Catholic Funeral Rites
By Amy Sue Miller-Beckner
“In Life we Seek God, In Death we find God, In Eternity we Possess God”
St. Francis de Sales
Catholic Funeral Rites “At the funeral liturgy, the community gathers with the family and friends of the deceased to give praise and thanks to God for Christ’s victory over sin and death, to commend the deceased to God’s tender mercy and compassion, and to seek strength in the proclamation of the paschal mystery. Through the Holy Spirit, the community is joined together in faith as one Body in Christ to reaffirm in sign and symbol, word and gesture, that each believer through baptism shares in Christ’s death and resurrection and can look to the day when all the elect will be raised up and united in the kingdom of light and peace.”
WHAT TO DO WHEN THERE IS A DEATH IN THE FAMILY.
Step 1-Before Death
Call your Priest so he can offer the Sacrament of the Sick to the dying family member, and answer any other questions that the family members might have about death and burial in the Catholic Church.
Discuss your dying family member’s wishes, taking into consideration what is best for them and their loved ones. What kind of Funeral and burial do they want? Where will they gather in years to come to celebrate the loved one’s life? If the person expresses a desire to be cremated, pursue their motivation. Funeral industry research shows that people often request cremation in order to save their loved ones the grief of seeing them in death. In fact, a final encounter with the loved one is extremely important to family and friends. The lack of during the vigil, funeral and burial often makes the reality of death more difficult to accept for those who have been left behind.
Call your Funeral Director and let them guide and help you, determine necessary information that will be required once the death has occurred.
“If pastoral and personal considerations allow, the period before death may be an appropriate time to plan the funeral rites with the family and even with the family member who is dying. Although planning the funeral before death should be approached with sensitivity and care, it can have the effect of helping the one who is dying and the family faces the reality of death with Christian hope. It can also help relieve the family of numerous details after the death and may allow them to benefit more fully from the celebration of the funeral rites.”
—Order of Christian Funerals (OOCF), #17
Step 2-At Death
Call your Priest, he can pray for you and help to comfort you in the next few sorrowful days.
Call your Funeral Director to arrange for your loved one to be transferred to the Funeral Home, and schedule a time for you to come to the funeral home and finalize the necessary arrangements, obtaining vital statistical information for the death certificate, help with the planning and the scheduling of the
Visitation and Vigil, the Mass of Christian Burial or a Memorial Mass, speaking to the cemetery and/or crematory, assisting with placing an Obituary, giving guidance on ordering flowers, as well as numerous other details that must be seen to. Financial Options will be presented at this time, as well as method of payment that will be used.
Call the Parish to schedule an appointment to plan the Mass, the
readings, responses, gift bearers, and songs, some parishes provide
receptions after the burial or Mass for the family and this would also be
discussed, if this is one of the options.
Call the Cemetery, If Burial or Entombment is selected they will help the family to finalize the necessary paperwork that is required as well as purchases, which could be but not limited to a mausoleum crypt, burial space, burial vault, preparation of the site for the service and the marker for the grave or crypt.
Step 3 — The Visitation/Vigil/Rosary Service
The Visitation/Vigil is held either at the funeral home, or in the parish church. The Church provides a liturgy of the Word for the comfort of family and friends. The vigil is a time to pray for the soul of the faithful departed and all the other souls of family members. It is a time to remember the life of the deceased and comfort the living. Depending on the family’s wishes, the time frame may vary, it can be held for one or possibly two days, it is not uncommon in some regions to have a Rosary Service lead by a priest, deacon, nun, family member or friend. If no vigil is wanted the visitation is normally always done at the funeral home and is strictly a time for family and friends to gather.
Step 4 — the Funeral
“The Catholic Church strongly prefers that the body of the deceased be present for its funeral rites since the presence of the body most clearly brings to mind the life and death of the person…The body which lies in death naturally recalls the personal story of faith, the loving family bonds, the friendships, and the words and acts of kindness of the deceased person. Indeed, the human body is inextricably associated with the human person, which acts and is experienced by others through that body.”
—OOCF, “Reflections on the Body,
Cremation and Catholic Funeral Rites” and #411
The Mass of Christian Burial with the presence of the deceased in the church provides the full meaning of the Eucharistic sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Here, the family is reminded that this loved one who was baptized in Christ, and nourished at the altar, still lives on, and shares in the hope of the Resurrection of the body.
The Church asks that any eulogies for the deceased take place after the Mass is ended, before the final blessing.
The Memorial Mass for the Dead takes place without the presence of the body. A Memorial service of prayers is another option with the liturgy of the Word, although the Church most highly encourages the Eucharistic celebration to pray for the dead and comfort the mourners.
Step 5 — the Burial
The Church asks that the burial of the body take place after the Funeral, preferably in the sacred ground. At the graveside, the priest or deacon leads a service of prayers, blessing the grave and praying for the soul of the deceased and all the other souls buried in the cemetery. Because the Church recognizes the great dignity of the human body, she asks that cremated remains never be scattered, but buried in the sacred ground of a cemetery. This is in keeping with the sanctity of the body and provides a place for the family to gather in prayer.
Step 6 — Remembrance
The weeks and months following a death in the family are numbing and difficult. Prayer and participation in the life of the Church can provide comfort and a way of continuing the relationship with the deceased family member. Visits to the cemetery also provide comfort and an ongoing assurance of the Church’s hope in the resurrection of the dead. Catholics often have masses for the souls of the faithful departed. Many also participate in special prayer services and Masses such as Good Friday Stations of the Cross, Memorial Day, and the Commemorations of Our Lady of Sorrows and All Souls. Every day, family members experience the peace and comfort that comes from visiting the ground set aside and made sacred, the resting place of their loved ones.
Cremation and Catholics Today
Many Catholics have questions about the Church’s teachings on the growing practice of cremation. This is understandable since before 1963, the Church insisted that Catholics follow only the manner of Christ’s burial by either entombing or burying the body. Even today, the Church acknowledges that “cremation does not hold the same value” as this traditional way of allowing the body to go gently back into the earth (Order of Christian Funerals, Cremation Appendix, p. 14).
The revised Code of Canon Law of 1983 helps Catholics understand that the 1963 lifting of the prohibition forbidding Catholics to cremate their deceased loved one’s remains was never intended as an endorsement: “The Church earnestly recommends the pious custom of burying the bodies of the dead be observed, it does not however, forbid cremation unless it has been chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching” (Canon 1176). The Church now allows for cremation of the body, providing that family members making that decision are not doing so because they fear the body is lost forever and has no future together in Christ with the immortal soul.
The Process of Cremation quickly reduces the body to about four to ten pounds of bone fragments. The Church requires that these remains of the body be placed in a respectful vessel and treated in the exact same way that a family would treat a body in a casket.
Since the human body has an eternal destiny in any form, the Church requires that cremated remains of a body be buried or entombed immediately after the Funeral in the same timely manner as a body. Cremated remains of a loved one are not to be scattered, kept at home or divided into other vessels among family members, just as it is clear that these practices would desecrate a body in a casket. The Church allows for burial at sea, providing that the cremated remains of the body are buried in a heavy container and not scattered.
All of these teachings on the treatment of cremated remains of the body correspond with the Christian’s foundational belief in eternal life—both body and soul—in Jesus Christ among the Communion of Saints.