No priest or Deacon could be at the burial of my husband at a National Military Cemetery, though he did have a Catholic Funeral Mass. Should the grave be blessed?
The priest or deacon at the burial should bless the gravesite. If for some reason this did not happen, it can be done at a later time. Hence, it may be good for you to ask a priest or deacon to come and pray the prayer of blessing with holy water.
This is especially the case in non-Catholic cemeteries and military cemeteries. In Catholic cemeteries the bishop has already generally consecrated the ground. But in non-Catholic settings this is not the case.
Be assured, that the grave was not blessed, in no way affects your husband’s status with God. But it is our Catholic custom that burial sites should be blessed.
A related pastoral problem is that many cemeteries, especially national cemeteries, make it increasingly difficult for us to fulfill this custom. For it is often the case that people are not able to go to the actual gravesite, but are moved off to a separate chapel or pagoda somewhere nearby. This makes it difficult for the clergy to know where the gravesite is, and bless it. Perhaps the National Conference of Bishops can most effectively address this problem since it is a national trend.
At the local nursing home, a religious Sister, wearing a traditional full habit, conducts a communion service. During communion the non-Catholics are also brought forward and she traces the cross on their forehead and says God bless you. Is this allowed?
The conferral of a blessing, even with the sign of the cross, is not forbidden to the non-ordained in all circumstances. For example, parents should be encouraged to bless their children, even trace the cross on their forehead. In some settings and cultures, elders often bless youngsters. Laypeople even bless themselves whenever they make the sign of the cross.
However, in the liturgical setting you describe, some parameters should be observed. The moment of the distribution of Holy Communion, at a Mass or communion service, is not really the moment for people to seek other sorts of blessings. In a Mass, the priest will surely give the general blessing at the end of the liturgy with the sign of the cross over the whole congregation. Hence, all those present will in fact receive a blessing.
There are however pastoral concerns of how best to deal with a practice that has become widespread, and is not done in bad faith. Frankly, most pastors overlook the practice and when requested, confer blessings in the communion line. Even if they do dissuade their parishioners from the practice, many visitors still often come forward requesting blessings. Thus, the matter may better be resolved at the diocesan or national level.
While the situation you describe is wrong, Sister is probably trying to make the best of a difficult situation wherein people expect such blessings, even if they are not Catholic. Finding a teachable moment to gently instruct the faithful is not always easy given the presence of many visitors.
Nevertheless, the goal to move toward is to teach that the distribution of Holy Communion is not really the time to seek other blessings. An additional confusion is created when, though priests and deacons are present at Masses, laypeople at other communion stations are often giving out what appear to be priestly blessings. Finding a gentle way to clear up the confusion becomes increasingly important.
Why does the modern Church not have deaconesses? (Scripture and some of the Fathers mention them.) It seems they would fill a void, given the shortage of priests.
The references to deaconesses in the early Church are complicated, and much debated. St. Paul does speak of certain women as having a ministry of service. And, in his discussion about deacons, in 1 Timothy 3:11, Paul does say, “The women too…. “
But what he means here is unclear. Does it mean that women were ordained deacons? Or, is he referring to the wives of deacons? And even if they were deaconesses, did they receive the ministry by the laying on of hands? It seems not. Though Acts 6:6 mentions the first deacons having hands laid on them, there is no reference to this in terms of the women.
In the Greek text of the New Testament, the word diakonia can refer to the office of deacon (diakoni), or more generically to a ministry (diakonia = ministry) of service.
Some speculate that an essential task of deaconesses was to attend the baptism of women, since baptisms were conducted dis-robed. For modesty’s sake women conducted the baptisms of women.
At the end of the day however we are left with a great deal of speculation, if we simply examine the scriptural text. But, we do not simply attend to the Scriptural text. We also look also to the practice of the early Church. And regarding this, there is no evidence, that the clerical office of deacon was ever conferred on women by the laying on of hands.
There is little doubt that women can and do serve in many capacities in the Church today. It is true that women can provide great service (diakonia) to the Church. But it does not follow that they must be ordained to the clerical state of deacon to do so.
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