The death of a loved one is always a sad and difficult experience even when expected. It leaves a sense of shock and loss. While nothing can remove the pain of loss, the Catholic Funeral Rites have a clear message of hope by focusing on the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ.
In our parish we wish to be there in whatever way we can to support people who are bereaved.
The purpose of this resource is to give an overview of the Catholic Funeral Rites, the meaning of death for those who follow Christ and how we celebrate a funeral in our parish. We also include guidelines for funerals, selection of Scripture readings, sample prayers of the faithful, a liturgy worksheet and music suggestions.
The Funeral Rites.
The Christian funeral liturgy celebrates the Paschal Mystery of Christ. Those who in baptism have become one with the dead and risen Christ will pass with him from death to new life in the fellowship of the saints in heaven. They look forward in hope to his second coming and the bodily resurrection of the dead. The Church celebrates the Eucharistic sacrifice of Christ’s Passover for the dead, and offers prayers and petitions for them, offering spiritual help and consoling hope to the bereaved.
All the funeral rites signify the worshipping community’s belief in life, death and eternal life. The mood of the funeral liturgy, while acknowledging the sadness of the bereaved at the loss of a loved one, emphasises the Christian hope of resurrection. It celebrates the Paschal Mystery and the Christian belief in life everlasting through Word, Sacrament and music. It is a communal celebration of worship and should involve all those present. The funerals of Catholics take place in the Parish Church, the community’s home of worship. Congregational singing is encouraged and participation in the prayers in taken for granted.
What usually happens when somebody dies?
Once the family has contacted the funeral director, he/she will make the arrangements with us having first heard the family’s wishes etc. One of the priests will then make contact with the family to sympathise and pray with them if they so wish. He will also begin discussions about the Funeral Liturgy and give the family a copy of our booklet “Celebrating the Funeral Liturgy”. This includes a selection of Scripture readings, prayers and guidelines for planning the liturgy. He will also offer the services of our voluntary Parish Funeral Team. This team has been trained in the rites of the funeral to help families with preparations.
Stages on the Journey
Depending on the circumstances and the wishes of the family there can be a short prayer service for the family in the presence of the body of the deceased whether the wake takes place in a funeral home or family residence. More often than not this will include the Rosary. The Funeral Director will organise this.
Removal to the Church and Reception of the Body.
This normally takes place on the evening prior to the morning of the Funeral Mass. Occasionally, the family chooses to go straight to the Church for Mass, followed by the burial. In any case there is a prayer service which again can include the rosary prior to the removal.
When the funeral arrives at the gate of the Church the priest will lead a prayer and bless the coffin. He will then lead the funeral procession into the Church. When the coffin is placed before the altar, the funeral director will assist members of the family in placing the pall over the coffin. This is a large white unadorned cloth. It recalls the white baptismal garment, symbolises the dignity of the deceased person as a child of God and that in the eyes of God we are all equal in death. The Christian symbols of the Cross and Bible are also placed on the coffin at this time. This means that no flags or emblems are placed on the coffin while it is in the Church building. Family or organisations are welcome to place these emblems on the coffin on its way to the Church and again as it leaves the Church.
Personal mementoes may form part of the entrance procession and be placed on a table near the coffin. The family are also invited to provide a framed photo of the deceased which will also be placed on this table with a parchment “In loving Memory” under it. See booklet “Celebrating the Funeral Liturgy” for more details.
There follows a service of readings, prayers for the deceased, the bereaved and ending with a decade of the rosary for the happy repose of the deceased.
The Funeral Mass
The Funeral Mass is the central liturgical celebration which takes place in the Parish Church. The deceased is commended to God and interceded for through the celebration of the sacrifice of Christ. The one who has died and the mourners who have gathered are united in a special way with the death and resurrection of Jesus which is at the core of our faith and hope.
The readings for the Funeral Mass are always taken from Sacred Scripture. The Word of God announces Christian faith in the risen life: that we must face death, that Christ has conquered death and that His victory can become ours.
At the beginning of Mass, the family may (instead of doing so at the removal) bring forward personal mementoes of the deceased. (These should not conflict with the Christian symbols used in the liturgy). This may be the opportune time for a family member to say “a few words” to give context to the personal mementoes. This can have a thought provoking effect on the liturgy as it begins.
Order of Readings at Funeral Mass
- First Reading
- Responsorial Psalm (normally sung)
- Second Reading
- Gospel (Read by Priest)
- Homily (Short talk given by priest)
- Prayers of the Faithful (Please choose 4 – 6)
- Offertory Procession (Bread and Wine only)
During the liturgy we encourage those engaged in the music ministry to lead congregational singing with proper and appropriate Church music and hymns. Secular song/music has no place in the liturgy. If the family wish to have the favourite song or piece of music of the deceased, then the wake or the graveside are appropriate stages for this, not during the Church liturgy.
In recent times some controversy has been focussed on family eulogies at funerals in Church. Perhaps some of the reason being the popularity of soap operas on TV which often portray non Catholic Funeral Services which include a eulogy in Church. Traditionally these have taken place at the graveside which is the most appropriate stage as the prayers are then completed. It is worth remembering that the best man and the father of the bride do not give their speech during the Church Wedding Mass.
The priest will always include appropriate references to the life of your loved one as part of the homily if you let him know some of the things you would like said.
Funeral Liturgy outside Mass
While it is usual to have a Funeral Mass for a Catholic, allowance is made to have a liturgy when the Eucharist is not celebrated. The family may choose not to have a Mass, given the level of faith commitment by the family or the deceased. Some delicacy and tact are required here by the family, funeral director and the parish because while the mourners may not have strong Church ties, the deceased may well have been an active Catholic. The ideal solution is a form of service which is right for the majority of people especially the family.
The Rite of Committal takes place at the grave. It consists of prayers, blessings and a final farewell. A priest, deacon or member of the Funeral Team may lead this rite. It is the final entrusting of the deceased person to God. Appropriate music can be provided where possible and there is an opportunity to end the service with an address oration/eulogy/speech and favourite song of the family/deceased loved one.
In recent times cremation has become more common. It is preferred that it takes place after the full funeral liturgy with the body. The presence of the body most clearly brings to mind the life and death of the deceased. However, when this is not possible, the remains are treated with the same dignity and respect as the body during the rites. It is appropriate that the ashes be interred in consecrated ground.
Months Mind and First Anniversaries
The family contacts the sacristan to make the necessary arrangements. If a Mass in the parish schedule of Masses is not suitable for family travelling etc. it is possible to arrange a special evening Mass (outside of weekends) for a Month’s Mind. The sacristan will arrange this with the priest on your behalf.