In his pastoral letter, Blessed Are They Who Mourn, Cardinal Maida encouraged parishes to arrange for the body of a deceased person to lie in state in the church proper or in the gathering space immediately prior to the Funeral Liturgy. Families took advantage of this privilege enabling family members who were not able to be at the wake to have time to view the body, pray for the deceased and be there for the mourning family.
However, it is important to read carefully this section of the pastoral letter….The proper place for the body to lie in state is the church proper…or the gathering area.There was no intent in the letter to encourage parishes to use the Blessed Sacrament Chapel for this purpose. In fact, when the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the tabernacle in the church proper Cardinal Maida cautioned pastors that it might not be proper to have the body lie in state in the church because of the potential of a lack of respect for the Blessed Sacrament. The gathering area would be a more appropriate place in this case.
It is important to remember that the purpose of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel is to provide a suitable place for private prayer and devotion to honor our Lord in the Eucharist. A sense of quiet awe should fill the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. Nothing should detract from this purpose.
When the body of the deceased lies in state in the church proper it is most appropriate that the body be placed near the baptismal font. The faith journey of the deceased began in baptism. “In the act receiving the body, the members of the community acknowledge the deceased as one of their own, as one who was welcomed in baptism and who held a place in the assembly”…and at this funeral liturgy the community asks that the deceased have a share in the heavenly banquet promised to all who have been baptized in Christ.