My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Grace and peace to you all.

Because some of you have been requesting of your priest to have wakes or viewings of the deceased or visitations to the grieving family held in your parish church, I am responding to all of you here with my teaching on the matter.

The gatherings of family and friends before the funeral are not to take place within your parish church, but rather at the funeral home. Of course, I can still remember, at the age of ten back in 1957 in Buffalo, being one of two altar boys who accompanied the priest, right before the funeral, to the house of the deceased for prayers, where the body was laid out (yes, that’s how we referred to it!) in the living room where the couch usually stood. I never could figure out where they hid that thing to make room for the coffin, and the bouquets, and some folding chairs, and the stands with red seven-day votive candles, and then, frequently, the three- dimensional lighted portrait of our Lord with eyes that met your gaze wherever in the room you stood to admire it – or so thought the ten- year old altar boy. (Those were the days!)

It is important for you to understand that the wake itself is a social gathering associated with death, a time for family and friends of the deceased to gather together in grief to remember the one they loved or were acquainted with in various settings.

This is a time of sharing and thereby a time of bringing comfort through consolation to the family members of the deceased. This time is a chance for friends and loved ones to offer personal words, both privately and publicly (that is, eulogies offered by family members and friends), about the deceased including joyful, noteworthy as well as humorous accounts from among their experiences in life with the deceased. The wake also serves as a time for the family to prepare emotionally for the funeral that follows.

Individual prayers or prayers within a brief service of worship might or might not be a part of the wake experience. But as it usually happens at wakes, the discussions between the mourners/comforters themselves and with the grieving family escalate in volume, with a welcomed joviality that relieves some of the grief that many present are feeling. In fact, the gathering can become quite noisy. I truly believe these conditions are appropriate and necessary and even therapeutic for those attending the wake. It’s for that reason, then, that the appropriate venue or setting for this action is the funeral home. Your parish church is not available for this purpose.

Your parish church is the Church’s liturgical environment within which we require silence and reverence for prayer and meditation, especially before Mass and various services of worship. Our liturgical environment is a holy space, and everyone who avails himself of the opportunity to be within that sacred area is expected to observe its sanctity by the silence and reverence for prayer and meditation I described above.

When you are in your parish church you are in the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament contained within the tabernacle at the high altar. (Removing the Blessed Sacrament is not an option.) Therefore, the distraction of conversation, amusements, or social diversions which naturally, and necessarily, occur during the wake make your parish church an inappropriate setting for that pre-funeral occasion.

There is one final point I need to make on the matter: The structure of the Order of our Polish National Catholic Church funeral rite is an instructive guide for us. The ceremonies of the day indicate the rites begin in the funeral home after which the body is transferred to the church for the funeral Mass, and then to the cemetery for the final committal. That the ceremonies of the day continue after the body is transferred from the funeral home to the parish church is a clear sign that our ritual does not at all envision any type of viewing in the church.

I hope this clarifies for you the reasons for utilizing the services of the funeral home for the purpose of the wake you may need to plan.

God bless you all in your discipleship and your faithful adherence to the teachings of your Bishop.

Bishop Bernard

To read the original version as a PDF file.

June 1, 2018

To the Very Reverend, Reverend Fathers and the Reverend Messrs., and my dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus our Lord:

¡Viva el mes de junio! That’s Spanish for “Long live June,” “Hurray for June.” Hurray, indeed! And welcome to the month of vocations in the Polish National Catholic Church: June is Sacred Vocations month for us. June is the month we focus on our great need for priests, and on the need for significant donations throughout the PNCC to be made to the Clergy Pension Plan.

Our need of priests is dire and critical, but I am nonetheless hopeful and optimistic. Even though no Polish National Catholic families have sacrificed even one of their men, young or old, to our altars in the past twelve years, (and it doesn’t look like any family will in the near future), I remain optimistic. Even though our seminary has been empty for that period of time, except for the occasional priest from another Church orienting himself there to work as a priest in the PNCC, I have good reason to hope because I have experienced God’s providence. Our parish in Denver was declining but was pulled back from the brink of closure by an Hispanic priest from Mexico and 90 people of Mexican heritage who now comprise the great majority of that parish. St Francis, Denver, is growing, and is enthusiastically PNCC, and is flying 18 young people and 6 adults to Convo 2018 here next month.

Because Father Alfonso Castillo needs pastoral help there, I enthusiastically agreed to review applications from priest friends of his in Mexico to provide assistance to him, and subsequently serve our American parishes desperate for priests. In our Diocese, two priests, in fine parishes, are retiring next year. I have no one to fill them. A priest in our Diocese is on three parishes in Jersey. Three priests are on two parishes each. And there are ailing and aging priests all over the place! And yet I am hopeful. So I say, ¡Viva México!

With the increase in aging clergy comes the need for our Clergy Pension Plan to support them all. We collect for this vital entitlement throughout the year and especially in the month of June. We need more capital to invest, the interest from which the pension payments are made. From age 70, a PNCC priest can look forward to a monthly check in the amount of $600; and his widow, a check in the amount of $300. Please be generous in this drive. And so I say, in my optimism, ¡Viva el Plan de Pensión del Clero! (Hurray for our Clergy Pension plan!)

I believe God is showing us a potential direction for the future of our Church; and that pathway seems to be presenting itself from south of the border. For the Methodist Church, that pathway is from South Korea, and for the Roman Catholic Church, from India among other sources. In light of all of this, Bishop Hodur has indeed blessed us with a most optimistic motto for our Church when he penned: A través de la Verdad, el Trabajo y las Dificultades ¡Venceremos!

Yours in Christ,

Bishop Bernard