Preparing for Funeral Service

The night before the funeral offers an important opportunity for people to mourn. Being less public, it frees people to express their grief with family and friends.

Different cultures have different customs for the night before the funeral. One custom is to visit the home of the close relatives of the person who died, to sit with them, to share their grief.

Some people choose to go to the funeral parlour. There they might view the body and pray for a short time. Some parishes have the custom of praying the rosary at the church.

Each of these alternatives provides an opportunity for others to express their sorrow and for you to express both your grief and your hope in the resurrection.

The Vigil
Others might choose to have a vigil at the church. The church provides a ritual or service for this. It consists of prayers, reading of the Word of God, prayers of intercession. You might like to include the sharing of memories.

The Funeral Service
The funeral service is usually celebrated with a Mass with prayers for the dead. This is primarily an expression of our belief in the resurrection. As a Christian funeral, we praise God and give to him our dead relative, commending him or her to God’s love.

Preparing a Mass of Christian Burial
If you have the opportunity to discuss the funeral Mass with the priest, you are likely to find that it enables you to express your love for the person in a unique way. You might choose to make a special booklet, although it is not absolutely necessary.

The Readings
The first thing that you may think about is your choice of readings. Through them you can provide an opportunity for your family and friends to hear God speak to them. It is usually possible to choose a reading from each of the Old and New testaments and a Gospel reading. The priest may invite you to choose these from the Lectionary (the Book of readings used at Mass).

In volume III of the Lectionary, the First readings are found on pagers 849-857; the second readings are found on pages 863-870. You will find the Gospel readings on pp. 871-890. The responsorial psalms are found on pp. 849-857 and the Alleluia Verses are found on pages 871-890.

You might ask different members of the family to read the first reading, the responsorial psalm and the second reading. If you do so, it is important that the people know the responses at the end of the readings and that they have an opportunity to practise the readings with the microphone.

The Prayers of the Faithful
The Prayers of the Faithful (also called the General Intercessions) provide another opportunity to personalize the celebration of the deceased person’s life and to enable family members to participate.

The priest may suggest that you use intercessions already written. Alternatively, he may invite you to write your own intercessions. If you choose to write your own intercessions, you might choose to pray for the deceased person, for those who are mourning the death of the one they loved, for those who cared for the person particularly prior to death, for other deceased members of the family, for all who have died recently.

Usually the same format is used for each intercession. A common format is:

For N. who prayed as a member of this parish community, that he/she may be welcomed into the heavenly kingdom. (Slight pause) Lord, in your mercy:
All: Hear our prayer

Those who are praying the intercessions will need to remember that the priest introduces them with a brief prayer and follows up with a concluding prayer.

Introductory Rites
During the introductory rites, the community welcomes the body. It may also be a time of welcome to the community who have gathered those who have come to pray in support of the family and to honour the dead person.

The priest sprinkles the coffin with holy water. Holy water is a reminder of our baptism. Baptism is the beginning of our life in Christ. This sprinkling is a symbol of a new life in Christ.

Some parishes have a pall – a large white cloth that is placed on the coffin by family members. The pall is a reminder of the white garment received in baptism. The tender, graceful covering of the coffin is a respectful caring for the dead person, clothing the deceased person in a white garment for the last time.

Other family members may place on the coffin Christian symbols – a Bible, a missal, rosary beads, a medal.

The priest may invite you or some close family member – one person only – to speak some words by way of welcome and remembrance to the assembled group. This is an opportunity to recall respectfully and lovingly, in a very few minutes, a little of the dead person’s life. This is not a eulogy.

Because this can be an emotional time, it is a very good idea if the words are written.

At the Graveside
What happens at the graveside? Because this can be a time of great sorrow, these prayers are brief. They are an expression of the final taking leave, of letting go and of acknowledging our grief and our need for the comfort and support of others.

The church offers a final ritual, the rite of committal, to be used at the graveside. It begins with the priest inviting the assembled family and friends to commit the persons’ body to the earth and to support each other in our sorrow. This is followed by a brief reading of the Word of God. Then the coffin is lowered into the ground. The priest or another person prays intercessions and all join in the Lord’s prayer. The priest concludes with a final prayer and a blessing.

Questions

My grandfather wants to be cremated. Is this allowed?
The Catholic Church does allow a person to be cremated. Preferably the cremation should take place after the funeral liturgy. The symbolism of the liturgy, the sprinkling with water, the clothing with the pall, is more meaningful if the body is present.

The Church urges us to treat the cremated remains with respect. If possible, we should inter the remains in a grave, mausoleum or columbarium.

This material was prepared by Elizabeth Delaney sgs, Information Officer, Australian Catholic Bishops Conference with thanks to Catholic Ireland for the use of their content. The material may be reproduced for non-commercial use provided this notice is included. Copyright © 2005.