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Catholic News Herald

Serving Christ and Connecting Catholics in Western North Carolina

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‘As you consider the funeral, try to remember that planning a funeral is not a burden, but a privilege. Think of the funeral as a gift to the person who died as well as his friends and family. It is a chance for all to think about and express the value of the life that was lived. It is also a chance to say goodbye.’ “Preparing for Funeral Liturgies,” St. Matthew Church in Charlotte



Editor’s note: St. Mark Church in Huntersville has produced this guide to funeral planning that is applicable for Catholics. While each pastor sets his own guidelines within the Church’s “Order of Christian Funerals,” we offer this guide as a reference for your family to consider and discuss:


Upon the death of a loved one, please contact the funeral home so that they may assist you in making the necessary funeral arrangements. We encourage parishioners to do pre-planning to make a difficult time easier for your family. Funeral home services are very willing to help you in this process.

Normally, the funeral home will contact the parish to secure the date and time of the funeral. At St. Mark we will do everything we can to accommodate family needs, but please know that as a busy parish the church may be in use for other events during the time period first chosen.

Once the date and time have been decided, the family will be contacted by one of the parish priests or deacons to plan the Mass of Christian burial and other funeral rites. This involves choosing readings, hymnody and discussing how family and friends might be involved in the funeral liturgy. While there is always an element of the funeral rites that are personalized to reflect the life of the deceased, it should always be remembered that Christians celebrate the funeral rites to offer worship, praise, and thanksgiving to God for the gift of a life which has now been returned to God, the author of life and the hope of the just. The Mass, the memorial of Christ’s death and resurrection, is the principal celebration of the Christian funeral (“Order of Christian Funerals,” no. 5).

Catholic funeral rites consist of three principal parts or movements: the vigil or wake, the Mass of Christian Burial, and the burial rites. Each of these is discussed briefly here:


The Vigil for the Deceased (sometimes called the Wake)

The Vigil for the Deceased is the principal rite celebrated by the Christian community in the time after death and before the funeral liturgy. “At the vigil the Christian community keeps watch with the family in prayer to the God of mercy and finds strength in Christ’s presence,” "Order of Christian Funerals," no. 56.)

The Vigil can be celebrated at the funeral home, the home of the deceased or at the parish church. During the course of the Vigil service, there will be a brief proclamation of the Word of God, intercessory prayer, and blessing. If someone in the family would like to offer a personal remembrance of the deceased (eulogy) this may be done at the conclusion of the Vigil service.


The Funeral Liturgy/Mass of Christian Burial

The funeral liturgy is the central celebration of the Christian community for the deceased. At the funeral liturgy the community gathers with the family and friends of the deceased to give praise and thanks to God for Christ’s victory over sin and death, to commend the deceased to God’s tender mercy and compassion, and to seek strength in the proclamation of the Paschal Mystery. Through the Holy Spirit the community is joined together in faith as one Body in Christ to reaffirm in sign and symbol, word and gesture that each believer through baptism shares in Christ’s death and resurrection and can look for the day when all the elect will be raised up and united in the kingdom of light and peace (“Order of Christian Funerals,” no. 129).

The funeral Mass includes the reception of the body, the celebration of the Liturgy of the Word, the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and final commendation and farewell.

Reception of the Body

The rite of reception takes place at the beginning of the funeral liturgy or Mass.

It begins with the greeting of the family, the sprinkling of the coffin with holy water as a reminder of baptism, and the placing of the pall which symbolizes the baptismal garment. If the family so chooses, they may drape the pall over the coffin of the deceased. The entrance procession follows with the ministers leading the coffin and family members into the church.
During the procession an entrance hymn will be sung. The family remains standing with the remainder of the congregation in the pews until the conclusion of the opening prayer. It is our practice at St. Mark to place a crucifix and Bible on the coffin at the conclusion of the entrance procession. These symbols of Christian life are carried in the entrance procession and can be placed on the coffin by family members of the family chooses to do so. Otherwise, they will be placed by one of the ministers.

Liturgy of the Word 

After the opening prayer, the Liturgy of the Word begins. The readings include an Old Testament reading (during the Easter season the first reading is taken from the Acts of the Apostles or the Book of Revelation), a Responsorial Psalm (sung), a New Testament reading and a Gospel reading.

The Order of Christian Funerals provides a complete listing of the Scripture readings that can be used in the funeral rites, and the family is encouraged to assist in making the selections of readings for the funeral. In addition, members of the family or friends of the deceased are invited to assist by serving as readers. During the funeral Mass, those who read, since they are exercising a ministry of the Church, are to be practicing members of the Catholic Church.

Please note that a funeral includes a homily, not a eulogy. “A brief homily based on the readings should always be given at the funeral liturgy, but never any kind of eulogy. The homilist should dwell on God’s compassionate love and on the paschal mystery of the Lord as proclaimed in the Scripture readings. Through the homily, the community should receive the consolation and strength to face the death of one of its members with a hope that has been nourished by the proclamation of the saving word of God.” ("Order of Christian Funerals," no. 141)

Liturgy of the Eucharist

At the funeral Mass, the community having been nourished by the Word of God, turns for spiritual nourishment to the Eucharistic sacrifice in which the community with the priest offers to the Father the sacrifice of the New Covenant. The Liturgy of the Eucharist takes place in the usual manner. Members of the family or friends of the deceased should bring the gifts to the altar.

Final commendation and farewell

The final commendation is a final farewell by the members of the community, an act of respect for one of their members, whom they entrust to the tender and merciful embrace of God. During the rite, the body is again sprinkled with holy water and incensed. The sprinkling is a reminder that through baptism the person was marked for eternal life and incensation signifies respect for the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Procession to the place of committal
At the conclusion of the funeral liturgy, the procession is formed and the body is accompanied to the place of committal. This final procession of the funeral rite mirrors the journey of human life as a pilgrimage to God’s kingdom of peace and light, the new and eternal Jerusalem.


Rite of committal

The rite of committal, the conclusion of the funeral rites, is the final act of the community of faith in caring for the body of its deceased member. In committing the body to its resting place, the community expresses its hope that, with all who have gone before marked with the sign of faith, the deceased awaits the glory of the resurrection. It normally takes place beside the grave or mausoleum where the remains of the deceased are to be placed.

— Reprinted with permission from St. Mark Church in Huntersville.


 ‘At the death of a Christian, whose life of faith was begun in the waters of baptism and strengthened at the Eucharistic table, the Church intercedes on behalf of the deceased because of its confident belief that death is not the end, nor does it break the bonds forged in life.’ (Order of Christian Funerals, no. 4)

For more information
At www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/bereavement-and-funerals/index.cfm: Get more information on Catholic funeral guidelines, prayers, suggested readings at funeral Masses, and more

At www.catholicsensibility.wordpress.com/funeral-rites: Read the entire "Order of Christian Funerals" as well as explanations of each section