A Catholic Pastoral Response to Suicide
Father Timothy W. Gareau

Only God knows the human heart well enough to make the awesome judgment about a person’s salvation. Facing death can be a time of isolation, anguish and despair. For the suicidal person, there are often mental issues of depression, hopelessness and seeing no choices but one. They are not thinking rationally, of the consequences or the affect on their family and larger community. And while we can only presume the pain that they are feeling, we are also not in the position to know what their relationship with God was during those last moments. The Church cannot preempt God’s judgment in these matters, and so we do not know or guess the fate of the one who died.

It is true that the Church once forbade a funeral mass in the circumstances of suicide. The reasoning was that allowing such a mass might be interpreted as condoning the act of taking a life. But since it is not our place to judge the person’s state of mind, what happened in those final moments, or their relationship with God, a funeral mass is said.

While we remember the deceased, liturgy is for the living. The celebration of Eucharist also connects us to a spirituality and mystery far greater than ourselves. The Catholic Church believes and celebrates the communion of saints and all who have come before us.

Survivors already bear a heavy burden in their loss. The Church’s pastoral role is comfort and consolation. We remember those who have died, and ask God’s blessing. We love and support those who remain. In their pain, in their wondering and questioning, the Church needs to be the arms and the heart of Christ. We have the opportunity to weep as Jesus did when Lazarus died. To identify with Mary the sorrowful Mother, as a woman who lost her son. And to feel the grief and helplessness of the faithful disciples at the cross. We also have the knowledge of resurrection: knowing that this human earthly life is not all that there is. There is a promise of heaven.

We believe that we are redeemed by Christ and called to share eternal life with Him. The Christian vision of death is expressed in the funeral liturgy when we pray: “Lord, for your faithful people life is changed, not ended. When the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven” (Preface for Christian Death I).

The Catholic Church has a duty to care for those who have died: to offer prayers, reverence the body, provide a funeral liturgy and bury the person in ground that is blessed. We believe they are now with the Lord. And for those survivors that remain, we are here to walk with you, to be brother and sister and comforter and friend. We are confident in the knowledge that God created each one of us and loves us more than we could ever love each other or ourselves. He is all-knowing, all- loving; and all-merciful. We don’t understand and can’t comprehend that, especially in difficult situations, but that is why we are human and He is divine.

If you are a surviving friend or relative of someone who has tragically died in this manner, know that the Church is here for you. You have our love, our compassion and our prayers. While your loss is very real, know that your loved one is no longer in pain. They are safe and wrapped in the loving care of God. And we believe you will see them again. Until that time, they don’t want you to continue hurting. Remember them with love and give them to God. It is the love of Christ that keeps us connected to each other. Life has not ended. It is only changed.