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(Nicolas Poussin. The Extreme Unction. [Source])
If you are not laughing after reading the title of this Lost Sermon, you're not a Catholic, or you don't know your religion very well.
The Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Christ so that His divine teachings could be faithfully transmitted to all men. In other words, the Catholic Church has been tasked by God to explain to men how to get to Heaven. Now "explaining something" comes in two flavors: (1) dull and boring lectures; (2) vivid and interesting examples. This is one of the main reasons why the Catholic Church "canonizes" saints: they are role models which we can imitate to get to Heaven.
The Church has other reasons to canonize saints, which we will only mention in passing here: (1) so we can love them, and so come to love God even more (since God is admirable in his saints and glorified by them); (2) so we can ask for their intercession, since they are powerful advocates for us; (3) so we can be inspired by their heroism (a bit like: "If my big sister can eat a full dish of broccoli, I can certainly eat three spoonfuls!") [Lumen Gentium, #50].
The canonization process itself is started by the local Bishop. Among the many things that have to be done:
1) All the writings must be examined. The books, letters, diaries, etc., written by the person must be examined by "Theological censors" to make sure they are free of doctrinal and moral errors. If necessary they must be translated, and copies sent to Rome.
2) Reliable witness must be questioned. Many rules govern who these witnesses can be, how and when they are to be questioned, who is to question them, etc. Transcripts must also be sent to Rome.
3) Any alleged miracles must be investigated. For example, if somebody claims they were cured, expert physicians must examine this claim. Once again, transcripts are sent to Rome
4) The Sacred Congregation for the Causes of Saints must examine everything. Once the Bishop has done the initial investigation, Rome takes over. Here, more rules and procedures explaining how the various advisory boards, consulting experts, historians, etc., must work and vote on the cause. More investigations can be required at this step.
5) Eventually, the Pope decides. "Beatification" means the person is in Heaven, "Canonization" means that not only is the person in Heaven, but they shed their blood for the Faith, or practiced virtue to a heroic level.
This whole process can take hundreds of years! One of the reasons why this process is long and complicated is because it is so important to chose good role models.
Now compare this with what unfortunately often happens in our churches in Quebec. The deceased is sometimes someone who did everything he could to "flush" Catholicism out of his life, short of strangling the Pope with his bare hands! He never went to Mass, lived publicly in a way which is incompatible with the teachings of Christ, and didn't believe the dogmas and moral truths which have to be believed to be a Catholic. And of course, the deceased didn't convert on his deathbed and receive the sacraments of Confession, the Eucharist, and Anointing of the Sick.
Once the coffin is in the church, you would never know this person had nothing to do with Catholicism. The Priest speaks as if he or she was already in Heaven. The Eulogy describes a life filled with such virtue that Mother Theresa would be jealous! And of course, this whole "canonization process" occurs instantly, with zero red tape!
But even for real saints, the Church says that: "Any solemn celebrations or panegyric speeches about Servants of God whose sanctity of life is still being legitimately examined are prohibited in Churches." [New Laws for the Causes of Saints, #36]. For real sinners, the Church (Code of Canon Law) says it might not even be permissible to give them an ecclesiastical funeral:
§1. 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.
Any funeral Mass must also be denied a person who is excluded from ecclesiastical funerals.
Does this mean that the Church hates sinners? Should we replace "Canonization Funerals" with "Go To Hell Tribunals"? Of course not! But it seems we should be more careful during funerals:
1) Avoid trivial assertions that the deceased has "Returned to the Father". We must pray God and trust His Mercy, but not deprive God of his Justice.
2) Pray God to forgive the sins of the deceased. Even the greatest saints claimed they were sinners and in need of God's forgiveness. There is nothing wrong with a funeral service where we ask God to forgive the sins of the deceased.
3) Avoid fantasy-land eulogies. To begin with, laypersons can never say the homily. Secondly, even Priests saying a eulogy during Mass should not "pre-canonize" anybody, or make a homily worthy of a fairy tale.
Some Priests, when somebody should be excluded from ecclesiastical funerals, invent a loophole called a "Liturgy of the Word". Basically they strip the Eucharist out of the Mass, as well as all the other "offending" elements for non-Catholics, including the Virgin Mary, the Pope, and of course all the passages in the Bible where Jesus speaks very clearly about Hell, sin, Judgment Day, etc.
These bad Priests, after having created this "Liturgy of the Censored Word", claim since it's not a Mass, they can accept an unacceptable deceased in their church and in their cemetery! It's like spray-painting the red light at the intersection with green paint, then driving through! "Hey, it was green, officer!", they might say, but then God might someday put a big sign saying "Heaven" at the door of Hell, and throw them in!
When the Church refuses an ecclesiastical funeral to somebody, She doesn't do this to punish the deceased. (She couldn't, even if she wanted to, since after death, God has already sent a person to Heaven, Hell or Purgatory.) The Church refuses an ecclesiastical funeral out of maternal love for her children. Once you are dead, you can't be sorry for your sins, or convert to God. But if you are still alive, you can still come back to Jesus! That is why the Church refuses ecclesiastical funerals to some people: to give a salutary shock to everybody else who is still alive! The family of the deceased might be very angry, but a good mother always pulls her children away from danger, even if her children bite and scratch her.
By putting an end to the circus of "canonization funerals", we'll greatly increase our chances of really getting to Heaven!
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