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Is Roger Ebert in heaven? Is Pope John Paul II?

Deacon Greg Kandra points to the funeral mass held today at Chicago's Holy Name Cathedral for film critic and cultural omnivore Roger Ebert, and takes issue with celebrant Fr. Michael Pfleger for suggesting to the mourners that Ebert could be in heaven. It's not that Ebert had a somewhat unconventional view on theology, but Greg says that eulogists should never go there:

Maybe Im being picky, but a guiding principle for Catholic funeral oratory is: dont tell people that the deceased is in heaven. You dont know. And no matter how deserving the person might seem to be, there are doubtless some who will argue otherwise ... Funeral preachers: offer reassurance and hope and consolation. But do not promise canonization. Pfleger seems to have disregarded that concept.

Now Michael Pfleger is justifiably controversial for all sorts of reasons, but I'm not so sure that he deserves this criticism. For one thing, this is what Pfleger said:

The Rev. Michael Pfleger gave the last blessing over Ebert's casket. "May the angels lead you to paradise," he said.Then he spoke directly to Ebert's wife. "I know as Roger ascends into heaven, the balconies of heaven are filled with angels saying, 'Thumbs up,' " Pfleger said.

That seemed fairly conditional, at least at the start, and fairly standard as far as consolation goes. That sort of thing is said all the time at the funeral of hierarchs, like Pope John Paul II, for example, by none other than Cardinal Joseph Raztinger, soon to be Benedict XVI:

We entrust your dear soul to the Mother of God, your Mother, who guided you each day and who will guide you now to the eternal glory of her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Yet I don't recall critics highlighting that as a major problem.Is it in fact a problem? I think overlong eulogies are a bigger issue as far a funerals go, and Ebert's seems to have been a pretty well-run service. Kudos to Cardinal George for giving it a thumbs up.

About the Author

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.



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God desires to bring all back to himself. Those who have been baptized in Christ, will rise in Christ. I don't recall all kinds of caveats and provisos.And you are bang on concerning Benedict's eulogy for John Paul II.I think he is being picky and not quite correct. I DO agree that eulogies should not be in the context of a funeral mass (or as I prefer the mass of the resurrection). Up here, eulogies are given before the mass begins. The homily focuses on the paschal mystery and how the person's life figures in that. It was that way for my dad and the priest and he were friends but it still was not a eulogy!That said, when I go I could use all the prayers to cheer me on as I can get! But that need not be downer nor tacitly suggest that God's justice exceeds His mercy. The opposite is true as Jesus clearly shows. And, yesterday was Divine Mercy Sunday notwithstanding the weeping and nashing of teeth over it. It is here and we can learn something from it.As the funeral liturgy clearly states, "life has not ended, it's changed" my dad so loved that line that it is his epithet.

Nice ending, David. Perfect.

I've taken a particular interest in this. Ebert is a favorite writer of mine, and so I know that the closing chapters of his autobiography talk about how he did not abandon the Church--he just abandoned the notion that there is anything divine in it. (See that blog posting linked above for more proof, too.) He described himself proudly as a secular humanist. So his funeral today puzzled me, (a) that he wanted it and (b) that the Cardinal permitted it. It delighted me inexpressibly. But it puzzled me. A friend back home in Chicago suggests that Ebert, who was widely known to be opposed to abortion (though pro-choice in the politics), may have bought a pass from the archdiocese because of his public statements on that issue. That seems cynical to me, especially since that position would not put him too far away from Ted Kennedy whose Christian burial did raise some hackles. But I can't dismiss it as a possibility. There is the chance that there was a deathbed change of heart we'll hear about. I rather hope that's true.I won't take a position on who goes to heaven and who doesn't. I think a funeral is a great place to hope and pray that a particular person gets there. In general, for all kinds of reasons, I hope Ebert is there. But I will say that I've heard too few good eulogies, few enough to agree that the Mass generally is the wrong place for them. A prayer for admission to the Kingdom is one thing, and that's really all +Ratzinger did. It wasn't in the context of a eulogy. What Pfleger did was more treacly, and the sort of expression that gives a kind of insincere, false comfort, I think. Where +Ratzinger entrusted John Paul to the intercession of Mary, Pfleger gave a kind of gold-sealed guarantee. As I say, I like to think Pfleger was right on the facts. But on aesthetic grounds, it's grating.

Who's entitled to a Catholic funeral Mass? Can a funeral without Mass be held in a Catholic church and officiated by a priest?

Mr. Gibson - would suggest that this criticism says more about Kendra and his *beef* with Pfleger than anything to do with Ebert. How sad.And agree, can't believe George allowed Pfleger to do this; guess he is already in his *retirement phase*.

Pfleger was quoting the hymn that was sung (in days of yore) "When the corpse is carried out for burial." One of the most beautiful chants of the Church, imho.In paradisum deducant te Angeli: in tuo adventu suscipiant te Martyres,et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem. Chorus Angelorum te suscipiat, et cum Lazaro quondam paupere Aeternam habeas requiem.

The English paraphrases of the beautiful chant, "In paradisum," all pale in comparison. I especially like the adverb "quondam" and the way the chant brings us peacefully to "requiem."

Joe, appreciate your sentiment with regard to In Paradisum, however, the PIPs are uplifted and quite happy when they sing or hear "may the angels lead you into paradise, may the martyrs come to welcome you.......where Lazarus is poor no longer, may you have eternal rest." I presided at a funeral this morning.

Jean Raber:Re: Who can have a funeral MassI remember that his issue came up when Teddy Kennedy died. Apparently any baptized Catholic, as Ebert's bio says he was, can have a funeral mass. Canon Law 1184 does stipulate who can be denied an ecclesiastical funeral. "Unless they gave some signs of repentance before death, the following must be deprived of ecclesiastical funerals:1/ notorious apostates, heretics, and schismatics;2/ those who chose the cremation of their bodies for reasons contrary to Christian faith;3/ other manifest sinners who cannot be granted ecclesiastical funerals without public scandal of the faithful.2. If any doubt occurs, the local ordinary is to be consulted, and his judgment must be followed. We assume then that Cardinal George gave his consent after all it's his cathedral. Maybe he is a movie buff. (joke)According to the Chicago Trib, Ebert did have a funeral Mass.For those who have concerns about having a funeral Mass for those who are, for example, pro-choice or pro gay marriage, I say to them: not to worry, the deceased won't be taking Holy Communion.

In high school, a classmate of mine died. At the funeral, in the presence of parents, siblings, and classmates, the officiating priest departed a little from his purpose of consoling survivors by mispronouncing the name of the deceased. I was told afterwards, rightly or wrongly I don't know, that priests were not supposed to eulogize lay persons, precisely because they often do not know them well enough. That seemed sensible.Still, if anyone is going to speak at those rites, consolation for the living should be the main purpose. They will probably know well enough the departed's faults. They want to hear good things. At the same time, there is no reason for speakers to pronounce as certain what they are not called to judge at all. That is why our languages have a subjunctive mood as well as an indicative.

I just think that the Judgment is an article of our faith, and to unilaterally assert anyone's floating up to the Balcony without being subject to the judgment of the Judge is to fail to do full justice to the content of our faith Cf CCC 1022: "Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven-through a purification or immediately, -- or immediate and everlasting damnation. At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love." Personally, I wouldn't say at a funeral what Fr. Pfleger said here. At the same time, at the funeral of a baptized Christian who lived a life of faith, sustained by sacramental grace, we can be filled with a confident hope that the life marked by faith will be rewarded. Whether this is an accurate description of Roger Ebert's life, I don't know. I do believe, though, that God is very merciful.I don't think that Cardinal Ratzinger said quite the same thing as Fr. Pfleger. Cardinal Ratzinger didn't speak with certainty; he prayed that Mary, who is Queen of Heaven, would guide John Paul to paradise. That path may be, for all we know, a harrowing one. This is not too different from the In Paradisum that a couple of commenters have mentioned. Or the dialogue, "Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord / and let perpetual light shine upon him."

Father Komonchak recently said

Aquinass comment: Abrahams soul is not Abraham. To have Abraham, a human person, you need both body and soul.

I presume that goes for Roger Ebert, too. So regardless of whether Ebert is saved or not, how can he be in heaven?Also, is it heaven for Roger Ebert of Gene Siskel is already there?

David makes one excellent point and one that requires some clarification. First, I agree that our discussions of going to heaven usually overlook our bodily participation in the Resurrection: its a bit soon to make a judgment about Caesar, much less Ebert. We've not reached the Last Day quite yet. All hopes are best expressed as prayer for eventual resurrection, not assurances that a particular decedent has reached the end zone. Second. Ebert described his relationship to Siskel as "best enemies." They loved to fight, but loved each other. Thus heaven for Ebert, I assume, is a place where he will meet Gene and where Gene always will be wrong.

Aquinas thought that there wouldn't be a bodily resurrection until the Last Day, but Jesus told the thief on the cross next to him that that day he'd be in paradise.

"Also, is it heaven for Roger Ebert if Gene Siskel is already there?"That assumes we have to schlep our memories of this life to heaven. As I understand it, there is some debate about that.

Jim P, I cited Cdl Ratzinger's homily as just one example of the many statements of assurance that were made about John Paul's heavenly repose. There are many many others, such as Cdl Sandri's statement to the crowd the night of JP2's death that "Our most beloved Holy Father has returned to the house of the Father."Bottom line is that Pfleger said nothing more or less than top church leaders said about John Paul (and what they say about many of their colleagues when they die). So one question is why someone like Pfleger should be criticized for doing something that is considered perfectly acceptable when powerful church leaders do it? And two, should pastors give such reassurances of eternal reward for a departed person? If it is good enough for popes, why is it not a consolation that can be given to, say, the mother who child has died? Or do we cite Augustine to the grief-stricken?

Here's a question I've never seen addressed and wasn't discussed in RCIA to my knowledge:What's a funeral for in the Catholic tradition? Prayers to help speed the soul's journey? Or a comfort for the survivors? A reminder to all of us that there is hope in the resurrection? An act of mercy that gets us jewels in our heavenly crown? All of the above?Are Catholics obligated to do their utmost to ensure some sort of funeral for their non-believing departed? What if they request things you're uncomfortable with? There was no service for my dad at his insistence. My mother has quite an elaborate secular send-off planned for herself, something she enjoys tweaking and changing, and most of which I find in horrendous taste, even as a Bad Catholic.

David G - my view is that we shouldn't offer statements of certain knowledge to grieving family members and friends when in fact we don't possess that certain knowledge. We can offer hope, and statements of faith, and prayers. And comfort. In my opinion, Fr. Pfleger said more than should be said. I would say the same about what Cardinal Sandri said as you've quoted it here. Popes aren't exceptions to the rule. I assume that John Paul's journey to his death was accompanied by a battalion of priests and bishops to anoint him, hear his final confession, give him viaticum, bless him with an apostolic blessing, and basically pull out all the stops that can be pulled out to assure that he goes to meet our Lord. Most of us can't count on that level of pastoral aid. Yet for any of us, the grace of baptism and the other sacraments are reasons to have real hope. It may even approach certainty.Still, I see a big difference between saying, "I know for a fact Gene is in heaven", and "Dear God, please send your angels, or your Mother, to help guide Gene to heaven." It is hard being a pastoral minister, because our instinct is to address people in pain by telling them things or doing things that we think will instantly alleviate their pain. But this is not always the right thing to do; pastoral ministers must be constrained by the truth. It's not difficult to think of instances: lay, religious and deacon ministers of care may not anoint those who are seriously ill, even though the patient may request it and laypersons in other denominations do this. Bishops must pull charming and persuasive sex abusers out of public ministry even when the abuser does his utmost to stay in ministry. We may not help bring about the death of a patient who wants to die simply because she wants to die. We may not promise a pending wedding date to an engaged couple if there is a need for an annulment that hasn't been addressed yet. We may not baptize an infant if there is no reason to hope or expect that the parents will raise her as a Christian. Etc.In the face of the death of a loved one, we don't know with certainty whether she is in heaven or not. We do have hope and faith, and we shouldn't hesitate to articulate them.

A bit of humor:A New Yorker cartoon with someone arriving at the pearly gate with Peter looking down from the judge's bench.A man with briefcase standing next to the decedent hands Peter a business card, saying, "Attorney Robinson, for the defense..."

When someone dies, it is very important in the Catholic tradition to make it clear to those who loved the deceased that he or she may be roasting in the flames of hell.

Whats a funeral for in the Catholic tradition?A Funeral Mass "holds first place" among the Masses for the Dead. It is FOR the dead. The liturgy makes that clear, and the bishops' rule 385 makes clear the importance of "pastoral considerations." Masses for the Dead379.The Church offers the Eucharistic Sacrifice of Christ's Passover for the dead so that, since all the members of Christ's body are in communion with each other, the petition for spiritual help on behalf of some may bring comforting hope to others.380.Among the Masses for the Dead, the Funeral Mass holds first place. It may be celebrated on any day except for Solemnities that are holy days of obligation, Holy Thursday, the Easter Triduum, and the Sundays of Advent, Lent, and Easter, with due regard also for all the other requirements of the norm of the law.146381.A Mass for the Dead may be celebrated on receiving the news of a death, for the final burial, or the first anniversary, even on days within the Octave of Christmas, on obligatory Memorials, and on weekdays, except for Ash Wednesday or weekdays during Holy Week.Other Masses for the Dead, that is, "daily" Masses, may be celebrated on weekdays in Ordinary Time on which optional memorials occur or when the Office is of the weekday, provided such Masses are actually applied for the dead.382.At the Funeral Mass there should, as a rule, be a short homily, but never a eulogy of any kind.383.The faithful, and especially the family of the deceased, should be urged to participate in the Eucharistic Sacrifice offered for the deceased person also by receiving Holy Communion.384.If the Funeral Mass is directly joined to the burial rite, once the prayer after Communion has been said and omitting the concluding rite, the rite of final commendation or farewell takes place. This rite is celebrated only if the body is present.385.In the arranging and choosing of the variable parts of the Mass for the Dead, especially the Funeral Mass (e.g., orations, readings, Prayer of the Faithful), pastoral considerations bearing upon the deceased, the family, and those attending should rightly be taken into account.Pastors should, moreover, take into special account those who are present at a liturgical celebration or who hear the Gospel on the occasion of the funeral and who may be non-Catholics or Catholics who never or rarely participate in the Eucharist or who seem even to have lost the faith. For priests are ministers of Christ's Gospel for all.

David Nickol, that's not the Catholic tradition at all.

David and David --It seems that the influence of the Jansenists/pessimists has been stronger in some places than in others. I've been quite surprised by some of the pessimism expressed here regarding those who have died. The Church here didn't preach such a pessimistic message. Yes, people seem to be more or less bad, and we were taught that they will spend more or less time in Purgatory respectively. And, yes, probably some go to Hell. But an expectation that apparently decent-if-not-perfect people have a good possibility of being condemned to hellfire would be considered unjust here,What were you all taught?

In fifteen years of Hospice chaplaincy, I attended scores or hundreds of funerals and and officiated at about he same. I've heard about every expression in a wide variety of "traditons" - especially those who have had no formal religous tradtion. The most frequent imagery others employ is quite anthprpocentric and a kind of neo -Elysian fields/Vahalla aspect. The popular imagination has long left the tradtional Christian expresion and eulogies abound with images out of the movies. When I attempt to balance those or am les than exuberant in priase of the deceased or more "commendational" than describing the joys of the kingdom, I know I disappoint the popular sensibility....It's an intersting time as the "spiritual but not religious" crowd still wants some old fashioned reassurances, for the most part, about "life beyond the veil."

"We may not baptize an infant if there is no reason to hope or expect that the parents will raise her as a Christian"Is that a church policy? Surely we wouldn't promote the 19th century idea of the Catholic nanny secretly baptizing Jewish children, but would we refuse baptizing a child whose nominally Catholic but non-practicing parents requested it? I remember reading this about Pope Francis:"In our ecclesiastical region there are priests who dont baptize the children of single mothers because they werent conceived in the sanctity of marriage, Bergoglio told his priests. These are todays hypocrites. Those who clericalize the Church. Those who separate the people of God from salvation.

This thread is getting to be a downer for me. I am reading Dante's "Divine Comedy with Scott D. Moringiello and I am 16 cantos away from getting out of Hell.

John Hayes: here is the text of Canon 868:"Can. 868 1. For an infant to be baptized licitly:"1/ the parents or at least one of them or the person who legitimately takes their place must consent;"2/ there must be a founded hope that the infant will be brought up in the Catholic religion; if such hope is altogether lacking, the baptism is to be delayed according to the prescripts of particular law after the parents have been advised about the reason."2. An infant of Catholic parents or even of non-Catholic parents is baptized licitly in danger of death even against the will of the parents."The minister is supposed to exercise judgment as to whether there is a "founded hope" that the child will be brought up in the Catholic religion. Personally, I err on the side of baptizing the baby, although I've heard of pastors who set the bar fairly high on this matter (overly restrictive policies about who can be baptized make me very angry).I've had to deal with questioning whether there is a "founded hope" one time: when two parents, both of whom were of European origin (one from Italy, the other from Norway), and neither of whom had been baptized or went to church, asked to have their children baptized. This request had been at the behest of the mother's cousin, bless her, who told the mother how important it is to have children baptized. My solution was to invite the parents to be initiated via RCIA, and then their children could also be baptized. The mother accepted and was excited that in this way she would be able to receive the Eucharist as her cousins did; the dad said, "Not now, maybe later." We did end up baptizing the children shortly after the mom was initiated.

My apologies if I'm being a downer. I'm really not pessimistic. When I preach at funerals, I try to preach hope and faith.

Making an issue of Pfleger's words at Ebert's funeral reveals more about the faultfinder, imho, than about Pfleger or Ebert.

Some of the most conservative and even rightwing members of the Catholic clergy are deacons - like Deacon Greg Kandra who want to sit in judgement of everyone - disobeying the cmmand of Jesus not to judge, but to love.

Personally, I err on the side of baptizing the baby, although Ive heard of pastors who set the bar fairly high on this matter (overly restrictive policies about who can be baptized make me very angry)Good man! I go to Mass at a church which is not my geographical parish partly because I was told a story about the pastor back then. He had to be away for an extended time so a temporary priest was sent by the diocese. When he returned. He found that the priest had refused to marry a couple because they were living together. He married them himself and had a permanent sign painted and installed on the front lawn of the church saying that whatever you had done or were doing, you were welcome in this church. It seemed to me he had the right attitude. Gather people in rather than turning them away.A couple of years ago, RTE, the Irish TV netword did a several-part documentary on the Church in Ireland. Several interviews with priests were on the issue of baptizing children whose parents didn't attend church or remember much of what they had probably been taught at one time, but who felt strongly about having tneir children baptised because it was part of what everyone traditionally did. Priests struggled with what to do but my recollection is that they usually baptized the child.

The reality of heaven has been known to us for some time:ttp:// Dante described it thusly in the little known "lost canto" of the Paradiso.

In defense of Dcn. Greg, I think what he meant is the same thing that often bothers me and that is this. We have a tendency to make our loved ones saints upon death. The reality is more likely, that very few get to heaven without a cleansing in Purgaotry, as nothing defiled can enter heaven, or would we even want to enter unprepared (we all see God immediately upon death and in light of total Truth, make our own judgment). Consequently, what our loved ones need most is PRAYER, as no more merit can be gained once a soul dies, except by those of us left on the other side. If we were really all great Catholics, we would pray for all of the departed as if they are in the bottom of Purgatory. Sister (Saint) Faustina was shown Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory. This is fascinating read for anyone who has never read her diary: for Roger Ebert hope to never 2nd guess God, but I'd pleace a pretty good bet that he worked off a lot of his purgatorial stay by the cross he accepted and carried here on earth, with all the world to see. Heck it's a big deal for me to go out of the house sans makeup; Ebert was on the world stage with only half of a face! It's never too late to pray for any soul, as God is outside of time. Our loved ones can merit our prayers that we haven't even yet prayed, as God know already knows what we will do with our free will, consequently, those "yet to be prayed prayers" are with our loved ones upon their death. Let's hope we all get heaven and experience a "Happy Death," most certainly R Ebert.

"It seemed to me he had the right attitude. Gather people in rather than turning them away."John - I couldn't agree more. Good for your pastor. As for that visiting priest - don't get me started.

Gerelyn, thanks, but I could have looked that up myself. HOW is the mass for the dead helpful TO the dead? What obligations are Catholics under to a) ensure that their families hold funeral masses for them and b) not carry out the wishes of family members who have requested no or made up "services."Our priest told me I could not scatter some of my dad's ashes on his grandparents' graves b/c the body has to be kept intact, even if it is cremated. I settled for collecting dirt from their graves and throwing it in when his urn was interred. The priest said that was OK as long as no body parts were mixed, but that it was merely a sentimental gesture of no spiritual efficacy.

David Nickol: "When someone dies, it is very important in the Catholic tradition to make it clear to those who loved the deceased that he or she may be roasting in the flames of hell."To be fair and accurate, our tradition has been more insistent on focusing on the deceased roasting in the flames of Purgatory. The bereaved could either spend a fortune (literally, if they had it) on prayers and indulgences to try to mitigate the horror that placed in their minds, or comfort themselves with the thought that at least their beloved's torment would one day end, then drink up and try not to think about it at all. I don't think that's overstating the case. Modern concepts of Purgatory have moved away from the temporary hellfire model, but they still have to deal with purgatorial "fire" as defined doctrine. Little wonder most officiating at Catholic funerals today shy away from tradition when trying to comfort the bereaved.

"the body has to be kept intact, even if it is cremated."@6:03 pmWould that be an example of a Christian koan?And would "relics" be an adequate one-word reply?

Jean Raber: I have also heard that the body has to remain intact, even if it is cremated. But if this is true, why are so many of the saints's bodies "parted out" to different places; a relic here, a relic there? I know of several instances in which part of someone's ashes were placed in a columbarium, and part were buried on a grandparent's grave. I don't think the family asked anyone, they just did it; perhaps they felt that it was easier to get forgiveness than permission.I think it is a loving gesture and completely appropriate to pray for the dead and have Masses said. It is a way of sending our love forward. If the person is indeed in a state of purgation, it seems to me that it would be encouraging for them to know that their loved ones were praying for them. Having said that, however, I think it is important to remember that we are not responsible for saving them, Jesus has already done that. We say prayers and have Masses said because it is a caring thing to do, not because we are under pressure to get them into heaven. It is also comforting to remember that the angels and saints in heaven are praying for them. Beverley Bailey said, " Modern concepts of Purgatory have moved away from the temporary hellfire model, but they still have to deal with purgatorial fire as defined doctrine." I have always understood the "fire" to be metaphorical, that it was more a state of learning and facing up to the ways one fell short of the mark in life. It can be understood as a merciful doctrine, particularly if someone died unprepared or unexpectedly.I hope David Nickol's comment was ironic. It is hard enough to lose a loved one, particularly after much suffering, without imagining them suffering further torments. We can confidently entrust them to the arms of God, who loves them far more than we are able. The joyful hope expressed in the "In Paridisum" (either in Latin or English) seems more appropriate toChristians, who were admonished by St. Paul not to grieve "as those who have no hope".

Find this whole train of comments to be disappointing. Here is what is important rather than trying to criticize or parse every minute detail:"In "What, Then, Is Liturgy?" Anscar Chupungco OSB reminds us that in the midst of the current, often fierce, debates about the nature of the liturgy: "At the end of the day what matters are not personal opinions but what truly contributes to making the prayer of the Church an encounter with the person of Christ." "Encounter with the person of Christ" is the heart and soul of our contemporary understanding of sacrament. Jesus, the primordial sacrament is not only an "outward sign" of the divinity, he is God. And the Church, as sacrament, is not just a society or an international organization which points the way to God, the Church is the Body of Christ. "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me." The Eucharist, the source and summit of the Church's life is not just an outward sign of God's love, it embodies God's Love; it is Christ's Body. And we who have been baptized are not merely followers or imitators of Christ, we are his body, we who eat and drink the one bread and one cup become, by the Holy Spirit, one Body, one Spirit in Christ. Sacraments are not merely something that we "receive"; sacraments are something that we are! And like the first sacrament, Jesus, we too are destined to pass through death and rise to a life absorbed into Trinitarian love -- theosis!"Suggest that Deacon appears to have forgotten this!

So one question is why someone like Pfleger should be criticized for doing something that is considered perfectly acceptable when powerful church leaders do it?And two, should pastors give such reassurances of eternal reward for a departed person? If it is good enough for popes, why is it not a consolation that can be given to, say, the mother who child has died?

Religion is many more things than the tightly reasoned article it often is here. Let a billion flowers bloom.

Crystal Watson 04/09/2013 - 2:01 amAquinas thought that there wouldnt be a bodily resurrection until the Last Day, but Jesus told the thief on the cross next to him that that day hed be in paradise.

Time is a human notion. Presumably, God's not constrained by considerations of sequence.

If our deceased love one is already in heaven, then there is no reason to pray for him.Of course, if we are wrong in being so presumptuous, then that is a pretty lousy deal for the deceased, who then has no one praying for him.The sin of presumption is one of the most UNcharitable things a person can do. (Engaging in obnoxious snark about Pope John Paul II is rather uncharitable as well, even if typical.)When Monica died, although widely considered a living saint in her time, Augustine did not dare to presume upon God's mercies. He understood that the decent thing was to pray for her and at least ask God if she could be with Him.

Bender actually if we pray for a person already in heaven, the soul will benefit from what St. Thomas Aquinas described as "accidential glory.", no prayer is ever wasted, it will go somewhere needed.In regards to the the' body' separation stuff, I'm pretty sure that only applies to cremation (as in can't scatter ashes), not non creamated dead bodies. Someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm unaware of anything in Catholicism against sharing "body parts." If that were the case, organ donation would be wrong, and I know Pope Benedict carries an organ donor card.

Bender said: "... if we are wrong in being so presumptuous, then that is a pretty lousy deal for the deceased, who then has no one praying for him. The sin of presumption is one of the most UNcharitable things a person can do."As I said above, there is no one who has no one to pray for them; the saints and angels are constantly praying for us all. It is a work of mercy to pray for the living and the dead, but it is not as though God is holding our deceased for ransom until we put forth enough prayers to get them out.I had understood the sin of presumption to be referring to oneself; that we are not to causually remain in a state of sin because "God loves us anyway".

Katherine you are correct in that the angels and saints are always praying for us, but the one thing they can't do that we can is to offer a mass for thei sould, the most powerful pray of all. St. Padre Pio (who had a gift to read souls and was often visited by the deceased suffering in purgatory), used to have souls come back to him from purgatory asking for "just one more mass." He would say it, and the soul would latger let him know that he/she was released and now in heaven.On a personal level, I've known several people who swear they have "ghosts" in their homes. When they tell me about, and the name of the person, I always offer a mass for that soul and guess what, they never see the "ghost" again. God often allows the souls to come back and ask for help. I recently worked at a Medical Center where about every 3 person had seen the "dead pathologist" walking the halls at night. I had a mass said for him too, and he "never was seen again," at least to my knowledge. I've done extensive study on purgatory from strong Catholic sources. Trust me that these souls suffer greatly, because they have seen God (upon death) and are now separated (imagine being separated from the love of your life, a trillion-fold). They can't pray for themselves, but they can pray for us (via Jesus). Never under estimate the power of the souls in purgatory praying for you. All you have to do is ask! And of course, it would be nice to return the favor.Consequently, to keep back more on topic, when we make saints of our loved ones, few if any pray for them. In reality, they are most likely suffering a very painful purgatory and need prayers despertly.

Yikes, sorry about the typos!

When I was a senior in high school back in 1956, a wise priest, Fr. Speight, who taught our religion class once a week, (we had the good Dominicans the other days of the week) said to us all, "if you have never doubted your Faith, you have never really thought about your Faith." These words have been the north star of my exploration of faith as an adult. No one who has read the postings of Roger Ebert can question his sincere thought about his religion and his belief in God. Faith implies that we don't know-----we need that leap of faith to reach our commitment. Does a good God punish those who, after pondering His existence, can not make that leap of faith?

Isn't it funny that, if we do have faith, then we must thank God for that grace, because everything good comes from Him, but if we do not, then we are the ones to be blamed, because we must not have accepted it?

Mr. Nickol: I know the Dies Irae and other pessimistic passages used to be part of the Requiem Mass, but I have difficulty believing that there was ever a time where the family of the deceased was told right to their face that their loved one might be in Hell. I thought the ideal was neutrality - no canonization, no damnation, just hope. Can anyone else comment from a position of knowledge?

"Our priest told me I could not scatter some of my dads ashes on his grandparents graves b/c the body has to be kept intact, even if it is cremated. I settled for collecting dirt from their graves and throwing it in when his urn was interred. The priest said that was OK as long as no body parts were mixed, but that it was merely a sentimental gesture of no spiritual efficacy."Hi, Jean, this site has some guidelines for Catholic cremation: is a passage from that document that states what the priest may have had in mind:"The cremated remains of a body should be treated with the same respect given to the human body from which they come. This includes the use of a worthy vessel to contain the ashes, the manner in which they are carried, and the care and attention to appropriate placement and transport, and the final disposition. The cremated remains should be buried in a grave or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium. The practice of scattering cremated remains on the sea, from the air, or on the ground, or keeping cremated remains on the home of a relative or friend of the deceased are not the reverent disposition that the Church requires. (no. 417)"Why would the church feel this way about scattering cremated remains? This passage from another document may suggest some of its thinking: "The Church has always held a preference for corporeal body [sic]. The body of a deceased loved one forcefully brings to mind the mystery of life and death and our belief that our human bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and destined for future glory at the resurrection of the dead. In addition, the body which lies in death recalls the personal story of faith, the past relationships, and the continued spiritual presence of the deceased person."This is the body once washed in baptism, anointed with the oil of salvation, and fed with the bread of life. This is the body whose hands clothed the poor and embraced the sorrowing. The human body is so inextricably associated with the human person that it is hard to think of a human person apart from his or her body. Thus, the Church's reverence and care for the body grows out of a reverence and concern for the person whom the Church now commends to the care of God."

James Kabala,I was being ironic, or perhaps sardonic. But I keep remembering an incident from when I was in high school, or perhaps the year after I graduated. One of the Christian Brothers who taught at the school had become a good friend of my family and me. There was a car crash in whichif I remember correctlythree students died. He knew the mother of one of the students, and he told me he was speaking with her and she said, almost breaking down, "It's not possible, is it, that he is in hell?" Now, he was a good and compassionate man, but he said, "You have to accept that it's a possibility." I personally would never have said that. Of course, I personally find the concept of hell barbaric and primitive. I don't see how a loving God could send a person to eternal torment. (I don't buy the argument people choose hell and God just let's them make that choice.) I must say that I have no sense of the continued existence of anyone that I have known who has died. I am not saying I don't believe in an afterlife. I'm just saying that I have no sense, no feeling, that, say, my mother continues to exist somewhere. I don't say it's impossible. But if I did have that sense, or even had a strong belief in the afterlife, I really wouldn't want to go through the rest of my life wondering if my mother is in hell.

"I was told afterwards, rightly or wrongly I dont know, that priests were not supposed to eulogize lay persons, precisely because they often do not know them well enough."I recently attended the funeral of my sister which was held in my small, hometown Midwestern parish in which none of my family had resided nor attended since 1977. My surviving sister and I met with the parish priest and spent an hour talking with him about our deceased sister. He asked lots of questions. When he gave the funeral eulogy it was like he had known him all of his life. We commented to some of the parishioners who attended the funeral and who had known my sister and they indicated that he is a truly pastoral priest who makes a great deal of effort to know about those whom he eulogizes.It is up to the survivors to ensure that a priest who is not familiar with the deceased knows enough to be able to say something intelligent and meaningful. If the priest won't take the time to listen and learn, find another priest.

Ebert was taught by the Sinsinawa Dominicans, including one of whom happened to also be my 8th grade teacher (at a different school and at a different time). No wonder he was an intelligent thinker rather than a parroter of the catechism!

My Liturgical Theology professor and dear friend Fr. Richard Rutherford, CSC, taught us that leave-taking rituals across the religious and spiritual landscape have in common three fundamental components, rather like a symphony in three movements: 1-mourners acknowledge that someone they know and love has died; 2-they remember and celebrate the deceased's life within the context of her or his ultimate commitments; 3-they commend the deceased to the next dimension of existence. As a hospice Chaplain, I have prepared and presided at hundreds of funerals of all kinds, using as my guideline these three principles. I have found that survivors uniformly appreciate a structure that honors not only the deceased person, but also provides a context in which to place the deceased's life and legacy in a larger context and gives survivors a sense of hope. As a Christian clergy person, I don't believe that my role is to tell people what God will do with this or that individual; at the same time, I take as my starting point the One who prayed that his murderers might be forgiven. That gives me comfort as well as I ponder my own shortcomings and infidelities.

The cremated remains should be buried in a grave or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium. In the Los Angeles Cathedral there is a complete floor below the church which is a very highly finished mausoleum. In addition to casket burials it has 5,000 niches for containers of cremated remains. See: is now very much accepted by tne Church

James and David, about hell. Hell is real, trust me but it really is by the free will of God that it has to exist. If God gives us all freewill, how could he possibly make anyone who hated him spend eternal life with him. Quite a few saints have seen hell and wrote about it, the most famous St. Faustina of Divine Mercy. I provided this link earlier on her visit to heaven, hell, and purgatory. I saw a story about this priest in FL who had a NDE and also saw hell (unlike the best sellers which all mostly go to heaven). It isn't church approved, but he is a Parish Catholic Priest and not selling anything. for hope, their is hope for all of us until our last breath. One of the many things Sister (Saint) Faustina also taught was that before we take our last breath, Jesus comes to ALL of us for that last chance at acceptance. I forget which saint it was, but she prayed and prayed for a relative for conversion who ended up jumping off of a bridge. She was so mad at God she told asked him how all of her years of prayers were ignored. His answer: Don't you trust in me that I was bewteen the bridge and the water?I highly recommend St. Faustina's Diary.

At last I understand. Condemning someone to everlasting torment is an act of mercy.

It is said that the angelic host plays Bach when performing music for God. Mozart, a la compagne! [among themselves - spelling?]Roger Ebert is certainly included in the company!

Thanks re the Catholic view of cremation and disposition of the ashes FOR THE BODIES OF CATHOLICS. Does the Church care what we do with non-Catholics? Or, as a Catholic, will I go to hell for following my mother's weird funeral instructions. Quick answers are appreciated. Offline if you'd rather, but only if you have helpful info.

See: changes and so do the practical applications when life ends.

Are we really so unhopeful that we think the majority of those who have died are not in heaven? Do we not want to celebrate their lives and examples of loving service? Is this body in a casket merely another cadaver to be sprinkled and incensed, but not remembered and loved? The prohibitions by so many celebrants and liturgists against eulogy approaches and inclusion in the homily for either the Vigil service or Mass of Chrisitan Burial seems to deny the very humanness of the deceased and the meaning of their life to those who remain. To prate on with pious reminders of disembodied theology simply means the preacher must not have prepared well or actually has nothing relevant to say. The mourners and guests of the family need to hear hope, love, faith and positive views from the preacher and the church. We are not talking canonization, but we are talking belief that God has a plan that includes bringing all of us safely home. Else why pray the Song of Farewell at the final blessing?

Agree, Mike. The teachings of Jesus seem to have been forgotten. God is like a woman who, when she discovers a coin has been lost, lights a lamp and sweeps until she finds it. And God is like a mother who, when her child asks for bread, does not give the child a stone, and when the child asks for a fish, does not give the child a serpent. Etc. Reliable information about God the Parent is found in the gospels, not in theology/philosophy/astrology/private revelations/etc.

What seems to us complex and paradoxical may be simple in God's sight. Lacking divine knowledge, however, we can either accept complexity and uncertainty or insist on a sham simplicity. And the complexity seems pretty intractable, as indicated by the numerous comments others have posted. Though I can't pretend to add anything new, a few points seem worth emphasizing:The hymn "Dies Irae" may sound like a downer, but it is firmly in the Biblical tradition. Amos 5:18 and Rev. 6:16-17 (with its wonderful image of a wrathful lamb) are just two of many passages attesting to that. Emphasis on stern punishment, assuring divine justice, is part of offering consolation to the oppressed, dispossessed, and cruelly treated, whose experience tells them that there is no justice. And in the end, that entails insisting on the reality of hell. But what does that mean, and in which way is that part of the faith?Whatever the merits of visions reported by saints like Faustina, such private revelations are not part of the depositum fidei. Anyway, we have enough to do just dealing with the Bible and official teaching.We are cautioned against pretending to know with certainty that any given person has been damned eternally. But must we not believe that at least some of the worst among our fellow mortals are in hell? At least one very respected theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar, was a firm agnostic in that regard. He was clear that being damned is a real and dreadful possibility for everyone. But he assessed the content of relevant Scripture and Tradition, and he concluded this: We may actually hope that everyone is saved, though we cannot know it. The distinctions already made between knowing and hoping, and the wording of the hymn In Paradisum, are very much in line with that.

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