In 1989 the Roman Catholic Church revised and published a new Order of Christian Funeral.
The opening Decree states: “By means of the funeral rites it has been the practice of the Church, as a tender mother, not simply to commend the dead to God but also to raise high the hope of its children and to give witness to its own faith in the future resurrection of the baptized with Christ.” This statement brings into focus the meaning and purpose of the funeral rites.
You will notice that “rites” is plural, meaning there is more than one rite. This article will help us understand and come to appreciate the wisdom and insight offered in these distinct rites.
The first rite is called the Vigil. It has three options: - Vigil for the deceased with reception at the church
- Gathering in the presence of the body
- Transfer of the body to the church or place of committal
This may come as a surprise to many Catholics today, especially in parishes where the new Order of Christian Funerals was never implemented.
Vigil for the deceased with reception at the church is best used when the viewing is held in the church. It would occur at the very beginning, after the body has been brought into the church.
Gathering in the presence of the body is best used when the viewing is held at the funeral home. This rite can be used at any time during the viewing but the best time is to begin the viewing.
Transfer of the body to the church or place of committal would normally happen at the end of the viewing when the funeral liturgy or committal will follow immediately.
The second rite is the Funeral Liturgy. It may be celebrated within Mass or outside of Mass. It is not unusual for the funeral liturgy outside of Mass to be held in the funeral home instead of the church.
“The funeral liturgy is the central liturgical celebration of the Christian community for the deceased. …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.” (128-9)
The third rite is the Rite of Committal. “…the conclusion of the funeral rites, is the final act of the community of faith in caring for the body of its deceased member. It may be celebrated at the grave, tomb, or crematorium and may be used for burial at sea. Whenever possible, the rite of committal is to be celebrated at the site of committal, that is, beside the open grave or place of interment, rather than at a cemetery chapel.” (204)
A new addition to the Order of Christian Funeral is a series of prayers for: children, adults, children who died before baptism.
The following article looks at the music, symbols, eulogies and the work of the Bereavement Committee.
“Music is integral to the funeral rites. It allows the community to express convictions and feelings that words alone may fail to convey. It has the power to console and uplift the mourners and to strengthen the unity of the assembly in faith & love. The texts of the songs chosen for a particular celebration should express the paschal mystery of the Lord’s suffering, death and triumph over death and should be related to the readings from Scripture. (30)
Since music can evoke strong feelings, the music for the celebration of the funeral rites should be chosen with great care. The music at funerals should support, console, and uplift the participants and should help create in them a spirit of hope in Christ’s victory over death and in the Christian’s share in that victory.” (31)
F.Y.I. The parish has prepared a list of approved hymns for funerals. If it is desired that other types of non-liturgical music be used it is appropriate that these be played at the viewing.
Holy Water reminds the assembly of the saving waters of baptism. (36)
Easter candle reminds us of Christ’s undying presence among them, of his victory over sin and death, & of their share in the victory by virtue of their initiation. (35)
Incense is used during the funeral rites as a sign of honor to the body of the deceased, which through baptism became the temple of the Holy Spirit. (37)
ONLY Christian symbols may rest on or be placed near the coffin during the funeral liturgy. Any other symbols, for example, national flags or flags or insignia of associations, have no place in the funeral liturgy. (38)
Homily or Eulogy ? “A brief homily based on the readings is always given after the gospel reading at the funeral liturgy and may also be given after the readings at the vigil service; but there is never to be a eulogy. …the homilist should dwell on God’s compassionate love and on the paschal mystery of the Lord, as proclaimed in the Scripture readings. (27)
Words of remembrance: If a eulogy is desired it is best that it occur at the time of the viewing or at the rite of committal. Normally the funeral liturgy is not the place for words of remembrance.
Work of the Bereavement Committee Our parish participates in the Corporal Work of Mercy - “to bury the dead.” Members of the committee can assist a family with tasks surrounding a funeral:
- assist with preparing the Mass of Christian Burial or Memorial Mass
- provide food preparation
-provide house sitting
-provide home care for children, the elderly and the handicapped.
- assist with reception, serving and cleaning up
These services are provided by your fellow parishioners at no additional cost.
The following article looks at Funerals & Cremation
In 1997 the Catholic Church published an appendix to the Order of Christian Funeral concerning “Cremation.”
“Although cremation is now permitted by the Church, it does not enjoy the same value as burial of the body. The Church clearly prefers and urges that the body of the deceased be present for the funeral rites, since the presence of the human body better expresses the values which the Church affirms in those rites.” (413)
Sometimes, however, it is not possible for the body to be present for the Funeral Mass. When extraordinary circumstances make the cremation of a body the only feasible choice, pastoral sensitivity must be exercised by priests, deacons, and others who minister to the family of the deceased.” (415)
The cremated remains of a body should be treated with the same respect given to the human body from which they come. This includes the use of a worthy vessel to contain the ashes, the manner in which they are carried, the care and attention to appropriate placement and transport, and the final disposition. The cremated remains should be buried in a grave or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium. The practice of scattering cremated remains on the sea, from the air, or on the ground, or keeping cremated remains in the home of a relative or friend of the deceased are not the reverent disposition that the Church requires. Whenever possible, appropriate means for recording with dignity the memory of the deceased should be adopted, such as a plaque or stone which records the name of the deceased.” (417)
“When the choice has been made to cremate a body, it is recommended that the cremation take place after the funeral liturgy. (418)
“By virtue of an indult granted by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the celebration of the funeral liturgy, including Mass, in the presence of the cremated remains of the body of a deceased person is permitted in the dioceses of the U.S.A under the following conditions:
a. That the cremation not be inspired by motives contrary to Christian teaching that is laid down by the Code of Canon Law (canon 1176.3).
“…The cremated remains of the body are to be placed in a worthy vessel. A small table or stand is to be prepared for them at the place normally occupied by the coffin. The vessel containing the cremated remains may be carried to its place in the entrance procession or may be placed on this table or stand sometime before the liturgy begins. (427)