with hard cases without a one-size-fits-all legislation.”, I think one must say that the salvation of souls being of the primary importance in the Code, no specific law is so rigid as not to be able to be addressed in different ways. However, the theological underpinnings of the law are important to the functioning of not only the liturgical life, but the lived faith of the faithful. One could easily take that statement and apply the same reasoning to Canon 915. The Church has always been allowed to “deal with hard cases.” To pretend otherwise is not reflective of the reality.

    I still maintain that this is bad praxis.

  31. Grumpy Beggar says:

    robtbrown says:
    We gather to celebrate the life and suicide of Joe Schmoe . . .

    The problem is that the Novus Ordo funeral liturgy, in which Purgatory is all but ignored, is an inadequate expression of Catholic doctrine. It assumes a best case, e.g., the death of an 85 year old woman who was a serious Catholic beloved by all and dies a holy death. The frequency of such situations, however, continues to decline.

    In addition to the usual grief over the death of a close friend or relative, suicide leaves mourners confused. The Requiem Mass, including the Dies Irae, is a proportionate expression of Catholic doctrine. Consequently, it also offers a proportionate outlet for mourners’ grief–and confusion in cases of suicide and sudden death.”

    Hi robtbrown .
    I can agree with the reality that mention of Purgatory is not being made as clearly enough or as frequently enough today as the holy souls themselves would desire. And I have heard at some funeral Masses (too often) a celebrant or concelebrant volunteer the (somewhat presumptuous) information during a homily or during the words of comfort portion , that a certain recently deceased member of the community is “with God now”. . . and the like, but I’m not so sure we could attribute that to the Novus Ordo as much as we could to an abuse of it.

    At every single OF of the Mass – funeral, memorial, or not, the Church always prays for the souls in Purgatory just as surely as She prays for the Pope. In the intercessory component of each Eucharistic prayer format, prayer is offered for the dead :

    I : “Remember also, Lord, your servants N. and N., who have gone before us with the sign of faith and rest in the sleep of peace. Grant them, O Lord, we pray, and all who sleep in Christ, a place of refreshment, light. . . ”

    II : “Remember also our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection and all who have died in your mercy: welcome them into the light of your face. Have mercy on us all, we pray . . . ”

    III : “† To our departed brothers and sisters and to all who were pleasing to you at their passing from this life, give kind admittance to your kingdom. . .”

    IV : “Remember also those who have died in the peace of your Christ and all the dead, whose faith you alone have known. To all of us, your children, grant, O merciful Father, that we may enter into a heavenly inheritance . . .”

    All the above is prayer for the holy souls in Purgatory : If the dead are already with God, they no longer need these prayers ; if the dead are in Hell , they don’t want these prayers.

    I would agree 200% though, that the doctrine of Purgatory in general is not taught as much or as clearly as it should be. It’s something every Catholic should make it his or her business to know. And I’ve seen some stuff that’s way out in left field during some Catholic funerals, which totally detracts from praying for the deceased, but when done properly, it should resemble . . .

    An excerpt from the USCCB’s site ; BEREAVEMENT AND FUNERALS

    “6. The Church through its funeral rites commends the dead to God’s merciful love and pleads for the forgiveness of their sins. At the funeral rites, especially at the celebration of the eucharistic sacrifice, the Christian community affirms and expresses the union of the Church on earth with the Church in heaven in the one great communion of saints. Though separated from the living, the dead are still at one with the community of believers on earth and benefit from their prayers and intercession. . .”

    I don’t know my Mass Latin as well now as I did when I actually served prior to 1972, but doesn’t the Dies Irae refer more exclusively to the general judgement (which identifies with the parousia) – as opposed to the particular judgement ?

  32. Gail F says:

    Papabile wrote, “I am trying to understand the reasoning for allowing funerals for suicides, and I can not.”
    At one time, it was assumed that people committing suicide did so deliberately and with full knowledge of what they were doing.

    It is now understood that many people commit suicide out of an impulse they cannot control. Not all, of course, but many people who commit suicide suffer from clinical depression or another serious mental illness. Those of us who have such a person in their family understand that they succumb to this mental illness (if they do) just as one does a physical illness. It consumes them.

    I just went to the funeral of a youth who committed suicide — big Catholic family, parents who had tried to help him for years. Sometimes people allow themselves to be corrupted by sin; sometimes people are consumed by mental illness; sometimes the two are all twisted together. Again, I think the living — knowing, as we do, about how some mental illnesses work — must give the benefit of the doubt to the dead. It’s not like divorce and remarriage at all.

    BTW… it was a beautiful and solemn funeral, NO but in Latin, black vestments, nearly all sung. I found it very moving and sad. Unlike most contemporary funerals, which are sort of like celebrity roasts, it very much gave the impression that the deceased was DEAD, and that the things of this world were done for him now. He was on to the things of the next world, and that is how we will all go.

  33. Zfan says:

    Suicide is rarely the “fault” of the victim. A series of factors leads up to it, and they are not common, but when in place, make suicide almost inevitable without intervention from another human being.

    First, the genetic predisposition. Just like other things that used to be considered purely a matter of free will, like alcoholism, science has informed us that some individuals are born predisposed not merely to depression, but specifically to suicide. Most depressives do not try to commit suicide. However 20% (1 in 5 people!) of manic-depressives die by suicide and all suffer from suicidal ideation at some time if untreated. Only about 1 percent of the general population (10% of which experiences clinical depression) die by suicide. Of course, that is thousands of human beings.

    When our priest was asked why the Church had changed the position on suicide, this very wise, elderly and devout priest simply said, “People who take their own lives don’t know what they are doing. We know that now. They don’t know what they are doing.”

    That was enough of a reason for a intelligent priest who could have easily chosen to give a more erudite or fancy explanation. But if they don’t know what they are doing, be it illness, ignorance, whatever, it is not a mortal sin. Medicine, psychology, science and genetics have made it clear that almost no one who kills himself is doing so by a free, malicious and deliberate defiance of God.

    Depression is not the sole reason either, but it is a start if it leads to loss of hope, despair. Despair that persists, when a person tries to reach out for help and gets none, makes suicide increasingly more likely as it becomes the only choice in the victim’s mind. They feel and truly believe they are at a dead-end. It is an act of desperation in almost all cases.

    People who cavalierly declare suicides to be in a state of mortal sin and unworthy of a funeral I’ll guess have never felt this sort of despair combined with the tragic fate of feeling there is no one to turn to or talk to about it.

    The “assisted suicides” we now sadly will see more and more, a la Brittany Maynard, cannot be considered entirely culpable either when not only are they suffering a fatal and painful disease, but are pushed to end their lives by the very people who should help them, the medical profession, counselors, hospice personnel, friends, family, even a husband. One can imagine they start to think there is something morally wrong with them if they DON’T cut off life.
    My first suicide attempt was around age 15. I have no idea what brought it on, or why – as a very good girl in a devout Catholic family, and attending a Catholic school, and with several friends – I felt suddenly I had to end my life.

    It came on quite suddenly and irrationally considering I was an honors student and rather attractive young lady. I was religious and a daily mass attendee for most of high school. My upbringing was orderly and orthodox in a stable, loving, middle-class home.

    I did not feel I made any conscious “choice” or decision to commit suicide, and even continued believing it was wrong in an objective sense. I could not stop it, like something washing over me. I went about it as if someone was controlling me, as if another part of me had emerged I did not recognize but had to follow. It truly felt like the “right” thing and the “only” thing to do at that moment.

    I would not have described myself as depressed because I was not even sure what that meant. I was considered a normal teenager. It was not a “plea for attention” because I never told anyone about it. I recovered and managed to hide the incident from my family. I forgot all about it.

    20 years later in a psychiatrist’s office (to whom I had been referred by my psychotherapist after several years of counseling for what I by then realized were intermittent severe depressive episodes), the doctor asked me if I had ever attempted suicide. I began to say, “No, I would never do such a thing…” and suddenly remembered I had! In 20 years, through disabling depressions that cost me jobs and friendships, I had thoughts of suicide, but never wanted to carry them out.

    This roller coaster of mania and depression, without suicide attempts, persisted into my mid-40’s, when I made 3 suicide attempts, all while under the care of psychiatrists and therapists, and on the usual medicines.

    So for 30 years I struggled with manic-depression and despair, but never moved to end my life. The times I did came on suddenly, sometimes in fact spontaneously. It seemed the “best thing” to do for all concerned. My never succeeding I attribute to a combination of my own ineptitude and the intervention of my guardian angel.

    Now I know the signs: it is a creeping, fatal sapping of all joy from life, all sense of purpose, any belief that I might have value. Feelings are dead. IT IS NOT SADNESS! Feeling “sad” is real and vital and connected to experiencing something. Sadness can be cried over, talked about, put in poems, offered up, or worked out in long walks.

    Suicidal risk comes on when one CANNOT feel anything. Despair is not so much a feeling as a state at the end of your rope when feelings are dry, except maybe anger that there is nowhere else to turn. You lose connection to everything.

    I see many people here who are well-educated, moral, clear-thinking, savvy, curious and bright, yet I believe most have never known this state. Because it is NOT “the human condition,” it is not normal. It is pathological, an illness a minority are prone to.

    The sad truth is, usually it only takes a bit of kindness to reach a person in a desperate state. Listening without preaching, blaming, lecturing, etc. But people don’t. Listen that is. They don’t want to hear it, they judge and use many old cliches, they blame the sufferer, they cajole and persuade, give a pep talk, or they ignore and escape this “downer” asap.

    Whence come suicidal urges and why at often unpredictable times? How can they afflict a person of deep faith, in a state of grace, receiving the sacraments, who wants to know, love and serve God … and suddenly finds herself thinking God wants her to end her own life? It is irrational, therefore hard to discern and easy to assign superficial causes. The doctors and researchers still do not understand. The Church has come to understand this drive to self-destruction is usually beyond the person’s full control, if under any control at all. It does not matter why, if we know that much, we cannot condemn.

    (Anyone interested in a serious and scholarly treatment of suicide, read Kay Redfield Jamison’s books.)

  34. Giuseppe says:

    It is hard to envision a soul more in need of a funeral mass than that of someone who killed himself. The church should err on the side of allowing a funeral mass.

    For that person who kills himself
    1) with no possible evidence of mental illness or hint of substances clouding his judgment,
    2) with his rational powers completely intact,
    3) with full knowledge that he was committing a mortal sin, and
    4) with no evidence remorse up until his last breath,
    I am sure God has it within his power to transfer the intentions said in that funeral mass to another soul in purgatory or to apply His mercy to this lost soul, as God can do wondrous things.

    Short of all of those conditions, a funeral should be said, and (inspired by SharonB’s post above) added prayers could be said to Saint Monica for the family and friends left behind.

    (Sharon, I am sharing your moving suggestion with a coworker who lost a son to suicide of similar age as Augustine when he went astray, so this is a beautiful thought. Many thanks.)

  35. The Masked Chicken says:

    Dear Papabile,

    You wrote:

    “I would take exception to your comparison to this with that of a soldier as there is a fundamental assumption that the soldier does not intend to let himself be killed.”

    Neither does the repented suicidal person, so the analogy stands and as the Church does not deny the soldier a Catholic funeral, neither should it for the repented suicide. As to the situation where it cannot be known whether repentance occurred, that is a hard case and people of good will can fall on either side of the issue. I can see where making that blanket assumption can lead to bad praxis, as you suggest, but I can also see that modern life really is more complicated than in ages past and might admit of a bit more mercy. I think there may be no clear answer to this middle state in this vale of tears. I, personally, think it might be left up to the discretion of the Ordinary on a case-by-case basis (yeah, Chicken, way to pass the buck, there).

    The Chicken

  36. Gerard Plourde says:

    Dear Papabile,

    Thanks for the additional information. The fact that you are involved in the battle against assisted suicide is important in understanding your position. The act of assisted suicide (usually committed by a terminally ill person who has planned to end his llife) carries with it the possibility of willfulness that would argues for the liklihood of the commission of mortal sin and more closely resembles the pagan stoics who considered it a “noble” act. It must be remembered that this form of suicide does not represent the majority of cases of suicide. Far more common is the situation of a person suffering from severe mental distress who acts impulsively by jumping off a bridge or building, shooting him or herself, or jumping in front of a train. It is much easier to make a case that in the latter case full consent of the will is highly unlikely and therefore no motal sin has been committed and Catholic burial shouldn’t be denied.

  37. Papabile says:

    The Chicken:

    I think we have found some agreement.

    Gerard Plourd:
    Far more common is the situation of a person suffering from severe mental distress who acts impulsively by jumping off a bridge or building, shooting him or herself, or jumping in front of a train. It is much easier to make a case that in the latter case full consent of the will is highly unlikely and therefore no motal sin has been committed and Catholic burial shouldn’t be denied.

    I agree that it is far easier “to make a case”, but with that said, my point is that there is no external action, and I believe that allowing a funeral reinforces bad decisionmaking by some. I personally have been to three suicide (not assisted ones) funerals where the Priest has said they “are in Heaven now”, or something like that.

    Furthermore, I have heard it reinforced by a family member who actually committed assisted suicide that “It’ll all be fine.” “I’ll be with God.” “The Church understands this stuff now. No worries on my part.” One of the explicit reasons she felt fine with it is that the Church offered funerals.

    Yes, I agree that in the majority of suicide, it is unknowable whether the person had full consent of the will. But that was never necessarilly assumed in the practice of forbidding funerals. The Fathers wrote about how suicides must not be provided the prayers of the Church because they feared it in some way presented the impression that this was not highly sinful. They didn’t exactly have the idea of “full consent of the will”, which is a Tridentine construct.

    I still maintain that this is bad praxis, and sets aside ancient apostolic and sacred tradition.

  38. jameeka says:

    Zfan: Thank you very much for speaking up–excellent and thanks to your guardian angel as well.

  39. Grumpy Beggar says:

    Giuseppe says:

    “It is hard to envision a soul more in need of a funeral mass than that of someone who killed himself. . .”

    It’s also hard to say it better than you just did Giuseppe.

    Outside of the “funeral Mass”, there is nothing wrong with having a Mass offered for someone who has committed suicide either. This morning, one of our parishoners – as he does faithfully every year ,on the anniversary of her death without fail, had the Mass intention offered for his daughter who committed suicide exactly 11 years ago today. He’s a friend of mine and he likes to sit right at the front so that he doesn’t miss a thing during Mass, but I sit almost all the way in the back. So today, just before the Mass began, as they were announcing the intention, I moved up and sat in the same pew on his right side – without saying a word . . . just so he could know I was praying with him.

    His daughter was quite a Catholic too during those intervals where she wasn’t being held prisoner by the bonds of her illness. Sometimes when she was doing better and was living at home ( as opposed to the psychiatric ward) , she would go back to the hospital just to visit the patients in that ward – some whom she already knew and some whom she would be getting to know for the first time. I remember on several occasions , she took a handful of blessed medals and scapulars along with her to, as she called it, “evangelize some of the other patients” . . . and each time she came back, she never had any blessed items left over.

    If there’s one thing we do know about mental and emotional illness – it’s just how much we don’t know about it.

  40. Gerard Plourde says:

    Dear Papbile,

    If we agree with the Church that intent is vital in assessing culpability and acknowledge that the Church has historically recognized conditions under which a person’s mental state makes him incapable of possessing the necessary ability to reason, consequently vitiating the capacity to commit a particular sin, it seems to me that revocation of the blanket refusal to allow a funeral Mass to suicides was the correct decision. With you I beleive that those who willfully avail themselves of the provisions of jurisdictions like Oregon or the Netherlands should almost certainly be denied a Catholic funeral as their reasoning appears to reflect that of the pagan stoics I referred to in an earlier post in this thread. At the same time, I think the Church’s message about what she holds to be true is much clearer concerning the conditions required for sin generally and grave sins like suicide if she allows Masses that for those whose mental state and capacity to form judgments were almost certainly compromised. We do ourselves no favors in the important fight against assisted suicide, euthenasia and abortion if we appear to adopt the Protestants’ “one size fits all” concept of sin.

  41. The Masked Chicken says:

    Dear Papabile,

    Keep fighting the good fight. The assisted suicide mess is only going to get worse, especially once Baby Boomers start getting elderly.

    You wrote:

    “They didn’t exactly have the idea of “full consent of the will”, which is a Tridentine construct.”

    It may have been infallibly defined at Trent, but Aquinas made reference to it (Summa Theologica II.I part 88 art. 5):

    ” I answer that, It is unreasonable to say that the first movements of unbelievers are mortal sins, when they do not consent to them.”

    One might not find the idea of full consent in the Church Fathers, but the concept of the requirements for sin might not have been fleshed out. I don’t know Augustine well enough to know how explicitly he connected movements of the will to sin. In any case, doctrine develops, so one must judge based on the Church’s current understanding, which, while not contradiction the understanding of the past, may extend or refine it.

    The Chicken

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