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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Ocean's Five

Sister, I have a question. On Palm Sunday, besides going to Mass, I have been invited to a non-funeral/non-memorial service for a deceased relative. (He was adamant about not wanting a memorial or funeral, so that's not what we're calling it.)

Why Palm Sunday? I'm getting to that.
The man's wife has chartered a boat to sail out a mile into the ocean so that his cremated remains can be scattered at sea. The boat is rented for this specific purpose, and it's really hard to reserve, which is why she's left with Palm Sunday, a day she wouldn't ordinarily choose. Anyway, when the ashes are sprinkled overboard, the attendees on the boat will probably throw down some flowers, too.

Here is my question. Would it be appropriate for me to include some blessed palm leaves along with my tossed flowers?

Way to get around a man's last wishes! Have a funeral and just don't call it one! Retention award, anyone?

I'm kidding. We like everyone to have a proper send off. I've always wondered why anyone would object to those of us who remain behind doing something to honor them. What's up with that? "Please everyone, just forget about me. " I understand why someone wouldn't want anyone to be saddled with the unbelievable expense of a funeral. But if I want to get together with your friends and toast you after you've gone on to where the woodbine twineth (or in this case, Davey Jones' locker), what do you care? Afraid of what we'll say about you?

You needn't worry. We all have the good manners not to speak ill of the dead. Well. Some of us do.

What was the question? Oh yes, the palm fronds. No. Don't be tossing them out in the water.

Really, you shouldn't throw him out there either. He should have a lovely funeral Mass and then his ashes have to be buried or entombed. Scattering of ashes from a boat or a plane or a blimp or a mountain top, or wearing them in little charms around your neck or shooting them into space is not allowed. Is he not Catholic? Poor thing.

But back to the fronds. Palm fronds from Palm Sunday are considered to be sacramentals. I've talked about sacramentals before. Go take a look. I'll wait.


So throwing Palm fronds out to sea with ashes that should actually be getting buried is a doubly bad plan. St. Joseph is the patron saint of a happy death. Why not throw a statue of St. Joseph into the briny deep? ( A statue of a saint is also a sacramental. ) Then again, if we run around burying St. Joseph every time we move, maybe we might just as well fling him in the ocean as well.

Your palm fronds, unlike your statue of St. Joseph, have been blessed, which gives them a little extra sacramental juice (unless, of course, you've had your statute of St. Joseph blessed, in which case, don't go burying him in the front yard upside down). We don't say 'juice', though. We say 'grace'. I was just being colloquial, as people seem to be able to get their brains around the idea a little better that way. At any rate, we don't throw blessed objects in the ocean (on purpose).

Find someone who knows how to braid your palm fronds and stick them behind your Crucifix. Next year, we'll burn them and use them for the Ash Wednesday ashes.


MrsRum said...

Sister, as a non-Catholic married to a Catholic I have to tell you how much I enjoy your blog. So many things explained quite simply. It all helps me to better support his endeavors. In fact, I haven't forgotten a single Friday this Lent and I usually do at least once each year.

This year I have a much more clear understanding of Lent and why it's important to him. Thank you.

M said...

Is there a rule against scattering ashes at sea, in the Catholic church? My husband passed away in '06. He'd been seriously ill for a long time, and we found out a few weeks before he passed, that he also had a lymphoma, he suffered so much at the end. He loved fishing, he always said that being out on the water gave him a sense of peace and tranquility. He was cremated, and I scattered his ashes on the water around the little island he would row out to, to fish, because I felt it was one thing I could do for him, after he'd suffered so much. I know that he had gone on to a better place, that all that remained was essentially the shell that had once contained his wonderful soul, but I admit to feeling the need to place his earthly remains in the place that had given him so much of the peace that gave him joy. He was raised Catholic, I was not. Was what I did wrong?

Anonymous said...

I love your blog, but I have a question.

I understand that we are not supposed to spread the ashes of our loved ones all of the place, but what about the relics of saints?

Why are we allowed to chop up saints and send the pieces to different churches?

I'm just wondering.

Tami said...

Is cremation okay?

Anonymous said...

Wow. This reminds me of a conversation I had with my dad recently who is not Catholic and what his wishes are after he is dead. For some odd ball reason, he thinks it would be grand to have him sitting on our mantle or somewhere in our house. Although I understand the cremation, especially in our economic hard times because it is cheaper, I am not keeping him on my mantle. Evidently he got wind of this early on and designated another sister who has not problem with it but he wants to be passed around. So I put it bluntly, if he ever comes into my possession he will be buried. And if the next child wants to see his remains, I will direct them to a cemetery. He didn't agree but I told him I was just telling him ahead of time. NOW, if he had a really good chance of being canonized, which he isn't even catholic, I would be more than glad to keep a first class relic of him. He had a choice. Either get with it and become a saint OR let my brothers and sisters know that when he does his traveling after he is dead, to just skip me.

These are really odd times.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for addressing this. My brother died suddenly 8 years ago. My parents, understandably grieved, made the emotional decision to cremate him and delay burial because they couldn't bear to "stick him in the cold ground" as they put it. Then, too, my mother couldn't decide where to bury my brother, his hometown, the town he lived in as an adult, or their new town.

They ended up delaying his burial for four years, and kept his ashes for that time. He is now buried, but I wish more Catholics understood and respected the need for a proper burial and interrment, rather than ignoring the rules to make the process more convenient for the living.

Anonymous said...

How do you braid the fronds that way? I was having a new backing put on an icon that was my grandmother's and there was a tiny bit of very old palm frond stuck under one of the nails. I remember her braiding the fronds and placing them over this icon of
the Theotokos. I just love your blog too - informative and amusing.


Claudia said...

Maybe a person who would not want any kind of service or fuss was curmudgeonly and did not think many would come???

I read an article where you can take the ashes of your loved one and somehow they will put the carbon remains under pressure and make gems. That is no lie, I read about it, the process is VERY expensive.

Anonymous said...

I have a question about an online game called runescape. It mixes a church that is supposed to Catholic with magic and superstition. Is it OK for Catholics to play? Thanks.

Martha said...

Thanks for the your prompt answer, Sister. I will just bring flowers. By the way, the man I'm talking about may well have been baptized a Catholic, given his ethnic background, but he was a non-believer his whole adult life. He wasn't hostile to religion in others, though. His wife is a devout member of a Protestant denomination.

He did not want people to sit around being sad after his death, and specifically asked for a party. We're doing that, and the size is limited to what his wife's house can reasonably hold. If she had a public funeral a lot of people would come--he was friendly and gregarious, at least before a lengthy illness limited his social contact.

Needless to say, I'm praying for his soul now!


Lawrence said...

Joseph, why mess around with something that is going to dull your Faith? Why play with something that cheapens one's experience of what it means to be in a Catholic Church?

I've never been to that game site, and I won't go--some of those on-line game images are truly from the demonic realms in my opinion.

The Young Artist said...

That is something I have never even thought of. It is a good thing I've never tried. I've never noticed this till now, and maybe this is the first time, but you can really joke around. I like that. Have a good weekend Sister.

The Young Artist said...

I forgot to ask, Is creamationok or does it break the catholic religion? Just wondering. Thank you.

Unknown said...

I,too, had my brother's ashes released into the air and sea off a beautiful coastline in Northern California. He had lived a hard life and finally found God and became very active in his church there--Lutheran. The tidal pools near his home were where he went to feel near to God and to talk with Him, and it's where he wanted to be after he died. So that's where I took him. It was a decision made from love, one of the few ways I was physically able to help my brother, and while it may place me outside the teachings of the Catholic Church I believe I did right by him. If it's the worst thing I'm accused of in this life I will feel very blessed.

Lawrence said...

Young Artist... nothing will ever break the Catholic religion.

Anonymous said...

I'm not 'green' but there are places that have started 'green' burials. Like the old days, no embalming, simple biodegradable casket, just let you rot into fertilizer.

Anonymous said...

That's what I want. Compost me. On consecrated ground of course!

Martha Mary said...

Airedale lover:

My mom still does those; she also does a basic twist thing, and a rose, which is very pretty. She did a double rose the year I got married, and I still have it hanging on our marriage certificate.

For that one, you need 2 fronds... pull them down in strips to about 4-6" above the bottom as the 'handle', and then, now having two strands on each frond, you hold the bases/handles together ande connect the strips in a four-square fashion (right, up, left, down) and start to intertwine them by weaving over one and under the next, taking turns with the strips. It sounds confusing, and I know I'm not explaining it well, but I learned one year by just messing around with them. If you can manage to get it started, it goes along quite easily. Just tie at the top when you're done.