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Funeral Dues

The canonical perquisites of a parish priest receivable on the occasion of the funeral of any of his parishioners

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Funeral Dues, the canonical perquisites of a parish priest receivable on the occasion of the funeral of any of his parishioners. This right of the parish priest is twofold: first, the right to an offering when a parishioner is buried within the limits of the parish to which he belonged; second, the right to a fourth (quarta funeralis) of the dues when a parishioner is buried outside the limits of the parish. (The ancient episcopal quarta funeralis has fallen into desuetude.) The right to the quarta funeralis is founded on the obligations of a parish priest to his parishioners during life, and the correlative duties of those to whose care he ministers; since the laborer is worthy of his hire, it is but just that should the parishioner elect to be buried in a parish other than that to which he canonically belongs, the parish priest should not altogether be deprived of emolument for his past services. The Council of Trent (Sess. XXV, cap. xiii) gives the “fourth portion” the name of “quarta funeralium”; but other designations were common in earlier times, e.g. “portio canonica” (canonical portion), “quarta portio” (fourth share), “justitia” (justice) since it was considered a just reward for the work of a parish priest in his care of souls. That these funeral dues are not of recent origin is clear from ancient ecclesiastical enactments (Cap. Cum Quis, II, De sepulchretis, in VI°). Leo III (Nos instituta) refers to this ancient discipline of the Church: “Do not break away from the old rules which our forefathers have laid down for us”. Still earlier, in 680, in the Anglo-Saxon Church we find that there were four payments which the Church could legally claim; and among them was the payment called “soul-shot”. This payment was the mortuary charge ordered to be fixed for the dead, while the grave was yet open, or to be reserved for the;hurch to which the deceased belonged, if his body were buried in any place out of his “shriftshire”, . e. his proper parish (Lingard, “Antiquities of the Anglo-Saxon Church“, I, iv).

As a price for burial, the parish priest can demand nothing without incurring the suspicion of simony. Burial is a spiritual right belonging to the faithful; and the parish priest, in virtue of his office, is bound to perform this duty for his parishioners. Nevertheless, if there is a legitimate custom which allows offerings to be made, or if the bishop should have established a fixed scale of offerings, the parish priest may demand such fees provided he in no way incurs suspicion of extortion. Also, in case of funerals with more than the ordinary burial service, a demand for payment for extra labor or to cover expenses is quite in accordance with canon law. The Roman Ritual (tit. vi, De exsequiis, n. 6) lays down that the amount to be charged for funeral services is to be fixed by the bishop; it also insists that in all cases of the poor who die with little or no property the parish priest is bound to bury them without charge (ibid., n. 7). This is in keeping with the immemorial affection of the Church for the poor (Tert., “Apol.”, xxxix; Ambrose, “De Off.”, II, cxlii; Schultze, “De Christ. veter. rebus sepulchr.”, Gotha, 1879, 24). Emperor Constantine created at Constantinople a special association for the burial of the poor (Lex, “Begrabnissrecht”, 208). The medieval Church granted indulgences for the burial of the poor, and her synods and bishops frequently inculcated the same as a work of mercy. While the parish priest is not bound to offer Mass on that occasion, he is warmly recommended to do so by Benedict XIV (Instr. 36) and other ecclesiastical authorities (Lex, op. cit., 209-11).

The Council of Trent (Sess. XXII, Decret. de obser. et evit. in celeb. Missae) in very clear words points out the duty of the bishops to determine specifically all offerings on the occasion of the Holy Sacrifice, so that there may be no opportunity for suspecting simony on the part of any ecclesiastic. The bishop is authorized to prescribe, in regard to funerals, what portion should belong to the parish priest and to others assisting at the altar; how much should be given to those who accompany the body to the grave; to those who toll the bells; likewise the number and weight of the candles used during the burial service, the remuneration for the use of funeral ornaments, etc. If the parishioner is buried outside his parish, the parish priest, as has been already said, is entitled to a fourth of the burial fees. This fourth has to be paid by the church of the parish in which the burial takes place, and it includes that proportion of all the emoluments that come to the church by reason of the funeral up to the thirtieth day after the funeral. In the case of the funeral of a canon, the “quarta funeralis” is due, not to the parish priest of the cathedral, but to the parish priest of the deceased canon’s domicile. As a matter of practice at the present day there are many churches exempt from the payment of the quarta funeralis, such exemption being obtained either by pontifical privilege, custom, or prescription. Many monasteries, and indeed whole orders, have been exempted by pontifical privilege (St. Pius V, Etsi Mendicantium, May 16, 1567; Paul V, Decet Romanum, August 20, 1605). Benedict XIII, in 1725, annulled all exemptions, so far as Italy and the adjacent islands were concerned. By custom or prescription the obligation of paying the quarta funeralis has been done away with in most places, although it still exists, for instance, in the Diocese of Paris (France). With regard to the fees for burial in our own time, there is no customary uniform fee, and the enactments of provincial synods contain nothing very definite on the matter. Generally speaking, if a church has a cemetery attached a scale of fees is drawn up and approved by the bishop for that church, the charges varying according to the degree of solemnity with which the funeral is carried out. In cemeteries not attached to a church, and which are wholly Catholic, the administrators pay a fixed fee for each funeral, or more commonly a yearly stipend to the cemetery chaplain. Where the cemetery is controlled by secular authority, the funeral fees are arranged for and paid by the local authority; but the amount of the fee varies according to the locality.


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