Q. I have been asked by several people who know that I am a Catholic whether the Church permits people to donate their bodies to a medical center after death. Their intent is to enable others to live longer if any viable organs can be used or to provide the material for research that might prevent disease in the future. Following any procedures, the remains are then cremated. (Chadron, Nebraska)
A. The answer to your question is a resounding “yes.” In fact, in October 2014, Pope Francis met with the Transplantation Committee for the Council of Europe and called the act of organ donation “a testimony of love for our neighbor.”
That statement echoed the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which says in No. 2296:
Organ transplants are in conformity with the moral law if the physical and psychological dangers and risks to the donor are proportionate to the good sought for the recipient. Organ donation after death is a noble and meritorious act and is to be encouraged as a expression of generous solidarity. It is not morally acceptable if the donor or his proxy has not given explicit consent. Moreover, it is not morally admissible to bring about the disabling mutilation or death of a human being, even in order to delay the death of other persons.
Likewise, the catechism states in No. 2301:
Autopsies can be morally permitted for legal inquests or scientific research. The free gift of organs after death is legitimate and can be meritorious. The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body.
In 1995, in his encyclical “The Gospel of Life,” Pope St. John Paul II called organ donation an example of “everyday heroism.”
The remains, after organ donation or medical research, must be treated with reverence and entombed or buried. In my diocese, our diocesan cemetery donates gravesites and burial services for the interment of the cremated remains of those who donated their bodies to science.
Q. I have always wondered why we read the Passion during Palm Sunday services. Palm Sunday is a day of rejoicing and jubilation, as we remember Jesus riding into Jerusalem amid throngs of cheering people.
But then we read the Passion of Christ, which we also read again on Holy Thursday and, for a third time, on Good Friday. There is no mistaking the fact that historically these events unfolded with Jesus arriving triumphantly into the city. We seem to be the only Christian denomination to turn Palm Sunday into such a sad and horrible day. (Louisville, Kentucky)
A. First, a correction. The narrative of the Passion is not read on Holy Thursday; the readings at Mass on that day focus on the Last Supper — on Christ’s institution of the Eucharist and his washing the feet of the apostles. The passion of Jesus is read twice in the Catholic liturgy: once on Palm Sunday, when the account is taken from one of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, or Luke), and again on Good Friday, when John’s Gospel is proclaimed.
On Palm Sunday, the Catholic liturgy is like an overture for all of Holy Week: At the beginning of the ceremony, palms are blessed and a short Gospel is read describing Jesus’ triumphal entrance into Jerusalem riding on a donkey. During the Mass, the Passion is read, often in three parts.
The liturgy for Palm Sunday is something of a hybrid, like an overture for all of Holy Week: It begins in triumph, but quickly there looms the shadow of the cross. In fact, the joy of Christ’s followers on the first Palm Sunday was short-lived. The crowd in Jerusalem was swelled immensely that day by Jews who had gathered for the Passover celebration.
Many in that assembly were unaware that the savior of the world was in their midst, and those followers who honored him with palms were doubtless in the minority — as evidenced by his arrest just a few days later and the cries of the crowd for crucifixion.
For many Catholics, Palm Sunday is the only time they hear the Passion read, since the Good Friday liturgy is often held during workday hours, and the congregation is much larger on Palm Sunday.