An Overview of Catholic Funeral Rites by the United States Conference of Bishops
"At the death of a Christian, whose life of faith was begun in the waters of Baptism and strengthened at the Eucharistic table, the Church intercedes on behalf of the deceased because of its confident belief that death is not the end, nor does it break the bonds forged in life. The Church also ministers to the sorrowing and consoles them in the funeral rites with the comforting Word of God and the Sacrament of the Eucharist." (Order of Christian Funerals, no. 4)Vigil Service (Wake)
"At the vigil, the Christian community keeps watch with the family in prayer to the God of mercy and finds strength in Christ's presence" (Order of Christian Funerals, no. 56). The Vigil Service usually takes place during the period of visitation and viewing at the funeral home. It is a time to remember the life of the deceased and to commend him/her to God. In prayer we ask God to console us in our grief and give us strength to support one another.
The Vigil Service can take the form of a Service of the Word with readings from Sacred Scripture accompanied by reflection and prayers. It can also take the form of one of the prayers of the Office for the Dead from the Liturgy of the Hours. The clergy and your funeral director can assist in planning such service.
It is most appropriate, when family and friends are gathered together for visitation, to offer time for recalling the life of the deceased. For this reason, eulogies are usually encouraged to be done at the funeral home during visitation or at the Vigil Service.
The funeral liturgy is the central liturgical celebration of the Christian community for the deceased. When one of its members dies, the Church encourages the celebration of the funeral liturgy at a Mass. When Mass cannot be celebrated, a funeral liturgy outside Mass can be celebrated at the church or in the funeral home.
At the funeral liturgy, the Church 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. The funeral liturgy, therefore, is an act of worship, and not merely an expression of grief.
Rite of Committal (Burial or Interment)
The Rite of Committal, the conclusion of the funeral rite, is the final act of the community of faith in caring for the body of its deceased member. It should normally be celebrated at the place of committal, that is, beside the open grave or place of interment. In committing the body to its resting place, the community expresses the hope that, with all those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith, the deceased awaits the glory of the resurrection. The Rite of Committal is an expression of the communion that exists between the Church on earth and the Church in heaven: the deceased passes with the farewell prayers of the community of believers into the welcoming company of those who need faith no longer, but see God face-to-face.
Some clarifications from the Diocese of Rockville Centre
- Since in baptism the body was marked with the seal of the Trinity and became the temple of the Holy Spirit, Christians respect and honor the bodies of the dead and the places where they rest. (OCF, 19) For the final disposition of the body, it is the ancient Christian custom to bury or entomb the bodies of the dead (OCF, 19) after the manner of Christs own burial. The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burying the dead be observed; it does not, however, forbid cremation unless it has been chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching. (canon 1176, 3)
- In addition to the requirements of culture or custom, the desire for cremation is generally the specific choice of an individual before death for a number of reasons that may be judged good or pastoral and, therefore, can be accommodated.
- Cremation, however, may also be requested by the family of the deceased for what also may be judged good or pastoral reasons that can be accommodated.
- It is to be presumed that the faithful who choose cremation have the proper motives and good intentions. However, when a doubt arises, consult the Chancellors Office.
- When cremation has been chosen for a acceptable reasons, the various elements of the funeral rite the vigil, the funeral liturgy and the final commendation and farewell should be celebrated with the body present.
- The rites ordinarily performed at the grave, crypt, or cemetery chapel may be performed in the crematory building. In the event there is no other suitable place for the committal rites, the crematory building can be used, provided always that the danger of scandal or religious indifferentism is avoided.
- The cremated remains must always be treated with respect. They should be either interred or entombed, preferably in a Catholic cemetery.
- The Funeral Mass is usually celebrated with the body present. Cremation occurs after the Funeral Mass. However, In the United States, if the body has been cremated prior to the funeral liturgy, the cremated remains may be brought into the Church for the funeral liturgy.
- The cremated remains may not be scattered or disposed of in any manner other than a dignified interment or entombment.