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Asking the clergy about religious burials

A religious burial is something that most faithful want and expect. But are there times when that wish can be usurped by one's actions? This week's clergy take a closer look at religious burial and who can have one.

The Rev. Danielle Miller, pastor, Oceanside Lutheran Church, Oceanside:

In the Lutheran Church . . . there is nothing we can do to preclude us from a religious burial. A religious relationship with God entitles each of us to a religious burial.

I remember after the Boston Marathon bombing when no one would bury one of the suspects in consecrated ground, nor were there imams who would perform the service. There was a Christian woman who came forward and worked tirelessly to find a place to bury him and someone to perform the service. Many felt he wasn't good enough to be buried with others. Well, none of us are good enough. It is God's grace that makes all of us good enough.

Funerals are more for the people left behind than the person who has died. Any special words I say over the

deceased on consecrated ground won't make any difference to the relationship the deceased has with God.

Msgr. James McDonald, Church of St. Aidan, Williston Park:

Could someone do something so heinous or so notorious that it would make a public funeral Mass and burial difficult? Yes, but in 46 years as a priest in some very busy parishes, I've never had that happen.

The Code of Canon Law specifies certain things that might make a person ineligible for the public celebration of the funeral rites of the Catholic church. For example, they might be such things as a heinous crime or notorious apostasy, which means the abandonment of the Christian religion.

If there were such an instance and such a question, it would be referred to the bishop of the diocese to make a decision.

Catholics, even lapsed Catholics, are entitled to a Catholic funeral. There are reasons why a Catholic funeral is important to a Catholic. At the time of death, the church passes no judgment on the eternal destiny of the soul. That is left to the mercy of God.

The rites have to do with what we as Catholics believe about life, death, the resurrection of the body and going to heaven. There are certain aspects of a Catholic funeral that are specific to the Catholic church. The Celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass is the most important element. It is offered for the repose of the soul of the person who has died. The offering of Mass is to obtain pardon from God for any sins that the person might have committed. It also removes any debt of punishment so the person can enter heaven.

Rabbi Moses A. Birnbaum, past president Long Island Board of Rabbis; rabbi of the Jewish Center of Kew Gardens Hills, Flushing

For Jews, for any human being, to be buried in the ground is not only a right but a religious obligation.

If you look to Deuteronomy 21-23, there is a case where a person has been executed by hanging. But, as the day drew to a close, he was removed for burial because no body should be exposed to the elements. No matter what the offense, the body once housed the soul that was made by God.

Everyone must be buried, even a criminal. Of course, there are exceptions. When Israel executed Adolf Eichmann, his body was cremated and the ashes were disposed of in the sea beyond Israel's territorial waters. The chief reason for doing so may have been to avoid creating a shrine for neo-Nazi pilgrimages. This would be similar to what our government did with the remains of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, who was accorded appropriate Islamic rites, but whose body was disposed of at sea.

For centuries, when someone committed suicide, an act that is against Jewish law, he or she would have been denied burial within the designated cemetery ground. Instead, they would have been buried outside the cemetery grounds, but they would have been buried. Today, most Jewish groups do allow burial of a suicide on the grounds that suicide is an act of temporary insanity.

Another area of concern for some may be tattoos. There is a widespread misconception that those with tattoos cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery. That is not true, even though many authorities in Jewish law would prohibit or discourage someone from getting a tattoo.

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