When someone we love dies,
there are many things to arrange,
and the most important is the person’s funeral.
For Catholics, a Requiem Mass is offered
as the best way of showing our continued love for the deceased.
On rare occasions a simple Funeral Service
may be more appropriate and a rite is provided for this.
What does the Church teach about death?
Death is a consequence of Original Sin –
if we ourselves had not sinned
then our bodies would go straight to Heaven
as Our Lord’s did in the Ascension,
and Our Lady’s at the Assumption.
However, since Christ has conquered death on the Cross,
our sorrow is tempered by hope in the Resurrection.
It is true that our sins have been forgiven
in Baptism and Confession.
Though the temporal consequence of our sins may still remain.
This is why our good Lord in His providence allows us
to pass through the cleansing fire of Purgatory.
This heavenly gift enables us
to enter fully into the presence of God
who is Love.
We ourselves can help the Faithful Departed
on their journey by our prayers.
The greatest prayer being the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
A Mass for the dead is called a Requiem –
meaning a Mass offered that they may rest in peace.
Catholic funerals are carried out according to the
Order of Christian Funerals (1989),
the only canonically approved liturgical rite in the English language
(rites approved by the Church).
A Catholic funeral holds two distinct purposes:
to honour the dead and care for those who are grieving.
This care is focused on remembering and celebrating
the death and subsequent Resurrection of Christ,
and how this mystery offers Catholics hope.
Every Catholic, unless (s)he is specifically excluded
due to Church/canonical law, is entitled to a Catholic funeral.
The Vigil for the Deceased
The Vigil for the Deceased is a short reception
of the body of the deceased into the church
in which they regularly worshipped.
Normally this rite is scheduled and publicised in the obituary
so that more of the community can attend.
The Vigil is generally led by a priest or deacon,
though if none are available a lay person with experience
in leading public prayers may be chosen instead.
The Funeral Mass
The Funeral Mass may be celebrated any hour of any day
except for solemnities of obligation:
Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday,
Easter Sunday or any Sunday in Advent,
Lent and the Easter Season.
Generally the Funeral Mass is celebrated
in the church of which the deceased was a member,
though it may also be celebrated in a Catholic chapel.
(such as in a nursing home) or in any Catholic church
in which the pastor agrees.
If it is requested and approved, the Funeral Mass
may be celebrated for more than one person at a time.
Only a priest or deacon is allowed to preach the homily during a funeral liturgy.
If a Funeral Mass is not possible or permitted,
then the Funeral Liturgy Outside of Mass may be celebrated.
This may be celebrated in a private home,
funeral home or a cemetery chapel.
Holy Communion may be included, though some dioceses may discourage it.
The Rite of Committal
The Rite of Committal is a “gathering of the faithful for prayer”
that generally takes place at the graveside or interment/cemetery chapel. At this time it is usually appropriate for military
or cultural customs to be included.
Though burial is preferred by the Catholic Church,
cremations are also allowed as long as they were not chosen
for reasons that go against the Church’s teachings.
If a cremation does occur, the ashes are considered as the human remains and therefore should be buried or entombed.
Scattering ashes so that they remain above ground is discouraged.
Burial in the consecrated ground of a Catholic cemetery is encouraged
for both human remains and ashes.
Some non-Catholics may also be buried in Catholic cemeteries
if they expressed a relationship to the Church and a desire to do so,
or if a non-Catholic member of a Catholic family (or his/her family)
expressed a desire for the family to be buried together.
According to the Order of Christian Funerals,
the Vigil for the Deceased, Funeral Mass and Rite of Committal
are the three main parts of a Catholic funeral.
Planning a Catholic funeral should be done with the parish priest
so as to navigate Church practice, procedure and law most effectively.