Open thread: blessing for a cadaver??

Here’s a new one on me.  I got this e-mail today, from a campus minister at a large university:

We have a big Nursing program here and I was recently asked by one of the professors to do a blessing over the cadaver they will be using this semester.  I was wondering: is there any formal ‘Cadaver Blessing’ prayer used by priests, deacons, or ministers, perhaps from their book of prayers or somewhere else?  Just trying to see what’s out there.    Any assistance you could give I would appreciate.  Thanks.

Well, there’s nothing explicitly in the Book of Blessings for something like this, but I recommended that he read over some other prayers– for schools, or for the recently deceased — and adapt them accordingly.  A prayer of thanksgiving for the gift of life, and for the opportunity to continue God’s creative work in the world through science and research, might also be apt.  And this sort of thing is not unprecedented. I posted an item on this topic a couple years back.

But I have to wonder: does anyone out there know of any particular prayers/blessings that might be appropriate?


Comments are open, but will be moderated.




  1. Dr TJ Lopez says:

    The compassion of our Lord in Nain, vide Luke 7:11. It is the scripture passage of Jesus’ compassion in helping raising the widow’s son, is appropriate. Alternately, an appropriate prayer would be any sincere requiem, of course.

  2. Bless us Oh Lord, and this thy gift, from thy bounty, which we are about to dissect and mutilate, through Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

    :P OK, that’s tongue in cheek. That’s just too weird. Please moderate if you think that’s inappropriate.

  3. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    Manny…not weird at all, actually. Surprisingly common. If you do a Google search, you’ll find a number of stories about Catholic blessings for bodies at medical schools; I found one that was even done by a bishop. It’s almost impossible, though, to find what prayer might have been used for the occasion. The Book of Blessings covers everything from fishing gear to sports arenas, but somehow has nothing about cadavers. Go figure.

  4. When my Mom attended St. Louis University in the 80s, the priest teaching her gross anatomy class said a special Mass for the souls of the cadaver “donors.” She often mentions how moving it was to get to know a stranger’s life and health history so intimately – they could see tumors, smokers’ lungs, etc.

  5. Wow, I guess it’s not weird. On reflection, they do need blessing. May whatever happens to the corpse serve a higher good.

  6. From what I understand, one of my great-aunts died from cancer and asked to be a cadaver. I don’t know if she had a memorial mass said for her family of among the students before they began their work, thought I think that would be a good thing. When her body was no longer being studied, a funeral mass was said for her. My mother’s family was notified, although I think only my grandmother was able to attend. But many of the medical students also sent messages of condolences expressing their gratitude for the opportunity to study her body.

    I would think in addition to prayers of thanksgiving for the life of the individual and for the repose of his or her soul, perhaps a litany of the saints most often associated with study, illnesses, and healing would be good.

  7. Deacon Norb says:

    Someone might want to contact the Sisters of Loretto at Nerinks, Kentucky. That was the motherhouse of Sister Mary Luke Tobin — the silent star of sessions two to four of the Vatican Council when she, known then as Mother Mary Luke Tobin, was a Council Observer officially appointed by Pope Paul VI.

    I visited that convent and Sr. Mary Luke’s gravesite about three years ago. She and number of other sisters from this community donated their bodies to a local Medical College. I would guess that before the cadavers were transported out, the sisters did have a prayer-ceremony over their members remains.

    After the classes were done that year, her remains were cremated and her cremains were returned to Nerinks to be buried in a common gravesite with a common stone in the cemetery on the grounds of the Motherhouse.

  8. Irish Spectre says:

    Can’t we instead discuss that hilarious spectacle of a video that appears in your immediately following post, good Deacon?? Pleeeze??!!!

  9. Fr. Richard Semple says:

    While working in Vienna I was contacted to do a “funeral” for a man who had donated his body to the Medical school at the university. I no longer have a copy, but the Vienniese Rite of Burial book which is based on the universal book for the Latin rite included a rite of committal for bodies to be donated to science. I went to the anatomy building and was lead to the back, down some stairs to the basement and down a long hallway. It all smelled strongly of formaldehyde. There was a small chapel with a box in the middle. The top of the box was raised in the outline of a coffin. On top of it all was a black pall, very beautiful. So it resembled a coffin. But, the doors at the foot of the box were where the body was rolled in on a gurney and then the doors were closed so that no one saw anything disturbing, and that the body did not need to be lifted around. We said the liturgy, and we left. It was the best we could do for a strange situation. Maybe the Archdiocese could be contacted for a copy of the prayers and the they could be translated. But, they would then need official approval for use outside of Vienna.

  10. naturgesetz says:

    If the deceased is Catholic, shouldn’t there be a regular funeral Mass? Aren’t the families told this? If the deceased is not a Catholic, then a Catholic funeral is inappropriate.

    So it seems to me that a funeral for a cadaver in a medical school is not what is needed. I think the primary emphasis should be on the study of the body being beneficial to the students in their quest to learn how to serve their future patients. As Christians, however, we can’t avoid also praying for the dead when we come into the presence of their remains — as we do in cemeteries and in church crypts, mausolea, and monuments. “Lord, reward the god deed this person has done in making his/her body available for scientific study, and grant him/her a place among your elect.

  11. pagansister says:

    Perhaps a simple “Thank You” to the cadaver, before the first incision, for allowing their body (earthly shell, if you will) to be used to further medical training? It makes no difference what faith or lack of faith the cadaver was.

  12. Deacon Norb says:

    Say Pagansister!

    Glad to see you back on the blog commenting. Always appreciated your insights. Thought about you when I recently visited the Cherokee Indian Reservation in North Carolina. Not sure why but maybe it is because the Native Americans (and “pagans” also) understand the sacredness of nature in ways we Catholics tend to overlook.

    Only the best in 2013.

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