As the most solemn period of the Catholic church's year, the period between Palm Sunday and Easter is known as Holy Week. This week is of prime importance for Catholics, as it offers time to reflect upon and prepare for the Easter celebration. During this time, the church is incredibly busy, which can complicate matters if a member of the faithful passes away and needs a Catholic funeral. Despite this, Catholic funerals during Holy Week can and do occur, as there is no way to schedule a person's passing. However, when it comes to funerals during Holy Week, Catholic church rules are clear about when you can hold certain parts of a funeral.
Here's everything you need to know about whether you can have a Catholic funeral during Holy Week.
How the Church Changes During Holy Week
Living in any major metropolitan center with a high concentration of Catholics, such as the greater Philadelphia area, means you'll feel the impact of Holy Week even if you're not a member of the faith. There are many special ceremonies and rituals that take place during this time. It begins with palm fronds that have been blessed by priests and distributed to parishioners at Mass on Palm Sunday. Many people make these fronds into crosses.
Other important moments during Holy Week, outside of Easter Sunday, include Maundy Thursday. This is when the Last Supper took place and where Christians of all denominations derive the sacrament of Holy Communion. Good Friday, the following day, is when Jesus was crucified, and many church Tabernacles remain empty to symbolize His departing spirit. On Holy Saturday, the following day, there is usually no Communion given. Between sundown on Saturday and Sunday morning, the Easter Vigil Mass is celebrated as well.
When Can You Have a Catholic Funeral During Holy Week?
Because the second half of Holy Week is of crucial importance to Catholics, there are rules that must be followed concerning when you can have a funeral during this time.
You can have a funeral during Holy Week on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday in its entirety with no interruptions. This includes a Vigil, a funeral Mass the following day, and then a Rite of Committal at the cemetery, mausoleum, or columbarium. However, the rules for funerals being held on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday are distinctly different. In many situations, if someone dies during this time, their funerals are delayed until after Easter Sunday if this is feasible and not a burden on the family. If it is impossible to postpone the funeral, then there are ways to hold a Catholic funeral during Holy Week using an alternate set of rules.
What Does a Catholic Funeral Look Like at the End of Holy Week?
The typical Catholic funeral consists of:
A funeral Mass
The Rite of Committal
Catholic funerals during Holy Week are rare because of the specific requirements of the church. While the Vigil and Rite of Committal remain unchanged, the funeral Mass is not followed on the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of Holy Week. This doesn't mean that the faithful being buried at the end of Holy Week don't receive their proper funeral rites. A specialized funeral Liturgy takes the place of a funeral Mass. These liturgies can take place in a church, cemetery chapel, or even in the home of the deceased. The latter two options are often preferred considering how busy churches are during the end of Holy Week. This Liturgy fulfills the requirement for holding a Catholic funeral.
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What Is a Funeral Liturgy?
- Funeral Liturgies are like traditional funeral Masses in the following ways:
- Officiated by Catholic priests
- Attended by members of the community who wish to mourn the deceased
- Include a procession of the casket
- The deceased is commended to God
- Bible passages are read
- Hymns are sung
- The deceased is transported to their final resting place
- Rite of Committal takes place
The main difference is that those attending a funeral Liturgy typically do not celebrate the sacrament of Holy Communion, as this is exclusive to a Catholic Mass. It is possible to hold a separate memorial Mass after the burial, but this will be scheduled after the conclusion of Holy Week.
Other Things to Consider about Holding Catholic Funerals During Holy Week
Because celebrating Holy Week is so integral to the Catholic faith, many other matters take a backseat during this time. This includes the ability for the church to hold a funeral Mass on the last three days of Holy Week, as the requirements for worship during these three days make having a traditional funeral Mass both impossible and inappropriate.
Holding a funeral Liturgy during the last three days of Holy Week satisfies the requirement for a Catholic funeral, and this means you can have a funeral during Holy Week. However, it is always advisable to postpone a Catholic funeral until after Holy Week is over whenever possible. Doing so ensures that Holy Week's many requirements are followed properly and offers an opportunity to hold a funeral for the departed without the distractions of Holy Week overshadowing that funeral.
If you need to find a Catholic cemetery near you, please consult our list of Philadelphia Archdiocese cemeteries.
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