Monday, September 22, 2014

Catholic Deprived Of Catholic Funeral

The body of Sir Thomas More has been found! In an archeological dig beneath the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, a skeleton, minus a head, has definitively been identified as that of Thomas More. It has been decided that he will receive a proper funeral and be buried in Chelsea Old Church, his local Church of England parish church. The Archbishop of Canterbury will preside over the burial and an ecumenical team will pray the Burial Service according to the Book of Common Prayer over the remains. A Catholic bishop has issued a statement: "The body of St Thomas More has been found and is to be buried in Chelsea Parish Church. He was an important historical figure, and it is right that the Church in England should honour him in this way and bury him in his local parish church. We will pray for all who have died."

As a Catholic how do you feel about that? Do you say to yourself: "Ah well, it's all history, it has no real importance, it doesn't matter".  Or are you saying to yourself: "Well, actually, I don't think that's a good idea. Apart from the fact that he is a Saint, he was a Catholic who died for the Catholic faith and he should be given a Catholic re burial, and certainly not according to a rite he rejected and preferred to die rather than embrace".

Well, my position is that of the latter. Apart from anything else it would be pastorally insensitive and wrong to deprive a Catholic in good standing of a Catholic funeral, and most insensitive to bury him according to the rites of a religion he disavowed and refused to embrace. And Catholic bishops should stand up and demand that this Catholic figure be buried according to the rites of his professed faith in a place where that faith is practiced: i.e. a Catholic Church.

Well, I'm afraid the body of St Thomas More has not been found: his bones lie mingled with those of other "traitors" to the monarchy of England in the Tower of London, it would now be almost impossible to identify him. I use the example above to highlight the fact that a prominent English Catholic is to be buried according to the Protestant rite and the bishops of England have really done nothing to try and ensure that this Catholic be buried according to his Catholic faith. I speak of King Richard III who will be interred in a Protestant church with a Protestant rite prayed over him, the rite of a religion founded by his great enemy's son as he broke communion with the Church, a religion Richard certainly would not have embraced.

We all know that the Catholic Church would bury anybody. Few and far between are the Church's refusals to give a Requiem and interment to someone. We take seriously that work of mercy which requires we bury the dead and show respect for the remains and memory of the deceased. But not only that, Catholics in good standing have a right to a Catholic funeral, a right that can only be transgressed in the case of serious scandal or excommunication, and even then Masses are offered and remains interred quietly with prayers for mercy prayed over them. This is right, proper and good. Knowing that, I think it is a scandal that a Catholic is now being deprived of a Catholic funeral, regardless of how long ago he lived, and that the Church in England has not done everything in its power to ensure this Catholic of his rights.

Some would say this is not important, it's all history, there are more important things to deal with. Yes, the Church has many important issues to deal with, but she also has a responsibility to ensure the faithful's rights are respected - that's one of the reasons we have canon law (like history often ignored to our cost, as we saw in the case of recent scandals). In the debate over King Richard's remains the Church may not have got anywhere, but she would have highlighted something very important: the importance of respecting an individual's faith, and that is one of the crucial issues facing contemporary secular society: should society respect our faith, allow us live that faith and, yes, be buried according to the rites of the faith we lived? In remaining silent on the issue of King Richard's burial, has the Catholic Church in England conceded that the government can make such decisions without due regard to a person's religious beliefs? I would suggest that perhaps that has happened. We might disregard this as a historical oddity, an individual case, but such oddities and cases move law and rights back or forward, and tremendous ground can be lost because we thought ceding an inch or two would make no difference. Inches add up.

So Catholic Richard will be buried according to the rites of his enemy who broke with Rome and persecuted the Church. Pastorally insensitive? Yes. Dishonour to the memory of the man? I would also say yes since Richard was believed to have taken his Catholic faith seriously and regularly attended Mass. More should have been done to ensure that his wishes would be respected, indeed his rights as a Catholic upheld. A man or woman should be buried according to their religious beliefs and conscience, what is being done to King Richard breaches that principle and while two cities fought over his remains, his Church did nothing to ensure this child of God could rest in peace after the Catholic Mass was prayed over him and his broken body reverently laid in consecrated ground with the prayers for the salvation of his soul as laid down in the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church prayed by a Catholic Bishop, priest, friar or deacon.

So, if a Churchman in England should hear strange noises at night, the sound of iron shoes on the stair, chain-mail rattling against the bannister, the blade of a broadsword tapping against the wood of the bedroom door, it may well be the soul of Richard III coming to find out why his pastors were silent, or perhaps he may becoming to reiterate his rights. Perhaps like the widow in the Gospel he may return night after night until the injustice done him is resolved and amended, and quite rightly too.

1 comment:

  1. Not sure it's really the same since Thomas More died a martyr for Catholic faith against imposition of Anglicanism. Richard just died. And for Anglicans - well they think he was an Anglican, they think they were all Anglicans since Augustine came to England. Foolish and historically illogical, but there you have it.