Understanding Roman Catholic funerals

For Roman Catholics, a funeral oversees the passing of the soul into the afterlife. Its first purpose is to absolve the soul of the deceased of any sins in preparation of its ascent into Heaven. Its second purpose is to offer comfort and closure to the people left behind.

Not all Catholic funerals are the same (a lot depends on the extent to which the family of the deceased is religious), but here are some things to expect when a Catholic person passes or when attending their funeral.

Understanding Roman Catholic funerals

Last rites

When a person is on his or her deathbed, a priest will be called in to administer the last rites, which constitute of prayers and ministrations. Not every person will be given the last rites, as is the case with sudden deaths.

Days a funeral cannot be held

There are certain days during which a funeral mass cannot be held. These include:

  • Holy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter)
  • Holy Saturday (the Saturday before Easter)
  • Easter Sunday
  • Sundays during Advent (the four Sundays before December 25th)
  • Sundays during Lent (the 40 days before Easter)
  • Sundays during the Easter period (the 50 days after Easter)

The vigil or wake

Embalming will often happen before the vigil during which the body will be exposed. The vigil can be held at the church, funeral home, or home of the deceased on the night before the funeral. Friends and family will pray and remember the deceased. Traditionally, eulogies are given at the vigil, though less observant Catholics may choose to share them at both the vigil and funeral.

The funeral liturgy or service

Traditionally, a priest will deliver the homily, though a deacon may replace him. Church music will be included in the mass, as can be psalms, hymns, or readings that may have a particular meaning for friends and family of the deceased.

The rite of Committal

This is when the body is buried or interred. It can occur in a graveyard, mausoleum, crypt, or columbarium. Last prayers and blessings are said to ensure the site is sacred before the remains are deposited and the body laid to rest eternally. Ashes should not be scattered, but buried or entombed.

Mourning

Roman Catholics do not observe a specific mourning period. The rite of Committal is what adjourns the funeral procedures.

Variations

Not all Catholics observe all of these funeral traditions. From choosing not to expose the body at the vigil to playing popular music at the funeral liturgy, there are many ways in which some families have combined Catholic traditions with new secular ones in order to create alternative ways to offer closure and comfort to the family and friends left behind.

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