The Funeral Process
The Order of Christian Funerals is a three-part ritual, with Vigil (viewing), Funeral Mass and Rite of Committal (internment). It is strongly encouraged that the Funeral Rites be conducted in the presence of the body of the deceased. This practice is most in accord with the sacred principles and rituals of the Christian Faith. However, the Mass of Christian Burial may also be celebrated with the cremains present in the church. Care should be taken that the cremated remains of the deceased are accorded proper respect through interment in blessed cemetery ground, or in a mausoleum. Any scattering of the cremains is not permitted, because of the reverence due the bodies and remains of the bodies of those who have been baptized and have been temples of the Holy Spirit.
The Vigil for the Deceased
The Vigil is usually celebrated at the mortuary. The Funeral Minister will arrange for a deacon to be present and assist with a rosary or scripture service. The mortuary will be able to assist you with any special musical selections or photographic DVD memorials that you wish to play at the Vigil. The vigil service is the most appropriate time for a eulogy or reflection, sharing of stories, etc., as opposed to during the Funeral Mass. The deacon or priest will facilitate this at the family's request.
The vigil is often the first time family, friends and members of the parish community gather in remembrance of the deceased, for prayer and support. The vigil may be celebrated in the home of the deceased, in the funeral home, or in the church.
- During the wake, the Vigil for the Deceased is the principal rite celebrated by the Church in the time following death and before the Funeral Liturgy. The practice of scheduling a specific hour for the Vigil for the Deceased is encouraged in order for more of the faithful to participate in this liturgy. Devotions such as the rosary are permitted at other times during the wake.
- The Vigil for the Deceased may provide a chance to take part in the funeral rites for those unable to participate in the Funeral Mass or Rite of Committal.
- When no priest or deacon is available, it is permissible for a trained lay minister to be designated by the pastor to preside at the Vigil for the Deceased, providing the person has been formed in an understanding of the Order of Christian Funerals and is also skilled at leading public prayer.
- After the Prayer of Intercession or at some other suitable time during the Vigil, it is appropriate for a family member or a friend to speak in remembrance of the deceased (OCF #62).
- When the Vigil for the Deceased is celebrated in a church, a priest or deacon is to be vested in an alb and stole. A lay minister who presides wears lay clothing in accord with the dignity of the role.
- When a wake takes place in the church the Vigil for the Deceased with Reception at the Church (OCF #82) is to be celebrated.
- Particular groups may be invited to celebrate a prayer service for the deceased in addition to the Vigil for the Deceased or there may be distinct times of prayer within the wake. The Liturgy of the Hours, Office for the Dead, (OCF, Part IV) provides a form of a Vigil for the Deceased. Morning prayer from the Office might also be celebrated on the day of committal, following an evening Funeral Mass.
- The presence of a cantor or other music minister at the Vigil for the Deceased can be helpful in leading the people in prayer, particularly in the singing of the psalms and responses of the liturgy.
Words of Remembrance
The guidelines for a Catholic Funeral Mass provide for the opportunity for a member or friend of the family to speak in remembrance of the deceased at the Vigil or after the Committal. These words should not to constitute a eulogy as such but rather they are to express appreciation for the life of the deceased or take the form of a prayer or other inspirational text such as a poem. We invite one person only to speak as a representative of the family. Generally these words should be no longer than three to five minutes. Because of the intensity of emotions at the time of a Vigil the "words of remembrance" should be in written form. Those who wish to give a eulogy or to share a story about the deceased do so during the Vigil (Viewing/Wake) or even following the committal at the cemetery.
The Funeral Mass is traditionally celebrated in the morning. The parish church is the proper place for the Mass of Christian Burial. For the Funeral Mass, Christian symbols (cross, bible, scapular, etc.) may be placed on the casket at the beginning of the Funeral Mass. All secular items, like flags or medals of Honor are important, but not part of the Funeral Mass. These secular and important symbols are removed at the church door and a pall placed over the casket. This symbolizes our unity in Christ through our baptism. Christian symbols are only used within a church. Flowers may be placed in the church. Photos and other items are normally displayed in the baptismal fount area with the Book of Remembrance. A small table can be placed in the front of the altar for the cremains. Some families choose to have a picture and or flowers on the table with the urn.
In the dioceses of the United States, the principal rituals in the Order of Christian Funerals are the Vigil for the Deceased, the Funeral Mass, and the Rite of Committal. The Funeral Mass is the central liturgy of the Christian funeral in the Diocese of Phoenix.
- The Eucharist is the heart of the Paschal reality of Christian death (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1689). In the celebration of the Eucharist, the Church most perfectly expresses her communion with those who have died. The celebration of the Eucharist at the funeral is an opportunity for the community of the faithful, and for the family, to “learn to live in communion with the one who has ‘fallen asleep in the Lord,’ by communicating the Body of Christ of which he is a living member and, then, by praying for him and with him” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1689)
- The Introductory Rites of the Funeral Mass presume a greeting of the mourners who accompany the body to the doors of the church. They are greeted by the priest and liturgical ministers, and other persons who have gathered at the church to await the procession from the funeral home or family home. The ritual plan for a parish must take into account the structure of the liturgy, the size of the assembly and the architecture of the church.
- It is not ordinarily permitted to seat the family members who accompany the body before the body is presented for blessing. Funeral Coordinators are called upon to develop, in collaboration with funeral directors, policies which result in seating on both sides of the church and towards the front of the assembly area.
The Funeral Liturgy Outside the Mass
It is the custom in the United States for a priest or deacon to preside at the funeral liturgy when it is celebrated outside of Mass.
- The Funeral Liturgy outside Mass (OCF #177-203) is celebrated when a Mass is not possible or not deemed appropriate. It is ordinarily celebrated in the parish church, but it may also be celebrated in the funeral home, the home of the deceased or cemetery chapel (OCF #179). The pastoral advice of the parish priest is essential in determining what is appropriate.
- The family may choose to celebrate a funeral outside of Mass, and schedule a memorial Mass at a later date, when it is determined in consultation with the parish priest that this form of the funeral liturgy is a more suitable form of celebration.
- When the funeral liturgy is celebrated outside Mass, the community nonetheless gathers to hear the message of Easter hope proclaimed in the liturgy of the word and to commend the deceased to God.
- The readings are chosen from those approved for Masses for the Dead.
- Although the Order of Christian Funerals includes the possibility of Holy Communion in this form of the liturgy, this practice is discouraged in the Diocese of Phoenix.
- Music is an essential element of this form of celebration, which includes the entrance or gathering song, the responsorial psalm, the gospel acclamation, and especially the song of farewell at the final commendation.
At the cemetery, the Rite of Committal is celebrated, ending the three-part liturgy. A priest or deacon will accompany you to the cemetery for the Committal Service.
The Rite of Committal is celebrated at the place of burial or interment and never in the church.
- The Rite of Committal, whether at an interment chapel, at a mausoleum or at a graveside, is a gathering of the faithful for prayer.
- Military services and certain cultural or social rites are permissible at the cemetery. These other services should be arranged in advance with the local parish priest and coordinated in such a way that they do not disrupt or distract from the integrity of the liturgical committal service. Funeral directors are called upon to assist in the coordination of these elements, and to safeguard the integrity of the Church’s liturgy at the Rite of Committal.
- If a lengthy time has passed since the celebration of the Funeral Liturgy, or if the funeral has been conducted overseas or in a distant state, the Rite of Committal with Final Commendation (OCF #224-233) may be more appropriate.