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Catholic Practices


Catholic Church Funeral Guidelines

1.  Vigil for the Deceased otherwise known as a Wake. The vigil for the deceased is the official prayer of the church for the deceased and the first of three major rites celebrated by the Christian community. The Vigil service is never omitted.

  • The vigil is celebrated between the time of death and the funeral liturgy, often on the day before or evening before the funeral Mass
  • The vigil may take place in the home of the deceased, at the funeral home or in the church.
  • A priest, deacon, or layperson may preside at this liturgy.
  • The vigil take the form of the liturgy of the word. It centers on readings from sacred Scripture, songs, psalms, and intercessory prayer. A brief homily/reflection by the presider is also included. The vigil service is the preferred time for family and friends to offer stories, reflections, and euolgies of the life of the deceased. Devotional prayers, such as the rosary, may not replace the vigil service.

2.  Funeral Mass is the central liturgical celebration for the deceased. The Christian community reaffirms in sign and symbol, word, and gesture that through baptism we share in Christ's death and resurrection, and look forward to the day when we will be raised up and united in the kingdom of light and peace.

  • The Funeral Mass is normally celebrated the evening before, or on the day of burial/committal.
  • The Funeral Mass takes place in the parish church.
  • A Priest is the presider for a funeral mass.
  • The funeral Mass begins at the entrance of the church. The priest and the gathered assembly receive the body of the deceased. The coffin is sprinkled with holy water and the pall is placed upon it by family or friends of the deceased to recall the deceased's baptism. The body is carried in the procession toward the altar and placed near the paschal candle. When the coffin is in place, other Christian symbols, such as the Book of Gospels or cross may be placed on the coffin. Mass continues as the community celebrates the Liturgy of the World. The homily is based on the readings and focuses on the paschal myster and God's love. The assembly prays for the deceased and the bereaved in the intercessions. The Liturgy of the Eucharist is celebrated as usual. In word and sacrament, we celebrate Christ's death and resurrection and reaffirm our share in the mystery.
  • The Final commendation immediately follows the prayer after Communion. At this time the deceased is entrusted to God's tender care. While and extended time of remembrance is most appropriate for the vigil, if desired, one family member or friend may offer a brief prepared eulogy before the final commendation begins. The song of farewell is the climax of the rite of final commendation. This song, sung by the assembly, has a secific funciton, to affirm hope and trust in the paschal mystery. The body may be ince3nsed during or following the song of farewell. The prayer of commendation concludes the rite. The procession is formed and the body is carried to the place of burial/committal.

3.  The funeral rites conclude with the rite of committal.

  • The burial/committal takes place as soon as possible after the funeral Mass.
  • The rite of committal takes place beside the open grave or place of interment. If this is not possible, it may take place at a cemetery chapel.
  • Through belief, the rite of committal assists the bereaved at this most difficult time. This rite includes a short Verse, the pray of committal, intercessions, Lord's prayer, and a blessing. The lowering of the body into the grave or placement in the tomb or crematorium may take place following the prayer of committal or at the conclusion of the rite. A song affirming hope in the resurrection may conclude this rite. Those who wish may offer some gesture of leave-taking at this time.

4.  Optional Rites; Though secondary, these rites are helpful in accompanying the mourners at times of the transition and through the various stages of facing the reality of death.

5.  Cremation; The Catholic Church permits cremation unless it is evident that cremation was chosen for anti-Christian motives. When cremation is chosen one of the following options is chosen:

  • Cremation after the funeral liturgy, even when the cremation is chosen, the Church recommends that the body of the deceased be present for funeral rites. The presence of the human body better express the values that the Church affirms in the funeral rites. When cremation follows the liturgy, the funeral liturgy and other rites are celebrated as described above.
  • Funeral Liturgy in the presence of Cremated Remains; the Holy see authorized the bishops of the United States to allow the celebration of a funeral liturgy in the presence of the cremated remains of the body. Prior to the funeral Mass or as a part of the entrance procession of the Mass, a worthy vessel, containing the cremated remains, is carried with reverence into the church. The cremated remains are placed on a suitable stand or table in the place normally occupied by the coffin. The funeral Mass begins with the sprinkling of holy water, however, a pall is not placed over the cremated remains. The funeral Mass is celebrated as described above. Following the payer after Communion, the rite of final commendation takes place as usual.   

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