The Catholic funeral rite is a time-honored tradition that allows the Catholic community to gather in support of the bereaved and to commend dear departed loved ones into God’s loving and merciful hands. A Catholic funeral rite is divided into three parts, each with its own purpose: vigil, funeral liturgy, and rite of committal. By following the complete structure, the bereaved family is strengthened in faith, hope, and love through the funeral ritual.
Love: Vigil Service (Wake or Rosary)
The vigil is a prayer service usually held the evening before the funeral and may include a rosary. The Order of Christian Funerals (no. 56) states, “At the vigil, the Christian community keeps watch with the family in prayer to the God of mercy and finds strength in Christ’s presence.” This is a special time for the bereaved family to receive love and support from their Christian brothers and sisters and to share stories as they honor and remember a unique life.
At the vigil, much like a viewing or a wake, family and friends gather in the home of the deceased, in the funeral home, or in the Church to pray and remember the deceased and commend them to God. In prayer, they ask God to console them in their grief and give them strength to support one another. The vigil is the most appropriate time for family and friends to share stories, eulogies, and memories.
Faith: Funeral Liturgy
The funeral liturgy is the central expression of faith for the Catholic community after the loss of a loved one. It may be celebrated at a Requiem Mass, or when Mass cannot be celebrated, a funeral liturgy outside Mass can be celebrated at the Church or in the funeral home. The funeral liturgy is an act of worship in which the family and friends of the deceased gather with the Church to give praise and thanks to God. Through prayer and petition, the focus is placed on Christ’s victory over sin and death as a loved one is commended into God’s tender mercy and compassion.
Hope: Rite of Committal (Burial or Interment)
The Rite of Committal is the conclusion of the funeral rite. The Church prefers that burial take place on consecrated ground. In committing the body to its resting place, the community expresses hope that the deceased awaits the glory of the resurrection. The Rite of Committal is an expression of the communion that exists between the Church on earth and the Church in heaven: the deceased passes with the farewell prayers of the community of believers into the welcoming company of those who need faith no longer, but see God face to face.
These three actions come together to create the Catholic Funeral Rite, which has brought comfort to Catholics for centuries. But if you are unfamiliar with the Catholic Rite, you may have additional questions. Let’s talk through a few of the most common ones.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Church’s stance on cremation?
While burial remains the more typical and preferred practice, it is no longer uncommon for Catholics to choose cremation. The Church teaches that the body should be cared for with great respect and dignity, both as God’s creation and as former temples of the Holy Spirit and as an expression of our hope in the risen life to come.
The Order of Christian Funerals offers three options with the cremated body:
- Have the cremation follow the funeral service, with a disposition of the cremated body through burial in a cemetery
- Gather for the committal of the cremated remains at the cemetery first, followed by a funeral liturgy at the church
- With direct or immediate cremation, a funeral liturgy at the church may follow with burial of the remains at an appropriate time
The practice of scattering the cremated body is not encouraged, nor is dividing the cremated body or keeping the urn at the home of a relative or friend, although burial at sea in an urn is acceptable.
What happens at the vigil service?
The vigil often takes place at the Church, in the funeral home, or at the home of the family. Generally, a priest or deacon will preside, but a layperson may also preside. The primary purpose of the vigil is to provide mourners with an opportunity to pray, offer support and condolences to the family, and to hear or give tributes and eulogies.
What should I expect at a Requiem Mass?
A few things differentiate a Requiem Mass (Funeral Mass) from a regular Catholic Mass. These differences include:
- The casket of the deceased will be received by the priest at the front door. He will sprinkle the casket with holy water and cover it with a pall. Then, he will lead the procession to place the casket on the catafalque (funerary platform).
- The liturgy often includes passages from the Old Testament, read by the priest, family, or friends.
- The priest often reads a psalm, a passage from the Gospels, and delivers a homily/eulogy.
- Some, but not all, Catholic funerals include a Final Commendation, which is an additional eulogy after Holy Communion has been offered.
- At the conclusion of the Requiem Mass, the casket is sprinkled with holy water once again before it is carried from the Church.
How long does a Requiem Mass last?
Anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour, depending on whether it is a full Mass or not.
What is the dress code and funeral etiquette for a Catholic funeral?
At a Catholic funeral, the mood will be formal and somber. It is appropriate to wear dark-colored clothing, such as black, charcoal, or gray. Wear something modest, though not casual. Jeans, hoodies, t-shirts, sportswear, and casual footwear are not recommended.
While prayers are being recited, you can stay seated with your head bowed. There will be parts of the Mass that require you to alternate between standing and kneeling. If you are unable to kneel, that’s fine, but try to at least stand.
If you are not Catholic, do not to take part in Holy Communion. You can follow the procession to receive a blessing from the priest, if you wish, but it is not required. For more funeral etiquette suggestions, click here.
Can I personalize a Catholic funeral?
Absolutely! In fact, personalization is encouraged as long it does not interfere with the Church rites that must be completed. You can speak with both a funeral director and the priest to determine if your personalization plans are appropriate.
Hopefully, you have a better understanding of the beauty and rich tradition behind the Catholic Funeral Rite. However, if you have more questions, speak to a trusted local funeral director. They can answer any additional questions that may be on your mind.