The purpose of the Catholic Funeral Liturgy is to offer worship and thanksgiving to God, the author of all life; to pray for the deceased, and to offer support to the bereaved. The Church encourages us to celebrate the funeral in three main stages:
- • The Vigil of Prayer, usually the evening before the funeral;
- • The Funeral Liturgy, which may be a Mass or a Funeral Service;
- • The Committal at the cemetery or crematorium.
When it is not practical to celebrate all three stages the funeral may comprise a single act of worship either in a church, cemetery chapel or crematorium. The parish priest will help you consider what is best and practical for your particular circumstances. He will ensure the services are true to the tradition of the Church and appropriate to the one who has died, and those who gather to pray for them.
The Vigil of Prayer: This Vigil is the first stage of the farewell journey. Its mood is one of quiet support which helps to prepare the bereaved for the final leave-taking. It may be held in the home of the deceased person, in a funeral home or in the church. The body of the deceased may be present or not. The Vigil may be led a priest, but may also be led by others. It will include prayers and readings from scripture. It may include the Rosary, and appropriate liturgical songs and hymns.
The Funeral Liturgy: The Funeral Liturgy usually takes the form of the celebration of Mass, the highest form of prayer in which the Sacrifice of Christ himself is made present. In offering this Sacrifice, we commend to God the soul of the deceased in union with Christ himself. In some circumstances, it is suitable for the Funeral Liturgy to take the form of a Liturgy of the Word only. The family and friends of the deceased, if they feel able, can assist during the Funeral Liturgy in a variety of ways, for example:
- Placing on the coffin symbols of Christian faith, such as the pall (a large white cloth which reminds us of Baptism), a crucifix and an open bible.
- Placing a photograph of the deceased or mass cards on a table near the coffin.
- Reading the scripture passages or the intercessions.
- A member of the family or a friend may also speak briefly about the deceased.
The Funeral Liturgy usually takes place in a parish church but it may sometimes be appropriate to hold it in the chapel of a cemetery or crematorium.
The Committal: The final act of saying farewell takes place in a brief service at the graveside or at the crematorium. When a body is cremated it is encouraged that there be a further brief service, sometime later, for the burial of the ashes.
Some families have a special booklet produced that includes the liturgy or words of the Funeral Mass or service. This document shows the prayers and the order in which they are said to help you produce this booklet.