Planning a Funeral

Planning a Funeral

Sometimes people resist the idea of planning for their own funeral. However, it has become clear in recent years that Catholics should make their wishes known to their families to assure the celebration of the Funeral Rites of the Church.  These Rites are a sign and a statement of faith in the resurrection of the dead.  Parishes, as well as funeral directors, should assist survivors in carrying out these last wishes of their loved ones.

 Assistance to families at the time of the death of a loved one is an aspect of pastoral care often offered by parishes.  Many parishes have established a bereavement ministry group to assist grieving families.  Such ministry includes expressions of sympathy from the parish community, and assistance in choosing and planning the Funeral Rites to be celebrated the Vigil, the Funeral Mass, with its music and appropriate Scripture readings, and the Committal, or burial.

Funerals and Faith

The Church clearly prefers that the body of the deceased is present for the Funeral Rites.  The body uniquely represents our belief that the human body is, in Christ, a temple of the Holy Spirit and destined for future glory at the resurrection of the dead.

The Funeral Rite, as all liturgical celebrations of the Church, are a statement of faith.  The Funeral Rites assist mourners to grieve, but they also honor the faith of the deceased.  The Rites also acknowledge the special bond all Christians share within the Communion of Saints.  Each time we gather for a funeral we state, by our actions, our faith in these mysteries.

The Funeral Rites

The Order of Christian Funerals is divided into three groups of rites, or ceremonies, which correspond to the three principal times in Christian funerals.

The Vigil or Wake Service usually takes place before the day of the Funeral Liturgy, either at the funeral home or sometimes in the parish church.  Family and friends come to offer their condolences to the bereaved.  It is here, at the Vigil, that eulogies honoring the deceased person are given.  The Rite or ceremony,  consists of a short Scripture-based prayer service, usually led by a priest, deacon or other parish minister, as provided in the Order of Christian Funerals.

The Funeral Liturgy is probably the most familiar part of the Order for Christian Funerals and the central of the three rites.  Friends and loved ones gather together in the parish church to participate in the celebration of the Eucharist, both for the benefit of the deceased and in thanksgiving for his or her life of faith.  The celebration is greatly enhanced by the participation of the family.  For instance, in addition to singing responses and hymns during the Mass, family members may place the pall on the casket, select Scripture readings, or serve as readers or extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion.

The Committal or Burial Service is celebrated at the place where the body of the deceased will be buried, usually the consecrated ground of a Catholic cemetery.  It is here, at the cemetery, where the faithful proclaim again belief in the resurrection for themselves and for the one who has died.  The service consists of a short prayer, a reading from Scripture and prayers of intercession.


In recent years, it has become more common for families to choose cremation of a deceased loved one rather than burial of the body.  This is always a legitimate choice, as long as cremation is not chosen as a means of denying belief in the resurrection of the body.  When the choice has been made to cremate the body, it is strongly recommended that the cremation takes place after the Funeral Liturgy.  In this case, the Vigil and the Funeral Liturgy are celebrated before the cremation and the Committal service after.  However, if necessary, all three Funeral Rites can be celebrated after the cremation.

The cremated remains are to be treated with the same respect given to the human body from which they came.  This includes the use of a suitably dignified urn to contain the ashes, and reverent respect in transporting them to their final resting place.  Nothing should be done with the ashes that would not be done with the body.  The cremated remains are to be buried in their entirety in a suitable urn, in a grave, mausoleum, columbarium or even at sea.  The scattering of the cremated remains in any circumstance, whether at sea, from the air or on the ground, or keeping the remains in ones home, is not approved since such actions do not constitute the reverent disposition of the body which our Faith requires.