Funerals in the Catholic Church
In the course of life, probably the hardest thing is to face the death of a loved one. Jesus himself shared in this grief - the scriptures tell us that he wept at the death of his friend, Lazarus. But Jesus, by his own death and resurrection, has promised us something more - that in death life is changed, not ended, and as we leave the body of our earthly dwelling behind, we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven.
Throughout human history, people have celebrated funeral rites, to bid farewell to a loved one. In the Church, we do the same, but with the difference that we believe in the hope of eternal life in Christ, and this flows through all our celebrations.
The time after a death can be devastating and difficult. The Church is here to help. Please get in touch with a priest as soon as you can, not just to plan the funeral, but so that we can bring the light of Christ to this time of testing and pain.
- Reception of the Body into Church (Vigil Service)
- Funeral Mass in Church (with committal at a Cemetery or Crematorium)
- Funeral Service in Church (with committal at a Cemetery or Crematorium)
Others are celebrated in the place of Commital
- Funeral Service in a Cemetery Chapel followed by Committal
- Funeral Service at a Crematorium Chapel with Committal
After a Cremation there is also the possibility of a brief Service for the Burial of Ashes.
It is always possible to discuss your own requirements with the priest, who may be able to offer more advice.
All these services feature the proclamation of the Word of God (Bible Readings), of which a large selection is made available by the Church. Families may wish to spend some time looking at possible Scripture passages.
The Purpose of a Funeral Mass
In the Catholic Church, a Funeral Mass serves several purposes. The Church offers prayers for the soul of the one who has died, asking God to open the gates of paradise to them, and to grant them forgiveness for any sins they may have committed. In offering these prayers as part of the Mass, we make them part of the offering Jesus made to God his Father on the cross, and we come into His presence. The Funeral Mass, while primarily offered for the benefit of the deceased, is also for the benefit of the bereaved. The Scriptural Readings and the priests homily are to strengthen the faith of the mourners, helping them to believe in Gods promises; by this they can offer comfort in a difficult time. While praying for the deceased and comforting the bereaved, the Funeral Mass also offers people the opportunity to say farewell to a loved onea difficult thing, since no one ever welcomes this farewell. For this reason, as well as the family and close friends, other friends and acquaintances, as well as members of the Parish, will attend a Funeral Mass to show their respect, offer their condolences and join in the prayers. A Funeral Mass is focussed on two things: the one who has died and the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christhis death and resurrection. We will remember the deceased as a member of the family of the Church, who received eternal life when they were baptised, as well as remembering them as part of their own family and circle of friends. This page describes some of the main elements of the Catholic Funeral Mass, and some of the choices that are available to families.
Key Elements in the Funeral Mass
Welcome of the Deceased: At the beginning of the Funeral Mass, we welcome the body of the one who has died into the Church. The priest will greet the coffin and the mourners at the door of the Church, and bless it with holy water. This harks back to the very first time the deceased entered Churchon the day of their baptism. On arriving in Church, we vest or dress the coffin with symbols of the Catholic Faith, to acknowledge that this person was a member of the Church. First the coffin is draped with the Funeral Pall, an embroidered white cloth which is placed on the coffin in memory of the white garments worn at baptism. Family members sometimes help to place the Funeral Pall. Then the Book of Gospels and the Cross are placed on the coffin with appropriate prayers. Finally the Easter Candle is placed near the coffin, as a sign of the light of Christ shining on our beloved brother or sister who has died.
Celebration of the Eucharist and Holy Communion: After the Liturgy of the Word, we move to the altar, to remember the Last Supper of Jesus. We offer gifts of bread and wine, which the priest will pray over, just as Jesus did with his disciples. The Catholic Church believes that Jesus really gave his Body and Blood to his disciples, and the he does the same thing today. When the priest uses his words This is my Body, this is my Blood, the bread changes into the Body of Christ and the wine changes into His precious Blood. We always treat these with the utmost reverence, and ask that others, even if not of our faith, show similar respect. This is the real presence of Jesus, Son of God, who comes to be with us in this moment of grief and mourning. His gift of his Body and Blood are shared in Holy Communion: we believe that sharing in communion is a sign of our unity in the Churchfor this reason we do not believe that we can share communion yet with members of different Churches. Nevertheless, non-Catholics will be invited to receive a blessing at the time of Holy Communion if they wish.
Remembrance of the Deceased: After communion, and before the
Final Farewell, there is a moment when someone may speak briefly in memory of
the deceased. This should be a short reflection, which helps everyone in Church
to offer their prayers and thoughts for the one who has died, and their family.
It may take the form of memories of that persons life or perhaps a prayer or
poem that means a lot to the family. Whatever is read, it should obviously be
suitable for use in Church and as part of the
Commendation and Farewell: After this the Church says
farewell to the deceased, using the symbols of Holy Water and Incense: Holy
Water remembers baptism once more; incense is burned in Church for those things
which are most special and sacred, and incensing the coffin honours the body of
the one who has died. The priest will then offer the Prayer of Commendation,
which asks to God to welcome our departed brother or sister into
Hymns and other Music: Sacred music is important in our celebrations in the Catholic Church, since it adds solemnity and a sense of celebration to our rites. It will be normal to have some singing at a Funeral Mass, and the bereaved will be consulted about the choice of hymns for the Funeral. It should be noted, however, that we only use religious texts and hymns in Churchsecular music does not have a place in the Mass, and should be used at some other occasion.
Your Involvement in the Funeral Mass
Every mourner will be involved in the Funeral Mass by
their presence and their prayers, and by their listening to the words that are
proclaimed and spoken during the
Carrying the Coffin: Occasionally family members will wish to share this task. It should be arranged with the Funeral Director
Placing of the Pall: On arriving in Church, family members may assist the priest in placing the Funeral Pall on the coffin: up to four people may be involved with this.
Presenting the Gifts: If there are younger members of the family who wish to be involved at a Funeral Mass, you may feel it is suitable for them to bring up the gifts of bread and wine to the priest at the appropriate moment.
Remembrance of the Deceased: After communion someone may wish to speak in memory of the deceased. This should always be discussed with the priest who will preside at the Funeral Mass. It may be that you (or another member of your family) would like to say something, but feel unable to stand up in Church and do so; in this case, please feel free to write your words down, so that the priest can read them on your behalf. If you require help in writing something, the priest will be glad to assist you in this.
Those who have gone ahead of us...
In Church we have a Book of the Names of the Dead, which contains the names of those whom members of the Parish wish us to remember and pray for. They include family members, friends and fellow parishioners. You can download a copy of the Book here, and you may wish to keep it somewhere on your computer to say a daily prayer for those whose names are listed for that day.