A Guide To Catholic Funerals: What You Need To Know

by Catholic Church, Family, Mass

While death was not a part of God’s original plan for the world, due to the fall of mankind with Adam and Eve, it is a sad reality of the world we live in. As Christians however, we do not believe that death is the end. On the contrary, our death on earth signifies a new beginning – the beginning of the eternal realities, either eternal happiness with God in heaven, or eternal damnation in hell, depending on how we live our lives. Regardless of this fact, the loss of a loved one is a tragedy, and grief is a natural and even healthy response. Despite this grief, the Christian does not need to despair, but death can become an opportunity to hope in the eternal happiness of heaven both for themselves and their departed loved one.

The funeral mass gives us a profound opportunity to express this hope in God’s love and mercy. The primary reason that we as Catholics have funerals for those who have died is to pray for them. We pray for the repose of their soul, that their soul may be purified so they might enter into their heavenly homeland.

Through our prayer to God for our departed loved one, we also find the solace of God’s love and mercy in the midst of our grief. While prayer will not make grief disappear or magically take away the pain, through prayer we find that we are not alone in our grief – God too allowed his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer His own crucifixion and death for the sake of our salvation. By entering into this suffering with Jesus Christ, we find that our own suffering and grief are manageable. 

How a Funeral Differs from Mass

There are three common funeral rites for Catholics: the vigil (also known as the wake), the funeral (or Requiem) mass or rite, and the rite of committal (commonly called the graveside service).

The vigil is more focused on the life of the deceased than the other rites. It is an opportunity for the loved ones of the deceased to view the deceased before the funeral and burial, and is the appropriate time for eulogies given by close friends and family. Regardless, the main focus is still praying for the repose of the soul of the deceased. If the majority of the people present are Catholic, often times a deacon will lead a rosary, and Vespers, also known as Evening Prayer, is commonly said. This is an ancient prayer of the Church consisting of Psalms and scripture readings. The vigil can happen at the funeral home or the church.

The funeral focuses on the hope for eternal salvation which Christ offers us. While the funeral can be done outside of a mass, the Church strongly suggests that the funeral mass be said for the deceased since the mass is the most perfect form of prayer.

The Rite of Committal, also called the graveside service, is the opportunity for loved ones to offer a final farewell to the deceased and to pray for them one last time before the deceased is buried. The Rite of Committal focuses on the reality of the Resurrection of the Dead at the end of time, and gives those present the opportunity to look forward to that day for the deceased, and for themselves. If it be desired, this is another appropriate time for eulogies.

Prayers You’ll Hear At A Catholic Funeral

The opening and closing prayers, also called the collect, for both the vigil and the funeral mass are rich in beauty and rich in theology. They can be a great source of prayer and meditation for loved ones of the deceased.

The prayer over the Place of Committal (option A) is a beautiful prayer for the deceased at their final resting place.

The proper antiphons for the mass (Introit: Requiem Aeternam (Eternal Rest), Offertory: Domine Jesu Christe (Lord Jesus Christ) or De Profundis (Ps. 130) (Out of the Depths), and Communion: Amen dico vobis quod uni (Amen I say to you what you did for the least of them…))

The Dies Irae (there are many beautiful music pieces for this sequence including by Mozart, Verdi, and the Traditional Chant)

Additional Catholic prayers include the Prayer for the Dead, Prayers for Mourners, and Prayers at the Graveside

Consoling scripture passages include Rom 8:34, Rom 14:8, 1 Thess 4:17, Ps 25:1, Ps 23:4, Ps 31:6a, La 23:42, and Acts 7:59

These prayers, and others such as the Rosary, provide a great opportunity for the loved ones of the deceased to pray for the repose of the soul of the deceased, as well as seek comfort in the Lord.

How To Choose Readings For A Catholic Funeral Mass

Often times people are not sure what to do for the funeral mass, and that’s ok! There are a lot of options that can be difficult to choose from, especially if you are not familiar with what the options are. Additionally, if you lose a loved one, you’re often still mourning and grieving when the funeral is being planned. The priest or deacon at the church where the funeral is going to be should help you to make the planning of the funeral as easy and painless as possible. Most parishes have handouts or binders that they give to the loved ones of the deceased to help them to plan the funeral.

Choosing Music For A Catholic Funeral

Most parishes should have music suggestions for the funeral, but these lists can often times still be long. Here are my recommendations if you still are unsure about what to choose:

1. The Psalms. The Book of Psalms is the prayer book for the Catholic Church. It perfectly expresses the whole spectrum of human emotions and keeps them centered on God. Not only that, the Church has stated on multiple occasions and in multiple places that the the most fitting music for the liturgy is the Psalms. The Order of Christian Funerals lists 16 different Psalms with their proper Antiphons: Ps. 23, 25, 42, 51, 93, 114 and 115:1-12, 116, 118, 119, 121, 122, 123, 126, 130, 132, and 134. Each of these Psalms beautifully express deep human grief and pain, and the absolute hope in God for eternal salvation that each of us ought to have.

2. If possible, motets such as Schubert’s Ave Maria or If Ye Love Me by Thomas Tallis

3. Other songs or hymns such as Abide with Me, Be Thou My Vision, How Great Thou Art, Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, What Wondrous Love, I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say, Behold the Lamb, Be Still My Soul, Lord of All Hopefullness, or On Eagle’s Wings.

A Catholic Funeral Is A Beautiful Way To Honor Your Deceased Loved One

Thank you for choosing to respect the Catholic Faith of your loved one by having a Catholic funeral. The funeral rite is both beautiful and impactful, both for those attending and the soul of the departed. By praying for the repose of their soul, we can help to hasten their eternal reward and see God face to face in heaven.

Eternal rest grant unto him/her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him/her. May he/she rest in peace. Amen. May almighty God bless us with his peace and strength, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

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