Guide to Catholic Funerals
The celebration of the Christian funeral brings hope and consolation to the living. While proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ and witnessing to Christian hope in the resurrection, the funeral rites also recall to all who take part in them God’s mercy and judgment and meet the human need to turn always to God in times of crisis.
Christians celebrate funeral rites to offer worship and thanksgiving to God, the author of all life. We pray for the deceased, and support the bereaved.
The model for Catholic funerals is the Easter journey of Jesus Christ from his death to his resurrection. Following his example, we are encouraged to celebrate the funeral in three stages: Vigil, Funeral Mass and Rite of Committal.
Vigil for the Deceased
The Vigil is often the time when family, friends and members of the parish community gather for prayer and support in remembrance of their loved one. The Vigil may be celebrated in the home of the deceased, in the funeral home, or in the church.
The Funeral Mass is the central liturgy of the Christian funeral. The Funeral Mass, at which a priest presides, takes place in the parish church, normally on the day of the burial. The Eucharist, for Catholics, is part of the Mass.
The Funeral Liturgy Outside Mass
The Funeral Liturgy Outside Mass is celebrated when a Mass is not possible or not deemed appropriate. It is ordinarily celebrated in the parish church, funeral home, home of the deceased or cemetery chapel. Pastoral advice from the parish ministers is essential in determining what is appropriate.
Rite of Committal
The Rite of Committal is the final act of the community of faith in caring for the body of its deceased member. It is celebrated at the graveside, mausoleum or cemetery chapel, by a priest, deacon or lay person.
Every Catholic, unless specifically excluded by the norms of law, is entitled to the Church’s ministry at the time of death.
The parish should be the first call to check availability for scheduling. Arrangements will be made for the Vigil, the Funeral Mass and the Rite of Committal through the parish.
When the liturgy takes place in the church, only Christian symbols may rest on or be placed near the casket during the funeral liturgy. National flags or insignia of associations are to be removed from the casket at the entrance of the Church. They may be replaced after the casket has been taken from the church (OCF #38 and #132)
To foster and respect family bonds, non-Catholic members of Catholic families may be interred in a Catholic cemetery.
The Church encourages the burial of Catholics in Catholic cemeteries. Burial in the blessed ground of a Catholic cemetery is a sign of baptismal commitment and gives witness, even in death, to faith in Christ’s resurrection.
A child who dies before baptism, or a stillborn or miscarried child may be given Catholic Funeral Rites if the parents intended to have the child baptized.
Additionally, The funeral rites may be celebrated when the deceased committed suicide.
Words of Remembrance
The Funeral Rites provide the opportunity to share remembrances of the deceased. There is a leaflet available for speakers as they prepare words of remembrance. Words should be brief, less than 5 minutes, written and reviewed by the presider beforehand. At the Funeral Mass there should be not more than two speakers. The contents of the remembrances should focus on the loved one’s faith & hope in Jesus Christ.
Selection of Readings
Parish Bereavement Ministers have resources available that can help families select appropriate Catholic Bible passages. The Gospel reading is selected by the presider. Those selected to read should feel comfortable with public speaking and be approved by the presider.
It is preferred that the Funeral Mass or the Funeral Liturgy outside Mass be celebrated in the presence of the body of the deceased prior to its cremation.
If cremation has already taken place before the Funeral Liturgy, the Pastor may permit the celebration of the Funeral Liturgy in the presence of the cremated remains. The Pall is not placed on the ossuary or vessel with the cremated remains.
Cremated remains should be treated with the same respect given to the remains of a human body, and should be entombed or buried, whether in the ground or at sea. The scattering of cremated remains on the ground or on the sea or keeping any portion of the remains in individual containers as remembrances is not the reverent final disposition that the Church directs. It should be noted that burial at sea of cremated remains differs from scattering. An appropriate and worthy container, heavy enough to be sent to its final resting place, may be dropped into the sea.
Parish Bereavement Ministers can assist families in selecting music for the Funeral services.
Since sung music within the funeral rites is ‘sung prayer,’ secular music (live or recorded) is not appropriate during funeral liturgies and not to be used.
An instrumentalist, a cantor, and even a choir where possible, should assist the full participation of the assembly in the songs, responses, and acclamations of the funeral Rites.
The choice of music for Christian funerals must be in accord with all the recommendations governing music in liturgy, especially those found in the Order for Christian Funerals as well as the documents of the Conference of Bishops.
Music is preeminent among the signs expressed by the participants in any liturgy. Therefore, recorded music is not to be used within the liturgy to replace the congregation, the choir, the organist, cantor, or other musicians.
The request for “favorite songs” of the deceased often result in inappropriate performances of music incapable of bearing the weight liturgy demands. Popular songs, sentimental ethnic music, or songs from Broadway hits are never to substitute for the
music of the funeral liturgy. These songs are more appropriate at the vigil or committal.
Diocese of Orange Liturgical Commission
Garden Grove, CA
Excerpts from English translation of the
Order of Christian Funerals, 1985.