“TheChurch through its funeral rites commends the dead to God’s merciful love and pleads for the forgiveness of their sins. At the funeral rites, especially at the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice, the Christian community affirms and expresses the union of the Church on earth with the Church in heaven in the one great communion of saints. Though separated from the living, the dead are still at one with the community of believers on earth and benefit from their prayers and intercession. At the rite of final commendation and farewell, the community acknowledges the reality of separation and commends the deceased to God. In this way it recognizes the spiritual bond that still exists between the living and the dead and proclaims its belief that all the faithful will be raised up and reunited in the new heavens and a new earth, where death will be no more.”
The Order of Christian Funerals
The above words are found in the Catholic Church’s official liturgical book for the conduct and celebration of Rites and prayers for the deceased.
The Order of Christian Funerals provides several forms that a Funeral and burial Rite might take. Most of the time it is the Funeral Mass on the Day of Burial that is the norm. However, this is not of strict necessity and is in fact not permitted on the days of the Sacred Triduum of Holy Week where a Funeral Liturgy Apart from Mass is celebrated.
Historically there have been, and are, places and cultures where burial is carried out first, and then a Mass is celebrated later for the deceased.
Theologically, the chronological time when a Mass is offered for the deceased is not significant though, as noted above, is usually celebrated as part of the Funeral Rites on the day of burial in our culture.
Circumstances and customs vary however as we know. Sometimes a Funeral Mass must be postponed due to geographical, family, or practical necessity till after burial. Sometimes a Mass is offered in the church in the presence of “cremains”; i.e., an already cremated body. A “Memorial” or Anniversary Mass can be offered after the actual death and burial.
Increasingly, today, other circumstances arise involving the state of religious practice, faith, or religious sense of a family who are otherwise urged to have a “Catholic funeral” for a deceased loved one without however having any real connection to the parish.
It is not unusual that those in this large category are unfamiliar with the Rites and customs of the Church and the parish, and indeed might misperceive the Funeral Mass as a “memorial service” that can be custom-designed and revolve around their own desires and tastes exclusively.
Questions of Eucharistic Communion also arise involving the state of understanding of the Sacrament, and the requirements for a worthy and fruitful Communion. Requests and expectations about the type and nature of appropriate music and personal remembrances or eulogies can also occur.
Despite one’s best efforts these factors can induce a sense of unease or even tension.
Given the above and my own decades of parish experience, and utilizing the flexibility provided in the Order of Christian Funerals I offer the possibilities below for any family or group who arrange the Funeral of a Catholic in this parish.
A.) The Funeral Mass on the Day of Burial.
This is the “norm” and is most familiar to us. Celebrated in the church with music and the customary rituals of incense and holy water, it includes the Scripture readings, the bringing forward of the bread and wine for the Mass, and celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice and the administration of Holy Communion. The priest concludes with the Rite of Final Commendation and the family departs for the cemetery. This is, as noted, the customary form of the Catholic Funeral Rite and is especially suitable for a deceased person who was an active Catholic and whose family are also practicing Catholics or at least familiar with the Church’s practice and Liturgy.
B.) The Funeral Liturgy apart from Mass.
Like the Funeral Mass it is conducted in the church with music, incense and holy water, with readings, intercessory prayers and Final Commendation. The only difference from the Funeral above is that there is no Liturgy of the Eucharist and no Holy Communion. (The analogy that might be familiar is the difference between a Wedding Ceremony and a Nuptial Mass.)
This form of ceremony might be suitable for congregations of less frequent religious practice, as well as the presence of many non-Catholics, non-Christians, or non-faith attendees yet retaining the dignity, rituals and prayers of a Catholic Funeral in church.. A practical consideration might be as well the shorter length of the Service especially if there is a time constraint.
C.) Funeral Service in the Funeral Home or other site.
This might be a suitable option in special circumstances; e.g.: the Funeral of an infant or young child; particular emotional and health factors in the family; minimal Church affiliation, etc. It is also more suitable for those who wish more extensive eulogies and family remembrances than are possible in a liturgical context in the church.
It is a prayer service conducted by a priest or deacon with Scripture readings; prayers; and a final blessing of the body with Holy Water.
D.) Times of Funeral Liturgies:
All Funeral Liturgies to be held in the church are at 9:45 AM, 10:45 AM, or 11:45 AM.
The Funeral home Service can be scheduled at the above times, or arranged by mutual agreement between Funeral Director and the Parish clergy.
The Vigil or Wake Service.
A long standing custom in our area is the practice of a priest or a deacon going to the Funeral Home the day before a Funeral to conduct a prayer service known as the “Vigil” or commonly called the “Wake Service”.
In the case of a Funeral Liturgy conducted in the church this custom will be maintained. In the case of no Funeral Mass being offered in the church the Wake Service will serve as the Funeral Service.
The Wake is a perfect time to meet old friends and neighbors, to share memories and express condolences. It can also provide a needed outlet for emotions, for tears and laughter. I highly recommend that every family who avail themselves of the dedicated professional services of a Funeral Home have this important part of the grieving and closure process.
It is well known to all engaged in Funeral ministry that an innovation in the Catholic Funeral has become increasingly popular, and to be frank, often problematic. This is the “Eulogy” delivered by a family member or friend. This a non-liturgical practice derived from non-Catholic or secular practice that has been interpolated into the Funeral Mass.
Experience has shown that despite kindly and gentle reminders that these remarks should be brief, dignified, and appropriate to a sacred setting and concern the “faith life” of the deceased they are rarely such.
Human nature tends to want to ruminate, tell stories, relate anecdotes, relieve tension, and at times to shine before an audience. Often enough there are heightened emotions, either of grief or of humor and irony, and completely secular reflections that while perhaps good in themselves, don’t really fit in a worship setting.
There IS however appropriate setting for such eulogies and that is at the Wake.The occasion of the Wake is the perfect setting for such family story-telling and reminiscences. These family celebrations and reminiscences would not be an issue in the Funeral Home or at a family gathering; but often are not a “good fit” in the context of the Liturgy.
For example it would not be fitting that the body be received in the church and the casket decked with a baseball cap. I’ve seen such at Wakes, but in the church we expect the Funeral Pall, the Crucifix, etc.
The same applies to words spoken in each setting. If one does not have a Wake for one’s departed, there is no outlet given for these natural instincts and social customs. The Mass cannot be used as a setting for what should normally be done at a Wake however. As the quote that opened this letter says, the Catholic Funeral Mass is not a secular or Protestant style “memorial service” but an act of prayer and intercession.
Therefore from now on, any eulogies, family reminiscences, expressions of gratitude, anecdotes, etc. will gladly be considered part of the Wake Service if so desired. The family can of course omit these altogether or have them at a time of their choosing amongst themselves.
They will not however be part of the Funeral Liturgy in church at any time.
I would stress that there can be no selective exceptions to the above rule, and it applies to all Funerals at Saint Matthew’s Church whether conducted by parish or visiting clergy.
Note: Funeral arrangements are usually made by a funeral director. If you have any special needs or requests, please call the Parish Center during the day. If your needs are more immediate, you may call the rectory 24 hours a day at 631-912-5955.