Funerals are how we say goodbye to our loved ones with dignity. Depending on the faith of the deceased, their funeral may follow the proscribed tenets of their religious beliefs. One of the most common and widespread religions in the world is Roman Catholicism. It's likely you will be asked to attend a Catholic funeral sometime during your life.
If you've never attended a Catholic funeral before, you shouldn't rely on what you might have gleaned from popular culture. Catholic funerary rites are highly ritualized and formal, so it's helpful to know what you will experience and what might be expected of you. Here's what happens at a Catholic funeral.
Catholic Funeral Mass Order of Service
The Catholic Church believes that death is not the end, but rather a transition to eternal life. As such, Catholic funerals are not focused on the sadness of death, but rather on the hope of resurrection. Therefore, a Catholic funeral is a religious service that is held for someone who has died, but it is a time for the family and friends of the deceased to come together to mourn their loss as much as it is to celebrate the person's life and to pray for their soul.
These events occur during what's called a "funeral mass," which is distinguishable from a traditional Catholic mass in several important ways. The structure of a Catholic funeral varies depending on the specific circumstances of the death, but most funerals follow a similar format. The following is a general overview of the Catholic funeral mass order of service:
1. Opening Rites
The first part of a Catholic funeral mass is the opening rites, which includes the entrance of the priest and the other participants. The casket of the deceased may also be on display in the church at this time, though this isn't always a requirement. If the deceased is present, the priest will often bless their remains with holy water. The priest will then greet the congregation and lead them in a prayer of opening.
2. Liturgy of the Word
The liturgy of the word is the central part of the Catholic funeral mass. During this part of the mass, the priest will read from the Bible and give a homily. This part of the mass is often considered "standard," and you would experience a similar liturgy if you were attending a Catholic mass that didn't involve a funeral. However, during funeral masses, the readings from the Bible are typically chosen to reflect on the life of the deceased person. Likewise, the homily is concerned with the life of the deceased and how their faith was reflected during that life.
3. Liturgy of the Eucharist
The liturgy of the Eucharist is the part of the Catholic funeral mass when the bread and wine are consecrated. This is also considered a standard part of a typical mass, regardless of whether it is a funeral mass. The priest will then offer the Eucharist to the congregation after its consecration. Individuals will rise from their seats and approach to share the Eucharist before returning to their seats, where they sit or kneel in silent prayer.
4. Closing Rites
The last step of the Catholic funeral mass order of service is the closing rites, which includes a prayer of commendation and a final blessing. The priest will then lead the congregation in a recessional hymn. During this time, the priest, the casket of the deceased, and the immediate family members will leave the church. Afterward, the rest of the congregation may leave as well.
Specific Elements of a Catholic Funeral
Now that you know what happens at a Catholic funeral, it may also be helpful to know a few specific elements that are typically included, such as:
The Sign of the Cross
The sign of the cross is a gesture that is used to remind Catholics of their baptism and their faith in the Trinity. The priest will make the sign of the cross at the beginning and end of the funeral mass, and it may also be used during other parts of the Catholic funeral mass.
The prologue is a prayer that is said at the beginning of the funeral mass. It asks God to be merciful to the deceased and to grant them eternal life.
The readings from the Bible are a central part of the Catholic funeral mass. They are typically chosen to reflect on the life of the deceased and to offer hope for the future.
The homily is a sermon that is given by the priest at the funeral mass. It is an opportunity for the priest to reflect on the life of the deceased and to offer comfort to the family and friends.
The Prayer of Commendation
The prayer of commendation is a prayer that is said at the end of the funeral mass. It asks God to receive the deceased into His loving embrace.
The Final Blessing
The final blessing is a blessing that is given by the priest at the end of the funeral mass. It is a sign of God's love and protection for the deceased and their family and friends.
If You Are Attending a Catholic Funeral Mass
All parts of a Catholic funeral mass are a time for the family and friends of the deceased to come together to mourn their loss, celebrate the person's life, and pray for their soul. It is a sacred and meaningful event that helps Catholics to remember the hope of resurrection and the promise of eternal life. If you choose to attend a Catholic funeral mass, be sure to adhere to Catholic funeral etiquette as a sign of respect to the deceased, their faith, and their grieving family members.