Matters Arising: Requiem for the Queen?

Rev. Nicholas Mary, C.Ss.R.


Fr Nicholas Mary, C.Ss.R. answers topical questions in the light of moral theology and canon law.

Bishops and priests all over Great Britain have offered public Requiem Masses for the late Queen Elizabeth II. Why have priests of the SSPX not done likewise?

In the May 2021 issue of Ite Missa Est, we had occasion to restate the traditional Catholic approach to the matter of public Masses for the repose of non-Catholics when Cardinal Nichols offered a public Requiem for the late Prince Philip:

We live in times of great confusion and diabolical disorientation. These ecumenical gestures on the part of the hierarchy only add to that confusion. The traditional practice of the Church is summed up here by Fr Gihr:

Mass may not be publicly offered for those who died outside the fold of the Church: for deceased pagans, heretics, schismatics and excommunicated persons. For all these Mass may be offered privately if no scandal is given. The Church makes this distinction to impress upon her children, as well as upon those not in communion with her, the remarkable privileges enjoyed even after death by those who are in visible communion with that stream of life-giving grace that flows from the Cross of Christ through His Church.1

Here what makes the offering of the Mass public or private is not the celebration of the Mass itself (which may happen to be attended by a large congregation, for example), but whether or not the public prayer of the Church is made for the deceased [i.e. by name, as in the Requiem], and the manner in which, and the extent to which the intention of the Mass is publicised.

The article then went on to explain how the Church nonetheless prescribes certain public prayers for rulers, including those who are non-Catholic:

The Church has permitted ... public prayers for those who are objectively in heresy not only for their conversion (as she prays, for example, for heretics and schismatics on Good Friday), but out of respect and pastoral concern for them as the bearers of public office. In the past, however, care was taken not to give scandal by favouring religious indifferentism (the idea that all religions or even Christian denominations lead to salvation).

Examples were listed in that article of various official responses of the two British hierarchies on the deaths of former Kings and Queens. Moreover, after the death of Queen Elizabeth in September, the district website reproduced a letter of Herbert, Cardinal Vaughan which the latter had directed to be read out at Masses in all the churches of the Archdiocese of Westminster on the last Sunday of January 1901, on the occasion of the death of Queen Victoria. He reminded the faithful that:

Of public religious services for the dead the Catholic Church knows of none but such as she has instituted for the souls of her own children. For them the Requiem Mass, the Solemn Absolution, and the Catholic Funeral Office form the only Memorial Service for the dead in her liturgy.


No one would feel it to be right that, in our grief, we should so far forget ourselves or the proprieties due to her deceased Majesty and to the official position she filled, as even to appear to claim her as member of our Church, which we should be doing were we to perform in her behalf religious rites that are exclusively applicable to deceased Catholics. Of other rites for the dead the Church has none.


At the same time, we may remind you that it is lawful to those who believe that any persons have departed out of this life in union with the Soul of the Church, though not in her external communion, to offer privately prayers and good works for their release from purgatory. The Church herself forms no judgment on the matter, which must remain the secret between God and the individual soul. ...We proceed, then, to prescribe, in order that the Divine blessing may rest upon the successor to the Throne, upon the nation, and upon ourselves, the recitation, in the Mass, of the collect, Deus, refugium nostrum.

Even the prayer that Cardinal Vaughan commanded to be recited during the Mass itself is not a public suffrage for Queen Victoria, but the votive collect ‘In any Necessity’:

O God, our refuge and strength, fountain of all goodness, mercifully give ear to the fervent prayers of Thy Church, and grant that what we ask with faith, we may effectually obtain. Through Christ, etc.2

Similarly, here is the notice concerning the death of George VI that Archbishop Donald Campbell of Glasgow commanded to be read at all Masses on Sunday 10 February 1952:

The Catholics of the Archdiocese will share the universal sorrow occasioned by the death of His Majesty the King, whose devotion to duty, patience in trial and exemplary family life won the admiration of all his subjects. Our sympathy and prayers will readily be given to the new Queen and the members of the Royal Family in the grievous loss sustained by them and the nation. Accordingly at all the Masses on Sunday 10 February, there is to be added the prayer Pro quacumque necessitate, and at the Evening Service in all the Churches of the Archdiocese, the Rosary is to be recited for the needs of the nation and its new ruler. I am sure that as many as possible will strive to take part in these Evening Devotions to implore the blessing of Almighty God upon our country and our Queen.3

Clearly our bishops in past times were careful to avoid giving even indirect scandal. But how can it be scandalous to pray for the dead? Surely it would be scandalous not to do so? This is to misunderstand the nature of the sin of scandal, which is:

Any action or its omission, not necessarily sinful in itself, that is likely to induce another to do something morally wrong. Direct scandal, also called diabolical, has the deliberate intention to induce another to sin. In indirect scandal a person does something that he or she foresees will at least likely lead another to commit sin, but this is rather tolerated than positively desired.4

Indeed we may pray privately for deceased non-Catholics, as Cardinal Vaughan reminds us above, but to do so in the public prayer of the Church could lead some to be weakened in, or to lose their Catholic Faith through indifferentism, that “perverse opinion [which] is spread on all sides by the fraud of the wicked who claim that it is possible to obtain the eternal salvation of the soul by the profession of any kind of religion, as long as morality is maintained."5

As a result, by “the ecclesiastical law, certain restrictions are made on the application of Mass in order to safeguard reverence and prevent scandal. Thus, Mass may be said only privately (that is, without publicity or special liturgical solemnity) and prudently (that is, with avoidance of scandal, for example, by the declaration that Mass is said for the faithful departed with the purpose of aiding also a departed unbeliever, if this is pleasing to God) for the living and dead outside the Church, such as infidels, heretics, schismatics, and the excommunicated..."6

But could one not argue that the Queen was a member of the Catholic Church because she was baptised, and as she never separated herself from it by formal heresy or schism? Canon law says that we may have a Catholic funeral for any baptised person who is not a notorious heretic, schismatic or sinner. The late Queen was not a formal heretic or schismatic, or a public sinner, not having been Catholic in the first place, and if she could theoretically have had a full Catholic funeral, which is more, why not a memorial Requiem Mass, which is less?

Canon 1184, §1 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law still forbids ecclesiastical funerals for “notorious apostates, heretics, and schismatics” that have not given “some signs of repentance before death,” and states in Canon 1185 that “any funeral Mass must also be denied a person who is excluded from ecclesiastical funerals.” In this point, the modern law does not differ substantially from Canons 1240 and 1241, the corresponding legislation in the 1917 Code.7

The innovation comes in allowing that, per Canon 1183, §3, “in the prudent judgment of the local ordinary, ecclesiastical funerals can be granted to baptised 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.”

Now whilst Canon 1239, §3 of the old Code does say that “all baptised are to be given ecclesiastical burial unless they are expressly deprived of the same by law,” Jesuit canonists Fr. Bouscaren and Fr. Ellis comment that:

All baptised persons here include only Catholics. The reasons for this interpretation are: the whole Tradition of the Church; the fact that, in this part of the Code, the law seems to concern itself only with the funeral and burial of Catholics (cf. The expression fidelium in Canons 1202, 1205, 1215, etc.); the provision of Canon 87 which excludes from the rights of Christians, even baptised persons, where there exists an ‘obstacle to the bond of ecclesiastical communion.’ Failure to adhere visibly to the external worship and discipline of the Church is such an obstacle. Hence in general non-Catholics are not really entitled to Catholic ecclesiastical burial, and this, independently of any crime on their part.

And Fr. Joseph Wilhelm writes of the Church in the Catholic Encyclopedia that:

Distinguishing between formal and material heretics, she applies to the former the Canon, ‘Most firmly hold and in no way doubt that every heretic or schismatic is to have part with the devil and his angels in the flames of eternal fire, unless before the end of his life he be incorporated with, and restored to the Catholic Church.’ No-one is forced to enter the Church, but having once entered it through baptism, he is bound to keep the promises he freely made. To restrain and bring back her rebellious sons, the Church uses both her own spiritual power and the secular power at her command. Towards material heretics her conduct is ruled by the saying of St. Augustine: ‘Those are by no means to be accounted heretics who do not defend their false and perverse opinions with pertinacious zeal (animositas), especially when their error is not the fruit of audacious presumption but has been communicated to them by seduced and lapsed parents, and when they are seeking the truth with cautious solicitude and ready to be corrected.’

Pius IX, in a letter to the bishops of Italy (10 August 1863), restates this Catholic doctrine: ‘It is known to Us and to You that they who are in invincible ignorance concerning our religion but observe the natural law ... and are ready to obey God and lead an honest and righteous life, can, with the help of Divine light and grace, attain to eternal life ... for God ... will not allow any one to be eternally punished who is not wilfully guilty.’


The fact of having received valid baptism places material heretics under the jurisdiction of the Church, and, if they are in good faith, they belong to the soul of the Church. Their material severance, however, precludes them from the use of ecclesiastical rights, except the right of being judged according to ecclesiastical law if, by any chance, they are brought before an ecclesiastical court. They are not bound by ecclesiastical laws enacted for the spiritual wellbeing of its members, e.g. by the Six Commandments of the Church.8

The new discipline proceeds not from concern to protect the traditional doctrine of the Church, but rather from the new ecclesiology of full and partial communion of Vatican II, which, in its decree on ecumenism, assumes that although “large communities came to be separated from full communion with the Catholic Church ... the children who are born into these communities, and who grow up believing in Christ cannot be accused of the sin involved in the separation, and the Catholic Church embraces them as brothers, with respect and affection. For men who believe in Christ and have been truly baptised are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect.”9

As a result, notes Fr. James A. Coriden, “the terms heresy, apostasy, and schism are no longer used of those born and baptised outside the visible communion of the Catholic Church. The offences can only be ascribed to Catholics, those baptised into the Catholic Church or later received into it.”10

This, of course, is precisely what Catholics faithful to Tradition reject. As Archbishop Lefebvre wrote:

“The Council took pleasure in exalting the salvific values, or the values—period—of the other religions. Speaking of the non-Catholic Christian religions, Vatican II teaches that ‘Although we believe them to be victims of deficiencies, they are not in any way devoid of meaning and of value in the mystery of salvation.’ (Unitatis redintegratio, 3). This is a heresy! The only means of salvation is the Catholic Church. Insofar as they are separated from the unity of the true faith, the Protestant communions cannot be used by the Holy Ghost. He can act only directly on the souls or make use of the means (for example, Baptism), which, in themselves, do not bear any indication of separation. One can be saved in Protestantism, but not by Protestantism! In heaven there are no Protestants, there are only Catholics!”11

Canon 731, §2 of the 1917 Code denied the sacraments even to merely material heretics and schismatics:

It is forbidden that the Sacraments of the Church be ministered to heretics and schismatics, even if they ask for them and are in good faith, unless beforehand, rejecting their errors, they are reconciled with the Church.”

The bar for having a Catholic funeral is admittedly lower than the one for receiving the sacraments, but, as Canon E.J. Mahoney explains:

The sacraments are to be denied both to material and formal heretics but for different reasons : to formal heretics because they merit punishment, the censure of Canon 2314, 51; to material heretics because they are excluded by Canon 731, 52, which is not an ecclesiastical punishment, nor even merely an ecclesiastical law, but a necessary deduction from the concept of the Church... Those who reject the rule of faith proposed by the Church are not members of the Church, and may not lawfully share in the privileges of members as, for example, the reception of the sacraments… Moreover, the important distinction between the internal and the external forum must always be remembered. The external government of the Church regards the external actions of people: De internis non iudicat praetor ["The judge does not bring judgment concerning internal matters"—a principle of Roman law]. Hence the obvious principle of Canon 16, §2: ‘Ignorance or error concerning a law or a penalty ... is generally not presumed.’12

Catholics are Catholics, and Protestants are Protestants until proven otherwise. There can be no blanket assumption that all baptised non-Catholic adults are merely material heretics or schismatics and thus members of the Catholic Church. Still less can this be done in the case of the late Queen, Supreme Governor of the Church of England—a heretical body—who took an oath at her coronation in 1953 to “maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine worship, discipline, and government thereof,” having already pledged on her accession to the throne in 1952 to “preserve the settlement of the true Protestant religion as established by the laws made in Scotland.”

And even if, hopefully, she was merely a material heretic—i.e. one in good faith—she could not have received the sacraments, sacramentals, or public suffrages of the Catholic Church without the dangers of scandal. May she rest in peace, having found God’s grace through the Catholic Church before she died. †

See also 'Matters Arising: Requiem for Prince Philip', Ite Missa Est (May–June 2021)

View all articles from Ite Missa Est 


1. Full article available here.

2. Rev. Dr Nicholas Gihr, The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: Dogmatically, Liturgically, and Ascetically Explained (B. Herder, St Louis, 1949) p. 209.

3. See the full letter (well worth reading) here.

4. Translation in The Roman Missal, translated into the English language for the use of the Laity (Cummiskey, Philadelphia, 1865), 1st Rev. Ed.

5. Telegram of 8 February 1952 (with thanks to Scottish Catholic Archive).

6. Article ‘Scandal’ in Fr John Hardon (ed.), Modern Catholic Dictionary (Eternal Life, Bardstown, KY, 2000).7. Pope Gregory XVI, Encyclical Mirari vos (1832), 13. Translation here.

8. Fr J.A. McHugh, O.P, & Fr C.J. Callan, O.P., Moral Theology (Wagner, New York, 1958) Rev. ed., no. 2715.

9. All translations of the 1983 code here. Translation of the 1917 code in: Dr Edward N. Peters (ed.), The 1917 or Pio-Benedictine Code of Canon Law: in English translation with extensive scholarly apparatus (Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2001).

10. Fr T.L. Bouscaren, S.J. & Fr A.C. Ellis, S.J., Canon Law—a Text and Commentary (Bruce, Milwaukee,1953) 2nd Rev. Ed., p. 682.

11. Fr Joseph Wilhelm, article ‘Heresy’ in The Catholic Encyclopedia (Robert Appleton Co., New York, 1910).

12. Unitatis Redintegratio, 3. Translation here.

13. In: Fr J.P. Beal et al (eds.), New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law (Paulist Press, New York, 2000) p. 915.

14. Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, They Have Uncrowned Him (Angelus Press, Kansas City, 1988) p. 176.

15. Canon E.J. Mahoney, Questions and Answers I—The Sacraments (Burns Oates & Washbourne, London,1946).


  • 1Rev. Dr Nicholas Gihr, The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: Dogmatically, Liturgically, and Ascetically Explained, St Louis, 1949 (B. Herder) p. 209.
  • 2Translation in The Roman Missal, translated into the English language for the use of the Laity, Philadelphia, 1865 (Cummiskey), 1st Rev. Ed.
  • 3Telegram of 08-02-1952 (with thanks to Scottish Catholic Archive).
  • 4Article ‘Scandal’ in Fr John Hardon (ed.), Modern Catholic Dictionary, Bardstown, KY, 2000 (Eternal Life).
  • 5Pope Gregory XVI, Encyclical Mirari vos (1832), 13.
  • 6Fr J.A. McHugh, O.P, & Fr C.J. Callan, O.P. - Moral Theology, New York, 1958 (Wagner), Rev. ed., no. 2715.
  • 7Translation of the 1917 code in: Dr Edward N. Peters (ed.) - The 1917 or Pio-Benedictine Code of Canon Law: in English translation with extensive scholarly apparatus, San Francisco, 2001 (Ignatius Press).
  • 8Fr Joseph Wilhelm, article ‘Heresy’ in The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York, 1910 (Robert Appleton Co.).
  • 9Unitatis Redintegratio, 3. Translation here: hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/ vat-ii_decree_19641121_unitatis- redintegratio_en.html.
  • 10In Fr J.P. Beal et al (eds.), New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, New York, 2000 (Paulist Press), p. 915.
  • 11Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, They Have Uncrowned Him, Kansas City, 1988 (Angelus Press) p. 176.
  • 12Canon E.J. Mahoney, Questions and Answers I – The Sacraments, London,