Preparing for a Roman Catholic Funeral

The Roman Catholic Church has long-standing traditions regarding the funeral service. There are three specific funeral rites of the church. The Vigil Service is usually conducted in the funeral home or church on the evening before the Funeral Mass. Friends and family gather to provide comfort and strength to the grieving family. The Vigil is a Scripture-based or evening prayer service. The service is often the first gathering of the family and friends. Some who will not be able to attend the Funeral Mass because of other obligations will attend this service. In addition to the Scripture readings, the Rosary may be prayed. Written eulogies, prepared in advance, are to be given during this service.

The Funeral Mass, the order of which follows below, is held in the church building with the body present. The Funeral Mass includes the reception of the body, the Liturgy of the Word, the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and the Final Commendation and Farewell. A list of recommended music and Bible readings allow for personalization within an accepted structure of worship.

The final rite is the Rite of Committal and is performed at the cemetery. It is usually celebrated beside the open grace or place of internment. The priest usually offers the reading of a Scripture and concluding remarks and a prayer.

In the aftermath of the death, a myriad of decisions need to be made. At times of grief and loss, the foundations and traditions of faith can be a comforting, stabilizing factor in getting through the difficult times. This article, “Essentials: Preparing for a Roman Catholic Funeral,” corresponds with the Checklist, “Preparing for a Roman Catholic Funeral.

In the discussion below, the Celebrant or Officiant, is a term used to describe the leader of the liturgy or ceremony for the Funeral Rites. It is used to describe the person who celebrates or leads the celebration of a sacrament. In most Catholic Churches the Celebrant would be the local parish priest.

Processional
The processional is usually a hymn sung by a soloist or the congregation. It may also be a hymn played on the organ. There are over a hundred accepted hymns that can be used for the processional music, including A Wonderful Savior is Jesus My Lord, Amazing Grace, How Great Thou Art or In the Garden. Consult with the local parish priest for a complete listing of the approved hymns. Under certain circumstances, more contemporary music may be approved.

Welcome
The welcome is a greeting and expression of thankfulness on behalf of the family. It may be given by either the Celebrant or a family member or friend.

Tribute or Eulogy
This is not traditionally a part of the funeral mass, but reserved for the vigil the night before. It may be included with the blessing of the priest if a vigil was not held. As a part of the mass, it should be limited to one eulogy, given by the priest and will usually include just the obituary information. If eulogies are desired, they should be given before the mass begins.

Opening Prayer
The Celebrant leads the congregation in a prayer to Almighty God for His blessing on the service.

First Scripture Reading
A passage of Scripture is read by either the Celebrant or a family member or friend. The passage is traditionally selected from the approved list of Scripture passages. If a favorite Scripture is not on the approved list, it may be read with the blessing from the priest. Except for services held during the week before Easter, the first Scripture reading is traditionally found in the Old Testament.

The approved reading list from the Old Testament include 2 Maccabees 12:43-46; Job 19:1, 23-27a; Wisdom 3:1-9; Wisdom 4:7-15; Isaiah 25:6a, 7-9; Lamentations 3:17-26; and Daniel 12:1-3.

Responsorial Psalm or Hymn
Traditionally a psalm is selected from the approved list for a responsive reading with the Celebrant, family member, or friend and the congregation. The congregational singing of a hymn has become an accepted practice in many parishes. Consult the local priest for preferences in this area.

The approved reading list from the Psalms include Psalm 23, 25, 27, 42, 43, 63, 103, 116, 122, 130 and 143.

Second Scripture Reading
A second passage of Scripture from the approved list is read by either the Celebrant or a family member or friend. While the second reading is traditionally from the New Testament, Old Testament passages may be used under approved circumstances.

The approved reading list from the New Testament include Acts 10:34-43; Romans 5:5-11; 5:17-21; 6:3-9; 8:14-23; 8:31b-35, 37-39; 12:9-18; 14:7-9, 10b-12; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; 15:20-23, 24b-28; 15:51-57; 2 Corinthians 4:14 – 5:1; 5:1, 6-10; Ephesians 2:13-18; Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 2 Timothy 2:8-13; 4:6-8, 17-18; Titus 3:4-7; 2 Peter 1:3-9, 13-15; 1 John 3:1-2; 3:14-16; Revelation 14:13; 20:11 – 21:1; 21:1-5a, 6b-7.

Gospel Acclamation
The Gospel Acclamation is traditionally sung by a choir. You will need to consult with the local parish priest before including this in the service.

Gospel Reading
An approved passage of Scripture from the Gospels is read by either the Celebrant or a family member or friend.

The approved reading list from the Gospels include Matthew 5:1-12a; 11:25-30; 25:1-13; 25:31-46; Mark 2:1-12; 4:1-9; 10:13-16; 15:33-39, 16:1-6; Luke 7:11-17; 7:36-50; 12:35-40; 15:11-24; 23:33, 39-43; 23:44-46, 50, 52-53, 24:1-6a; 24:13-35; John 5:24-29; 6:37-40; 6:51-58; 11:17-27; 11:32-45; 12:23-28; 14;1-6; 14:24-26; 17:24-26; 19:17-18, 25-30.

Homily
The Celebrant relates the passages of Scripture read to the life of the deceased. Application and encouragement to the surviving family is made.

Prayer of the Faithful
One or more of the approved intercessions is given by either the Celebrant or a family member or friend with an appropriate response by the congregation. With the blessing of the priest, the family may choose to write their own intercession.

The following four segments are a part of the full Catholic Funeral Mass. If a complete mass is not to be given, skip down to “Prayers of Farewell and Final Commendation.”

Presentation of Gifts
Representatives of the family bring the bread and the wine to the Celebrant for the celebration of Holy Communion.

Offertory Hymn
The offertory hymn is usually a hymn sung by a soloist or the congregation while the family is presenting the bread and the wine. It may also be a hymn played on the organ.

Communion
The sacrament of Holy Communion is offered to the congregation. The congregation will come forward and receive the emblems and blessing from the Celebrant. Guests who are not Catholic may go to the front with others who are receiving Holy Communion. They should fold their arms across their chests, indicating that they will receive a blessing only. The same would be true for children who have not yet received their first Sacrament of Holy Communion.

Communion Hymn
The communion hymn is usually a hymn sung by the congregation at the close of the communion service. It may also be a hymn played on the organ. Most of the hymns on the approved list for the processional are also acceptable here. Check with the parish priest if there are specific questions.

Prayers of Farewell and Final Commendation
The Celebrant leads the congregation in final prayers on behalf of the deceased and the surviving family.

Recessional
The recessional is usually a hymn that is sung by the congregation while the casket is leaving the sanctuary. Most of the hymns on the approved list for the processional are also acceptable here. Check with the parish priest if there are questions about specific hymns or music.