Catholic funeral for Philip Seymour Hoffman

Catholic funeral for Philip Seymour Hoffman February 5, 2014


Stars of stage and screen will gather in New York on Friday morning for Philip Seymour Hoffman’s funeral.

The tragic actor’s estranged girlfriend Mimi O’Donnell – the mum of his three children – arrived at a New York funeral parlour today to plan the ceremony.

The star’s ex was accompanied by Hoffman’s British assistant Isabella Wing-Davey at the Frank E Campbell funeral home.

Sources say a private wake for Hoffman’s family and friends will be held at the funeral home from 5pm-9pm on Thursday.

The funeral will be held the following day before noon at New York’s St Ignatius of Loyola Catholic Church.

Stars including Cate Blanchett, Justin Theroux and Bobby Cannavale, who have comforted Ms O’Donnell this week, are among those expected to attend.

The 116-year-old church on the Upper East Side of Manhattan was the scene of Jackie Onassis’ funeral in May 1994.

The extremist right wing Westboro Baptist Church has threatened to picket Friday’s funeral in protest at Hoffman’s portrayal of a priest in the 2008 film “Doubt.”

A few commenters on social media have expressed surprise, and even dismay, that Hoffman is getting a Catholic funeral, given some of the details of his life.

But as a baptized Catholic, he has a right to receive a church funeral. (And, though some stridently objected, canon lawyer Ed Peters noted a few years back that this was a right also belonging to Ted Kennedy, by virtue of his baptism.)  Reports indicate that the Hoffman funeral will be a private affair, with just family and friends.

A few years ago, Fr. Edward McNamara summarized the canonical teaching on this very clearly:

A funeral Mass can be celebrated for most Catholics, but there are some specific cases in which canon law requires the denial of a funeral Mass. Canons 1184-1185 say:

“Canon 1184 §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.

Ҥ2. If any doubt occurs, the local ordinary is to be consulted, and his judgment must be followed.

“Canon 1185. Any funeral Mass must also be denied a person who is excluded from ecclesiastical funerals.”

In fact, these strictures are rarely applied. In part, this is because many sinners do show signs of repentance before death.

Likewise, the canons are open to some interpretation. In No. 1184 §1 notorious would mean publicly known. Therefore someone who had abandoned the faith and joined some other group would be denied a funeral; someone who harbored private doubts or disagreements would not.

It’s also worth noting that a Catholic funeral may also be accorded to non-Catholics, even in some cases to those who are not baptized:

Can.  1183 §1. When it concerns funerals, catechumens must be counted among the Christian faithful.

§2. The local ordinary can permit children whom the parents intended to baptize but who died before baptism to be given ecclesiastical funerals.

§3. In the prudent judgment of the local ordinary, ecclesiastical funerals can be granted to baptized persons who are enrolled in a non-Catholic Church or ecclesial community unless their intention is evidently to the contrary and provided that their own minister is not available.

The message to take away from this is one often obscured (but one which Pope Francis has sought to clarify): ours is a Church of mercy.  It is a field hospital for those who have been wounded. The ER is always open. When it comes to funerals, much is left to personal discernment on the part of the celebrating priest or local bishop.  (I remember when John Gotti died, the Bishop of Brooklyn denied him a full Catholic funeral—but did allow a private memorial Mass for the family. Reports indicated it was because Gotti himself had refused to see a Catholic priest hours before his death.)

In many cases like this, it is impossible to know the state of someone’s soul at the moment of death. We pray in confidence and hope, trusting in the infinite mercy of the Father of Mercies, as in these final words of commendation in the Order for Christian Funerals:

Into your hands, Father of mercies, we commend our brother, in the sure and certain hope that together with all who have died in Christ, he will rise with him on the last day.  Merciful Lord, turn toward us and listen to our prayers: open the gates of paradise to your servant and help us who remain to comfort one another with assurances of faith, until we all meet in Christ and are with you and with our brother for ever.  We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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