The Catholic Funeral Rite
The Catholic Funeral Rite comprised of three sections – the Wake (Vigil), Funeral Mass, and Committal (Burial) – celebrates the mystery of our life, death and resurrection in Christ. Through Baptism we enter into this mystery. We live our lives in the hope of sharing eternal life with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit when we complete our passage through death.
“In the face of death, the Church confidently proclaims that God has created each person for eternal life and that Jesus, the Son of God, by His death and resurrection has broken the chains of death and redeemed us in His saving love for all eternity. It is this hope and belief that defines our lives as believers in Jesus’ life over death. Christians celebrate the funeral rites to offer worship, praise, and thanksgiving to God, the author of life and the hope of the just.” Catholic Ritual for Funerals
The Wake: A Vigil for the Deceased
The vigil is celebrated between the time of death and the funeral liturgy, often on the day before or evening before the funeral Mass. It provides an opportunity for family and friends to gather the evening before the Funeral Mass to remember and pray. The vigil for the deceased is the first of the three major rites celebrated by the Christian community. Some form of communal prayer accompanies this time of remembrance, usually a Rosary or Liturgy of the Word. The vigil may take place in the home of the deceased, at the funeral home, or in the church. A priest, deacon, or under the direction of your pastor, a layperson may preside at this liturgy.
The Funeral Mass
The funeral Mass is normally celebrated the evening before, or on the day of burial/committal and takes place in the parish church. The 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. We pray for the soul of the deceased and commend our loved one to the Mercy of God.
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 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 Word. The homily is based on the readings and focuses on the paschal mystery 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 this mystery.
The final commendation immediately follows the prayer after Communion. At this time the deceased is entrusted to God’s tender care. While an extended time of sharing and remembrance is most appropriate for the vigil, if desired, one family member or friend may offer a brief prepared eulogy with the permission of the pastor. The song of farewell is the climax of the rite of final commendation. This song, affirms our hope and trust in the paschal mystery. The body may be incensed 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. A priest is the celebrant of a funeral Mass and he may be assisted by other priests and deacons.
Rite of Committal (Burial)
The funeral rites conclude with the rite of committal 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. A priest, deacon, or lay person may preside at this service. Though brief, the rite of committal assists the bereaved at this most difficult time. This rite includes a short Scriptural verse, the prayer 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.
This information is based on a brochure from the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions and the Archdiocese of Louisville Office of Worship. © 2006 FDLC Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions, 415 Michigan Avenue, NE, Suite 70, Washington, D.C. 20017. www.fdlc.org; firstname.lastname@example.org; fax 202-529-2452; voice 202-635-6990. The text has been modified, with permission, to be in accord with the practices and policies of the Diocese of Peoria.