by Lyle Lofgren
March, 1997

[written in Laguna Beach, California]

The following story was reported in The Los Angeles Times:

Midway through the mass for young Maria S., who died of Leukemia, the funeral home showed up with another casket, switching it for the one on display. They profusely apologized for corpse confusion. The mass continued, but her husband and her children, ages 2 and 5, were doubly disturbed, so he is suing the funeral home for emotional distress on their part and spiritual distress on the part of Maria's soul.

"When the first casket arrived, the priest blessed it," he said. "What if the first blessing is the only one that counts? It's going to be an unanswered question for the rest of my life."

But the priest who blessed the casket says that it doesn't matter that Maria's remains were only half-massed. "As long as the prayers and blessings were for Maria S., it doesn't matter who was in the casket."

In the early 20th century, a Massachusetts physician  weighed patients just as they were dying. By subtracting post-mortem from pre-mortem readings, he could determine the weight of the soul. He then killed and weighed a bunch of dogs as a control experiment. In  spite of being capable of soulfully looking at you, dogs are alleged to be soulless. He claimed that the soul weighs three-quarters of an ounce, give or take a gram or two.  Like anyone who already knows the answer, he cherry-picked his data, and enough other errors turned up that his measurements were meaningless. As far as I know, no one has tried to repeat the experiment. Now I know why:  the soul resides in the person's name. I don't know about Maria S., but my name carries no weight around here.

I'd love to be the judge in this case, though. The separation-of-church-and-state provision of the constitution clearly implies that mere money cannot right a spiritual wrong. Therefore, I'd sentence the funeral home to 500 Novenas and 1000 Hail Marys.

[Note added 7/15/2010]: Evidently the matter is not as clear-cut as I thought. An article about the Mexican border drug killings in a recent Time magazine states that at least some local Mexican priests had to consult their bishop about the correct way to say mass for a head that has no body attached.