What Is A Catholic Funeral?
It is the final act in the life of a beloved person who has chosen to embrace the Catholic faith. It is a celebration of life, love and the joy that God gives us all. A Catholic funeral is not sombre nor is it sad. It is a time for family and friends to rejoice with those who have crossed over into eternal life. As a Catholic, you are welcome at any Catholic funeral.
Catholics believe there are three places souls go to after death – Heaven, Hell or Purgatory. Where we end up depends heavily on our works and faith while we are alive. Some of us would go straight to Heaven, and some straight to Hell, while others would have to go through a cleansing phase before they could get to their final destination of eternal bliss or eternal damnation. Purgatory is that place of cleansing.
What Happens at a Catholic Funeral (Traditions & Rites)
1. Catholic Funeral Vigil
A Catholic funeral vigil is a special prayer service held before the solemnity of a funeral Mass. After a person dies their loved ones often hold a prayer vigil on the evening before their funeral. This helps the family prepare for the upcoming funeral and gives them time to adjust to their loss. Sometimes this vigil is called the reception of the body.
This service is similar to a rosary service in that it is a series of repetitions of prayers and scripture readings. At a Catholic funeral vigil, people offer up prayers for the departed loved one and also pray for the living. It is a time of preparation for the mourners and an opportunity for all who love the deceased to ask for God’s blessings on the family of the deceased. A Catholic funeral vigil is similar to a wake, but lasts for only a few hours instead of days. Vigils are often held on the first evening after the funeral, then again on the following evening, and sometimes also on the evening after that.
2. The Requiem Mass
It is said that this is the part which the deceased most appreciates where the main Catholic funeral rites, sermon, and homily are conducted. It is the time when friends and family members have the chance to express their love and grief for the deceased. During the Requiem Mass, the priest sprinkles holy water on the coffin and says prayers that remember the deceased and talks about how he or she is in heaven now, with God, the afterlife, and the resurrection of Christ.
During the funeral liturgy, the Gospel reading is selected by the priest. The priest will bless the mourners and a final commendation for the deceased on his or her life on earth is conducted with a Song of Farewell selected by the parish musicians. This is a very moving part of the service. Many people find it hard to talk about their feelings at such a time and the priest can help by giving appropriate encouragement and offering words of comfort.
3. The Committal Service
At a Catholic funeral, the body is placed in a casket and carried out of the church or the chapel by family and friends. The priest then blesses the casket with the rite of committal and gives the sign of the cross to the mourners. He then tells them they may now view the deceased but must do so with eyes wide open. This is so the deceased will not be aware of their sad farewell and will be able to enjoy his or her heavenly reward. During the committal service, you can make a donation in memory of the deceased.
4. The Last Part of the Service
This is the time for the mourners to leave. The priest invites anyone who wants to make a donation in memory of the deceased to come forward. He then thanks everyone for coming and reminds them that God blesses those who bless others. He asks all those present to bow their heads in prayer and thanks to God for the gift of life and the chance to serve him. This is the end of the Catholic funeral service.
Catholics have the option of having their loved ones buried or cremated. In most cases nowadays, when a Catholic wants to have their loved one cremated instead of buried, they will still be able to have them interred in a Catholic cemetery. This is because these days, many Catholic cemeteries are accepting cremains as a form of internment. In other words, if you want to be buried in a Catholic cemetery, you don’t actually have to have your body present at the grave. Instead, you can have your loved one’s body cremated and have them placed in an urn and then have that urn buried in the ground with only an empty space showing where the body was originally located. For both burial and cremation, the priest or deacon will conduct some prayers by the graveside or mausoleum before concluding the burial of the coffin or urn.
Catholic Funeral Etiquette
1. Dress appropriately
You should dress like you are going to a wedding or some other special event. This will show your respect for the dead and their family. It is best to wear a dark suit, a shirt with a collar and tie or a smart shirt. Wear shoes you do not have to remove when you walk on a smooth surface. If you have black shoes, wear socks to cover them.
2. Do not eat or drink anything during the service
This is a time to mourn, not to party. If you feel you must take nourishment, take a piece of toast or a few crackers. If you have a glass of water, sip it very slowly. Sipping quickly will make you belch or burp. This will disturb those around you and is not appropriate at a Catholic funeral.
3. Silent your mobile device and do not take calls during the funeral service
It will make a lot of people uncomfortable and will keep you from fully experiencing the service. Keep your mobile on silent mode and refrain from making or taking calls during the funeral service.
4. Do not smoke
This is a sacred time and place for prayer. If you have to smoke, do it outside the church building. If you are elderly or have any kind of heart condition, do not attend a Catholic funeral if you smoke. The priest will tell you when it is your turn to leave the church. Do so immediately after the committal service. If you stay for the remainder of the service, you may disturb those who are paying their last respects to the deceased.
5. Do not cry in front of the mourners
You will be making them uncomfortable and breaking the cardinal rule of a Catholic funeral. When you are feeling emotional, go to a private place to weep. Come back when you have regained your composure. If someone tries to console you, thank them but politely refuse their offer. You must deal with your grief in your own way and at your own pace.
6. When you are invited to make a donation in memory of the deceased, do so immediately
This is a very meaningful gesture which the priest will greatly appreciate. If you have some money with you, put it in an envelope and put it in the offering plate. If you don’t have any money, put some thought into a thoughtful gift. It could be flowers, a box of chocolates or a bottle of good wine. The point is, give something that will be a blessing to those left behind. The priest will put the money from the donation into a special account for the family of the deceased.
Catholic Funeral Procession
When you attend a Catholic funeral, there will usually be a procession out of the church after the Requiem Mass. This is when friends, family members and other mourners walk behind the hearse carrying the casket. The pallbearers will also be walking behind the hearse holding the casket. Often there will be other cars with family members who have come to the funeral. These family members will be following the hearse carrying the casket so they can continue to be with the deceased’s family after the committal service.
What Happens After a Catholic Funeral
After the Catholic funeral, there is usually a reception at which food and drink are served to mourners and guests. There may also be a period for people to say goodbye to each other before the mourners go back to their own lives.
It is not customary for mourners to stay at the reception long enough to socialize with guests. This is true both for Catholics and for non-Catholics. However, it is important for mourners to be friendly and to make an effort to talk with guests as they are leaving the reception.
Catholic Funeral Planning Checklist
- Choose a suitable and experienced funeral director
- Decide whether to perform burial or cremation for the departed
- Decide whether to have the Catholic funeral at the funeral home or parlour, HDB void deck, church, cemetery or crematorium
- For a church funeral, decide whether to have a Catholic funeral Mass or funeral without Mass
- Fix the dates for the full Catholic funeral service
- Make a list of relatives, friends, and acquaintances you would like to attend the funeral
- Discuss and plan the Catholic funeral religious readings (such as 2 Timothy 2:11-12a: If we die with Christ, we shall live with him, and if we persevere we shall also reign with him and Revelation 14:13: Blessed are those who die in the Lord; let them rest from their labours for their good deeds go with them)
- Decide on the music and hymns for during the Catholic service
- Decide and delegate what family members and friends will do at the funeral (do readings and eulogies, compose bidding prayers, place the pall on the coffin, bear coffin, place Bible and crucifix on the coffin, distribute the bread and wine (holy communion for the Eucharist Prayer at the altar) at funeral Mass)
- Decide whether you or someone else will speak in memory of the departed
- Decide on the funeral flower choices
- Finalise the order of the funeral service
- Arrange a reception for relatives and friends after the funeral service
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Catholic Funeral
1. Can I bring a non-Catholic to a Catholic funeral?
Yes, you can bring anyone you wish to attend the funeral with you. The only people you cannot bring are those who do not believe in God or who have declared they are atheists.
2. Can I invite anyone I want to speak at my own Catholic funeral?
Yes, you certainly can. This is your opportunity to tell those who have loved you how much they meant to you. However, it is helpful if you let your priest know well in advance so he can suggest some people you might like to include.
3. What should I wear to a Catholic funeral?
In keeping with the spirit of the occasion, you should dress in black or dark grey. Solid colours such as yellow, red or orange are not suitable. It is important to remember that you are at a Catholic funeral to celebrate the life of the deceased, not to make a statement about his or her death. Therefore, you should avoid wearing anything which is brightly coloured. Also, it is best to avoid wearing perfume or any other strong-smelling substances. These things may distract from the solemnity of the occasion.
4. What time should I show up for a Catholic funeral?
This varies depending on the circumstances of the deceased and the family. If the funeral is being held outside the home of the deceased, then it is customary to show up about 30 minutes before the start of the Mass. If the funeral is being held in the home of the deceased, then you should arrive about 15 to 30 minutes before the start of the Mass. If the funeral is being held in a Catholic church, then you should arrive about 10 minutes before the start of the Mass. It is helpful to call the parish priest or someone in the church to find out the approximate time of the funeral so you will not be late.
If you need any info or assistance with Catholic funeral services, please feel free to contact Elite Funeral Services anytime via our 24-hour hotline +65 8823 7979.