Planning your Catholic Funeral

“… When a member of Christ’s Body dies, the faithful are called to a ministry of consolation to those who have suffered the loss of one whom they love… The Church calls each member of Christ’s Body – priest, deacon, and layperson – to participate in the ministry of consolation: to care for the dying, to pray for the dead, to comfort those who mourn….The community’s principal involvement in the ministry of consolation is expressed in its active participation in the celebration of the funeral rites, particularly the vigil for the deceased, the funeral liturgy, and the rite of committal. For this reason, these rites should be scheduled at times that permit as many of the community as possible to be present”.

Thus, the Funeral Liturgy of the Catholic Church is not the personal prayer of the deceased or of the family of the deceased. As with every Liturgy of the Church, the Funeral Liturgy is an official, public prayer of the Church. In the case of the Funeral Liturgy, it is the Church’s prayer for the immortal soul of the deceased and for the consolation of those loved ones left behind. The prayers, readings, intercessions, and musical selections should represent the “Prayer of the Church” and still be universal in nature.

In the celebration of the funeral rites, the laity may serve as readers, musicians, ushers, pallbearers, and, if they are already commissioned to do so, as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. The family is encouraged to assist the parish ministers in planning the funeral rites: in the choice of readings from the prescribed scriptural texts, the selection of music appropriate for the rites, and in the designation of liturgical ministers, such as servers and readers.

The Funeral Mass

The core of the Catholic funeral celebration is the Mass. The Eucharist is at the center of the Catholic faith – the celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Scripture readings and prayer also play a prominent role in the Catholic funeral service, along with songs, hymns, and a brief message. The Mass, the memorial of Christ’s death and resurrection, is the principal celebration of the Christian funeral. While following the directives of the Church’s ritual in planning the liturgical celebration, the choice of music, color of vestments, biblical readings, and homily should reflect the family’s wishes, while emphasizing the community aspect of faith as well, which remains unbroken in death.

Since the proper setting for Mass is a sacred place, Mass is not to be celebrated in a funeral home or similar facility. The body of the deceased should be present in church for the Funeral Mass or “Mass of Christian Burial.” The term “Mass of the Resurrection” is incorrect for the Funeral Mass.

Keeping in mind that liturgical roles are to be fulfilled only by Catholics, members of the family who are Catholic are encouraged to assume the role of readers and assist in the offertory procession. In accordance with the Church’s teaching, Holy Communion is not given to non-Catholics, but they may serve as pallbearers.

The casket remains closed during the Funeral Mass and should be covered with a white pall in remembrance of the baptismal garment. In addition to its liturgical significance, the pall serves as a reminder of all Christians’ equality before God. Apart from distinctions based on sacred orders and the honor due to civic dignitaries, no special honors are paid to any private person or classes of persons, whether in the ceremony or by external display.

Cremation

In recent years, Catholic funeral practices have been impacted by the increasing popularity of cremation as a means of providing for the final disposition of the body. As a result, a number of burial practices have been embraced by some Catholics which are not permitted according to the “Order of Christian Funerals.” In order to help in funeral planning and allow you to follow the teachings of the Catholic Church, please review the following principles regarding Cremation in the Catholic Church.

On March 21, 1997, the Holy See granted an indult to The Order of Christian Funerals, giving permission to the U.S. Latin-rite bishops to allow the celebration of the funeral liturgy in the presence of cremated remains. This practice was never intended to be viewed as an “equally” good alternative to the traditional funeral rites of the Church which entail the burial of the body intact. Permission to cremate and to celebrate the funeral liturgy in the presence of cremated remains was intended to be granted on a case-by-case basis. At St. Boniface Church, the pastor will determine what is appropriate in each given situation. Whenever a family chooses cremation over traditional burial, families should be made aware of the preference to honor the body before cremation.

On October 4, 1997, the appendix to The Order of Christian Funerals was published for use in the funeral rites involving the presence of the cremated remains. The Pastor and/or Deacon, for pastoral reasons, may permit the funeral liturgy to be celebrated in the presence of the cremated remains. However, the following should always be observed:

  • The remains should be placed in a worthy vessel.
  • The paschal candle should be placed in a prominent position as it is when the body is present for a funeral.
  • Explicit references to baptism must be omitted when blessing the cremated remains.
  • A white cloth should not be used to cover the cremated remains, as this mimics the practice of draping the funeral pall upon the body which clearly connects the body to baptism.
  • The cremated remains may be incensed out of respect for the deceased’s cremated body.
  • The cremated remains may be sprinkled with holy water.

When cremation of the body is chosen, the Church still prefers that the body be cremated after the Funeral, thus allowing for the presence of the body at the Funeral Mass. When circumstances require it, however, cremation and committal may take place even before the Funeral liturgy. As mentioned above, most of the usual rites which are celebrated in the presence of the body of the deceased may also be celebrated in the presence of the cremated remains. The primary symbols of the Roman Catholic Funeral Liturgy are retained even when the funeral liturgy is celebrated in the presence of the cremated remains. The cremains are placed on a table where the casket normally would be. Photographs and other mementos may be used at the vigil and cemetery, but are not appropriate at the Mass.

The cremated remains of the deceased must be given the same respect as a body is given during the Rite of Committal. A worthy vessel must carry the cremated remains of the deceased to the place of internment. The cremated remains should be buried in a grave or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium. The practice of scattering ashes over the sea, on the ground, or from the air is not permitted for Catholics and is not considered to be the reverent disposition of the cremated remains.

The cremated remains may be buried at sea as long as they are intact and placed in a worthy vessel that will carry the remains to the bottom of the sea bed. Burial of cremated remains at sea should observe all applicable Federal and State laws and regulations.

Catholics should never retain the cremated remains in their homes, places of work, or any other personal space. Neither should Catholics divide and share the cremated remains of the deceased. The Church requires that the cremated remains be buried or placed in a recognized area of reverence for the dead. If the final disposition of the cremated remains does not take place according to the teaching of the Church with reverence and in a sacred place, the remains will not be permitted to be brought into the Church for the Funeral Liturgy.

Readings

Readings are provided in The Order of Christian Funerals to give grieving families an opportunity to hear God speak to them in their fears and in their sorrows, offering hope in the midst of their pain. The biblical readings may never be replaced by non-biblical readings. The Word proclaimed is God’s way of speaking to us and can never be replaced by conventional wisdom or poetry.

If the family wishes to use additional readings that are not contained within The Order of Christian Funerals, they can do so at the conclusion of the Vigil for the Deceased, at the conclusion of the Rite of Committal, or during the funeral meal.

Two readings may be selected for use during the Funeral Liturgy. These readings are to be chosen from The Order of Christian Funerals. The first reading is taken from the Old Testament and the second is selected from the New Testament options. The responsorial psalm should always be sung. The psalm should never be replaced by a regular hymn which contains no psalmody. The Gospel may only be proclaimed by a priest or deacon. Only those priests or deacons in good standing, who have been granted faculties by the Diocese of Erie may celebrate, concelebrate, or preach at a funeral liturgy, unless a celebret is provided in advanced.

Petitions

The General Intercessions are to be taken from The Order of Christian Funerals.


"Go out to all the world
and proclaim the Good News"
Mark 16:15

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