The funeral liturgy usually begins in the back of the church. The familygathers with the priest around the casket. The following normally take place:
- The casket is sprinkled with holy water as a reminder of baptism.
- A pall is draped over the casket. The pall is a large white cloth which represents the white garment worn at baptism. It is not permissible to substitute a flag or quilt for the pall.
- The casket is borne in procession to the front of the church by those chosen to be pall-bearers(generally six people).
- During the procession, an Entrance Chant is sung.
- Once the casket arrives at the front, Christian symbols such as a Bible or cross may be placed on the casket. Other items (such as memorabilia) are best displayed at the vigil.
The Liturgy of the Word
The Liturgy of the Word is a time for God to speak his words of consolation to us through Sacred Scripture. The family is invited to choose readings that will best speak to those who are mourning. The following are the parts of the Liturgy of the Word:
- Scripture Readings (click to view options)
- Homily (given by priest)
- Prayers of the Faithful (intercessions)
The Liturgy of the Eucharist
The liturgy of the Eucharist is where we unite our sorrow and our love with the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, made present in the Eucharist. Through Jesus truly present here on earth, we are united with our loved one in the closest way possible when we receive Holy Communion. Below are the parts of the Liturgy of the Eucharist:
- Preparation of the gifts, during which an Offertory Chant or Hymn is sung. Two family members may be chosen as gift-bearers to bring up the bread and wine which will be used for the consecration of the Holy Eucharist.
- Eucharistic prayers (An appropriate Mass setting may be sung for the acclamations.)
- Communion Rite, during which we receive the true Body and Blood of Jesus in Holy Communion. Non-Catholics and Catholics who have not been active in their Catholic faith do not receive Holy Communion out of reverence for its significance (click here for the Catholic teaching).
- The Communion Chant is begun while the priest is receiving, followed by a hymn or vocal solo.
The Final Commendation
The final commendation brings closure to the funeral liturgy. It ends as the funeral began, with a procession of the casket, this time to our loved one's final resting place. It includes:
- Prayers for the deceased, led by the priest and offered by all in silence.
- Incensing of the casket by the priest as a sign of reverence.
- The song of farewell, sung by all.
- Prayer of Commendation, led by the priest.
- Procession of the casket out of the church, followed by the family and mourners. A recessional song is sung.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why should the funeral usually be a Mass? When is it appropriate not to celebrate a Mass?
The funeral should usually be a Mass because the Mass is the most powerful prayer we are able to offer for our loved one who has died. The Mass is a taste of heaven on earth; at Mass we enter into the joyous worship of the angels and saints in heaven, and we are united with those who are being purified in purgatory. Therefore, we are never closer to those who have died than when we are at Mass! (See Order of Christian Funerals n. 154)
It is appropriate not to celebrate a Mass when there are pastoral reasons not to. For example, if most of the family is not Catholic and might have difficulty participating in the Mass. However, these cases should be carefully discerned, especially when the person who has died may have desired a funeral Mass.
If the funeral is celebrated outside of Mass, a Mass should be offered at a later time for the soul of the deceased.
If we plan to cremate the remains, is it permissible to do so prior to the funeral liturgy?
The Catholic Church clearly prefers and urges that the body of the deceased be present for the funeral liturgy, since the presence of the human body better expresses our belief that the body is truly a part of the person, and that this same body will be resurrected at the end of time. (See Order of Christian Funerals Appendix n. 413-415)
In extraordinary circumstances, it is possible to cremate the body before the funeral liturgy. This should be discerned with the pastor. Read more about cremation here.
Can a family member or friend give a eulogy (remarks of remembrance) at the funeral liturgy?
The funeral liturgy is not the best time for a eulogy (a speech in praise of the deceased) because the focus of the funeral is to pray fervently for our loved one that they may enter quickly into eternal happiness. While a eulogy looks back on a person's earthly life which has ended, the funeral liturgy looks forward to the future--to his/her heavenly life which is just beginning!
A eulogy by friends and family, or a sharing of stories from the person's life, is better suited to the vigil (wake). It is permissible, however, for a friend or family member to give brief remarks in remembrance of the deceased after the Prayer after Communion.
Can favorite songs be sung or played, even if they do not have Christian words?
Only sacred music, that is, music with sacred words and a sacred sound, may be used in the liturgy. For more about funeral music, click here.
It is difficult for us to imagine how beautiful heaven actually is, and how much greater its joys are than those of earth. Though our loved one may have enjoyed a certain song during his/her lifetime, now he/she is singing the songs of heaven. During the liturgy, we are able to join our loved ones in that heavenly song!
Why do we use incense?
Incense is an ancient liturgical practice that symbolizes our prayer and worship; as the fragrant smoke rises upward, our prayers rise to the heavenly throne. Its use at funerals is a special act of reverence for the body of the deceased, as we offer our loved one back to God and pray for his/her soul.
Most churches use a hypo-allergenic type of incense to which there is no allergic reaction.
Can a slideshow of pictures or display of memorabilia be shown during the liturgy?
A slideshow of pictures or display of memorabilia is better displayed at the vigil (wake). The vigil is more properly a time to remember the earthly life of our loved one, while the funeral liturgy looks forward to heaven. The Mass is a special time when we can "take a peek" at the glory of God, whose loving face is so beautiful that all earthly joys pale in comparison.