Christian Funerals

What are the funeral rites?

The Order of Christian Funerals (OCF) consists of a number of rituals, divided into three key times of prayer for families.

The Vigil for the Deceased is the official prayer of the Church and should never be omitted.Taking the form of a Liturgy of the Word, the Vigil consists of scripture readings, a brief homily (or a reflection if led by a lay minister), intercessions and prayers.  Its focus is on the Word of God as the family experiences death and their subsequent grief. Music is also encouraged to be a part of this prayer, which can be led by various parish bereavement ministers besides the priest or deacon. The Vigil is also an appropriate place for family and friends to offer their own words or stories (eulogy). Additional non-biblical readings or poems may be included in addition to the readings from scripture. Favorite non-liturgical music may also be played.  While the Rosary is still a popular devotion, it is not a part of nor is it meant to replace the Vigil.  It may be prayed by the family at any time during the visitation hours.

The center of the OCF is The Funeral Liturgy. “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.” (OCF 129The clear focus in the funeral liturgy is not to keep alive the memory of the deceased but rather God’s abiding presence and the wonders of his grace in the saving death and resurrection of Jesus, in which we participate through our baptism and lives of discipleship. Perhaps more than any other rite, this liturgy distinguishes our Roman Catholic tradition from other common funeral practices.

The first form of the funeral liturgy is “The Funeral Mass.” It begins recalling our baptism, when we first shared Christ’s victory over sin and death, as the casket is blessed with holy water and clothed with a white garment (the pall) and then placed by the Easter Candle near the altar.  As we celebrate the Word of God as at every Mass, the homily follows. The homily “should dwell on God’s compassionate love and on the paschal mystery of the Lord, as proclaimed in the Scripture readings. The homilist should also help the members of the assembly to understand that the mystery of God’s love and the mystery of Jesus’ victorious death and resurrection were present in the life and death of the deceased” and in our present lives as well. (OCF 27) Hence the homily is never to be a eulogy. Mass continues in the usual way until after communion, when the prayers of Final Commendation and Farewell concludes the Mass, followed by the procession to the place of burial.

The second form of the funeral liturgy is “The Funeral Liturgy outside Mass” and is celebrated when a priest is not available, when a Funeral Mass is prohibited on certain days or when it is judged it might be a more appropriate celebration due to various reasons. This ritual follows the same format of the Funeral Mass with the exception of the Eucharistic Prayer and reception of Holy Communion. It may be celebrated in a parish church, a funeral home or another chapel.

The Rite of Committal brings to conclusion the funeral rites at the grave, tomb or crematorium. These brief prayers may be led by a priest, deacon or a lay minister or by a member of the family.