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Ph.D., Thank You Notes & Open Caskets

Where to Place Ph.D. in an Archive

Dear Sir or Madam,

I read your online article about the correct ways to refer to holders of PhDs, but I still have one question.

Our company’s convention for memo distribution lists is: last name followed by a comma, and then the person’s first name.

How is this written when a recipient of the memo has a PhD? Smith, PhD, Robert? Smith, Robert PhD? Some other way?

Thank you in advance for your guidance.


TIA responds:

Dear Mr. J.A.S.,

We are pleased to see that you are trying to be more formal in your company protocol. Most businesses and organizations today are sadly taking the opposite path, adopting the casual and vulgar customs and practices of our days, abandoning the good forms of the past.

We have not seen this question addressed in any etiquette manuals we have read. Nonetheless, we believe the correct way is:

Smith, Ph.D, Robert, or Smith, Dr. Robert.


     TIA correspondence desk


Good Habit of Sending Thank You Notes

Dear TIA,

My daughter is soon to be married in a Traditional Catholic wedding. She recently had a bridal shower and is beginning to receive wedding gifts.

What is the time frame for acknowledging the gifts? What is the proper thing to say in thank you notes?

     Thank you.


TIA responds:

Dear A.M.,

We compliment you for trying to follow the good customs regarding thank you notes. Today, this practice is unfortunately dying among young couples, who often resort to email group lists to send a generic thank you, or simply do not acknowledge the gifts given to them by relatives and friends.

A good Catholic tradition is to be grateful for the gifts we receive and to manifest to the donor our appreciation within a reasonable time frame: no less than three days and no more than one month. This is a general rule that applies not only for weddings, but for all occasions – birthdays, baby-showers, graduations, etc.

Nothing is worse for a person who made the effort to purchase and send you a present than to not know if you even received the gift. Unless the person is your very close friend and you have thanked him personally, the absence of a thank you note shows that you were not well-raised and actually you don’t care about his friendship. In short, that person has sufficient reason to be offended and to not send anything else to you in the future.

In the case of the wedding gifts you mention, a thank you note should be handwritten, and never made in a generic form. The gift should be acknowledged in specific details. It is customary to mention how the bride and groom will use the gift in their future life together.

Either the bride or the groom should write the note and mention the other future spouse in the note.

Thank you notes should be written before the wedding, unless the gift arrives too close to the wedding to allow time for an acknowledgement.

We have posted an article by Dr. Marian Horvat on writing letters that might be of interest to you. You can read it here. It is based upon from the Catholic Manual of Civility


      TIA correspondence desk


Open Caskets

To whom it may concern:

I have read that there are different opinions about open caskets at funerals (wakes and church services).

What is the official Catholic teaching about an open casket in church during the church service.



TIA responds:

The casket used to be open on two occasions:
  1. During the wake at home or in a funeral parlor;
  2. Before Mass or religious ceremony at church.
However, there are two sets of customs depending on whether a person follows the traditional Catholic ritual or the new ritual of the liturgical reforms of Vatican II and Paul VI.

The traditional funeral vigil and funeral Mass rituals allowed some variation in customs according to the country or people. Post-Vatican II, everything became more flexible so that often the "service" can seem quite similar to protestant ones.

We will show how the funerals were conducted in the United States prior to Vatican II and the post-Council, setting out the rules and customs for both periods.

Pre-Vatican II funerals

The Mass celebrant along with other attending priests and the altar boys used to meet the casket outside of the Church. The casket, which had been placed on a bier, was guided up the main aisle by the pallbearers. Then, it was followed first by the honorary pallbearers, religious Brothers and Sisters and the immediate family members in that order, and then by other relatives, officials (in order of rank e.g. governor, mayor ), delegations, friends, servants, employees. Devoted family servants or long time employees used to follow directly after the family.

Leo XII funeral

The body of Pope Leo XII in procession to the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament for viewing

The casket covered with a black pall was always closed before entering the Church. It could be opened after entering the church until the Mass or ceremony started. During and after the Mass or ceremony the casket remained closed. No decorations or honorific symbols were permitted on the pall, but it is was common to have these items displayed on a pillow or a small stool near the bier to be seen by the attendees.

The bier was placed at the main aisle in front of the altar but outside the presbytery. The custom was that, if the body was of a layman, the feet were turned towards the altar. If the body was of a priest, then the position was reversed, the head being towards the altar.

The family used to sit in the front pews on the Epistle side (right) of the church. The pallbearers sat in the first pew on the left and right sides of the bier. Behind them on the left were the honorary pallbearers, religious Brothers or Sisters, civic dignitaries and official delegations. Attending priests always were seated in the presbytery. Friends sat behind the family on either side of the church.

The recessional, that is, the procession taking the casket to the funeral car that carries the body to the cemetery, used to follow the same order of precedence of the first procession, save that now the family filed out directly behind the bier. The casket was not opened in the church before the recessional procession.

Generally there were not wakes in the church, although it was not forbidden. The wake or vigil as it is more often called today, used to be held in the family home or the funeral parlor. If it was the home, visiting hours were usually set and announced and some principal members of the family would be present to receive the visitors during that time.

At the vigil the casket was usually open, flanked by candles at both ends; if possible, one's baptismal candle was used. Flowers were present at the wake, but not at the funeral Mass.

Most of these customs are reported in the American Catholic Etiquette, first published in 1961. Today, few realize how ceremonial and solemn the Catholic funeral was – even in the United States – prior to Vatican II.

How far indeed we have travelled from this good hierarchical order that was followed even in funeral processions!

Post-Vatican II funerals

Answering a question in Our Sunday Visitor, Msgr. M. Francis Mannion states that the official rites for Catholic vigils and funerals today are flexible and adaptable to a variety of situations. He was responding to a question asking if an open-casket viewing is allowed in a church.

Yes, it is, he affirmed, and he has never heard of a rule prohibiting it. The viewing or vigil can be held in the funeral home, the church or the home, although the latter is rare today in our country. The Rosary led by the priest – which used to be always said at the vigil or wake – now, is optional and often ignored.

If the vigil is in the church, there is now a rite called "Vigil for the Deceased with Reception at the Church." If the family chooses a viewing, then the simple form of the rite of reception is used and the pall is not placed on the casket before it enters the church, but only after vigil is over.

Modern funeral

Black, the color of mourning, is also generally ignored at modern funerals

At the funeral Mass, the casket is covered with a pall and brought up the center aisle. The first rows are usually reserved for the family, but there is no assigned order to the seating. Family members and friends can also form a procession as the covered casket enters the church, but often the people are seated in the church awaiting its entrance.

Sometimes in these Novus Ordo ceremonies, the urn of cremated remains – Paul VI permitted Catholics for the first time in History to cremate the body – is carried by a family member or designated person up the main aisle; it is placed on a table in front of the altar before the ceremony begins.

The funeral Mass or ceremony can now include eulogies of the deceased and even some reflections and remembrances of the deceased – practices imported from Protestantism – special music performances, and other aspects that are non-traditional. The casket can be opened at the end of the ceremony for a final farewell or to sign the forehead of the deceased with the sign of the cross by the "officiant."

As we can see, we shouldn't be surprised at anything we see at a modern Catholic funeral Mass or ceremony. By the way, the funeral Mass is on the decline since often members of the family of the deceased no longer consider it important or do not want "to offend" non-Catholics who come to pay their respects to the deceased.

In fact, the only thing Msgr. Mannion warned against is for the "parish leadership" to interpret the official regulations in too rigid a manner.

These are the rules and customs of the Roman Latin Rite in the United States. The Eastern Catholic Rites have some customs and rituals that are different. For example, many Eastern Catholic Rites have an open casket during the Mass.

We hope this is of some help to you.


     TIA correspondence desk


Blason de Charlemagne
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Posted May 30, 2018

The opinions expressed in this section - What People Are Commenting - do not necessarily express those of TIA

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