A helpful guide so you can plan a Catholic Funeral without complications – covering beliefs, funeral rites, prayers, mass, music, traditions and etiquette
Catholic Burial and Catholic Funeral: 7 Things to Know
Catholics believe that after death, each person will face judgment by God, based on the actions of their lives. This determines whether the person’s soul shall be accepted into heaven, sent to suffer in hell, or purgatory. Catholic funeral rites focus on praying for the deceased’s soul: for the forgiveness of their sins and for the soul’s acceptance into paradise. Catholic funeral traditions also seek to bring the community together in support for the bereaved. By understanding the next 7 points, you can plan a catholic funeral that honours your loved one and their beliefs.
What is a Catholic Funeral?
A Catholic funeral is a Christian funeral, though it may differ from other Christian denominations in some of the rituals. A belief in the existence of purgatory is one of the things that differs in Catholic services. The soul of a sinner, stuck in purgatory, may be pardoned and elevated to heaven. Catholic funerals thus emphasise forgiveness and prayer as an appeal to the mercy of God. Some Catholic funeral traditions include:
- the funeral service should be held at a Catholic Church
- there may be a Catholic Funeral Mass
- three defined mourning stages: The Prayer Vigil, the Funeral Liturgy, the Rite of Committal
- a Catholic burial
- in recent years, cremation has also become an acceptable Catholic burial tradition
How do you Plan a Catholic Funeral Service?
Planning a funeral service for a loved one can seem daunting. If you are a member of The Catholic Church, your local priest can provide counsel and guidance. You can also appoint a funeral director to help you with the logistics and provide organisational support.
Some decisions you will need to make when planning a Catholic funeral are:
- choosing a suitable funeral director, if you would like help with the funeral-planning
- deciding whether to arrange a conventional burial, a green burial, or a cremation
- deciding whether to have a closed or open coffin
- choosing a venue: usually the Catholic church, cemetery or crematorium
- choosing whether to hold a Catholic funeral mass or not
- working out an Order of Service, usually with the help of your priest
- assigning pall bearers (usually key family members or friends)
- writing a guest list, and inviting chosen people to do a reading
- making a list of Catholic funeral readings, prayers and music
- arrangements around flowers, a possible funeral reception, and catering
If you’d like to know more about each of these options, feel free to chat to us (insert hyperlink). At Fenix Funeral Directors, we offer a fully-personalised funeral service, reception and burial, in accordance with Catholic funeral traditions.
What Happens when a Person of the Catholic Faith Dies?
When a Catholic person is nearing death, a priest should be called to the bedside for the last rights and a Holy Communion. Afterwards, the priest will again say prayers and administer rites for the soul of the deceased. At this point, the next of kin starts planning a Catholic funeral according to the wishes of their loved one.
When it comes to The Catholic Church, organ donation is allowed, as it is seen as a final charitable act on the part of the deceased. The Catholic Church also accepts embalming, which may be necessary in the case of an open coffin funeral.
What Happens at a Catholic Funeral?
At a Catholic funeral, the mourning process takes place in set stages:
- The Prayer Vigil
- The Funeral Liturgy
- The Rite of Committal
- The Catholic Burial or Cremation
- A Funeral Reception
The Prayer Vigil
This Vigil is also known as the Rosary Ceremony, or the Reception of the Body. It is a reciting of prayers, poems and memories of the deceased, with a priest or deacon presiding. This ceremony usually takes place at the wake, the evening before the funeral service. It can be held at the family home, a church or a funeral home. The casket is usually present at the prayer vigil and eulogies are spoken here, rather than at the funeral.
The Funeral Liturgy
The main ceremony for the deceased is the Funeral Liturgy. This is usually held in the Catholic Church where the deceased worshipped. It is normally a formal and moving service, with the casket present. A Requiem Mass may be held, which includes the Holy Communion administered by an ordained priest. The church encourages a funeral mass in the service, but it is not mandatory.
The Committal Service
After the funeral service, a committal service is held at the crematorium or graveside, by a priest. This Catholic funeral rite is when the deceased’s body is given a final blessing before being committed to the earth for a Catholic burial, or to the incinerator for cremation. Holy water, earth or flowers maybe be sprinkled or placed on the casket. The priest will bless the site and will lead the mourners in prayer; usually the Catholic version of The Lord’s Prayer.
A Catholic Burial
Traditionally, Catholics are buried after the committal, in the presence of a priest. The Catholic funeral rites are only considered complete once the deceased is laid to rest in this way.
Cremation as a burial practice
For centuries, Catholic rituals dictated that Catholics should be buried in the earth. However, in 1963 cremation was recognised as an acceptable burial tradition by the Vatican.
Some differences in the way that cremation is viewed by Catholics compared to other religions:
- cremation is not the end of the farewell process
- the cremated remains, or ashes, may not be dispersed or kept in an urn at home
- cremated remains should be treated with the same reverence as the body of the deceased
- the ashes should be buried in a respectful manner in consecrated ground or in a tomb, and only once this happens are the Catholic funeral rites considered complete
A Funeral Reception
After the funeral and burial, there may be a funeral reception held at the family home, a restaurant or another venue. The atmosphere here is usually more informal, with food and drink being served and photographs to honour the deceased on display. Popular music may be played and people are encouraged to share their memories of the deceased, while offering comfort to the bereaved.
What Types of Catholic Church Funerals are there?
Most Catholic funerals are held at the church where the deceased worshipped. There are two main options to choose from, for a Catholic Church funeral:
- a service with a Requiem Mass
- a Catholic funeral service without Requiem Mass, known as a ‘funeral outside Mass’
Catholic Funeral Mass
A Mass is the highest form of prayer possible in a Catholic church. It is when the body and blood of Christ are represented by bread and wine. If a Catholic funeral is presided over by an ordained Catholic priest, it may be a Requiem Mass.
Key features of a Catholic Funeral Mass include:
- the Eucharistic prayer
- the giving and receiving of Holy Communion
- the casket, either open or closed, is blessed and sprinkled with Holy Water
- a bible or crucifix may be placed on the casket.
Traditionally, a Requiem Mass may not be held on the following days:
- the Easter weekend: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday or Easter Sunday
- Sundays during the Advent or Lent
- it is unusual to hold Catholic funerals on a Sunday, as this is commonly reserved for worship
Catholic Funeral outside Mass
A Catholic funeral service without Mass can also be arranged. The main difference is that no holy Communion would be given, but the prayers, hymns and Catholic funeral traditions would remain the same. This may be a preferred choice if the majority of mourners are not Catholic, or if there is no priest available.
What is Catholic Funeral Etiquette and Dress Code?
The mood at a Catholic funeral is generally formal and sombre. All social interactions should follow this etiquette. As well as this, the dress code follows fairly set traditions:
- mourners wear modest, smart clothing in black or dark colours
- men usually wear a black suit and tie
- women traditionally wear a smart black dress or suit
- women may wear hats if they prefer, but it is unacceptable for a man to wear a hat
Is there Music at a Catholic Funeral?
Traditionally, mourners sing hymns at Catholic services. There is usually an opening hymn and a closing hymn, but more may be sung if preferred. There may also be a pianist, organist or choir to lead the singing – if requested. It is not appropriate to use recorded music at a Catholic Funeral. The music should uplift the mourners, by giving them hope and reminding them of Christ’s resurrection. Some popular funeral hymns are:
- The Lord’s My Shepherd
- Abide with Me
- Amazing Grace
Composers who wrote music for the Requiem Mass include Mozart, Bach, Verdi and Benjamin Britten. Their work may be more appropriate when sung by a choir, or performed as instrumental music.
If you need assistance choosing music, the Catholic Church you are using should be able to offer guidance. Alternatively, feel free to contact us (insert hyperlink) at Fenix Funeral Directors. We have been organising Catholic funerals in keeping with Catholic rituals for many years, and we are committed to helping you honour your loved one in your own special way.
Can Catholics be cremated?
Since 1963, Catholics have had the choice of cremation as an acceptable burial tradition. Catholic funeral traditions view the cremated remains in the same way as the body of the deceased: they should be treated with respect and dignity. The ashes may not be scattered or kept in an urn at home. They should be buried in consecrated ground or interred in a tomb.
How long is a Catholic funeral?
A full Catholic Funeral Mass order of service may take up to 45 minutes. A funeral outside of Mass, held in a church or funeral home, may be 20 – 30 minutes in length.
How long after death is a funeral for Catholics?
A Catholic Funeral can be anywhere between two days and a week after death. Most Catholics try to hold a funeral within three days. If you are looking for support in organising a funeral soon after the passing of a loved one, consider using our help, at Fenix Funeral Directors. We are dedicated to planning and hosting special services, befitting the memory of your loved one.