Catholic Funeral Rites and Traditions

catholic traditionsWhen a loved one passes on, there is a natural desire to honor their life and legacy. This can come in many forms, but especially for those who hold their faith closely, honoring their deeply held Catholic beliefs can be a beautiful gesture.

The Catholic Church has many beautiful and meaningful rites, ceremonies, and traditions for life events such as funerals. Through these traditions, one can honor and respect the life of the deceased, give family and friends an opportunity to say goodbye, and entrust the deceased into the loving hands of God. Because Catholic funerals are steeped in specific rites and traditions, it is necessary to work with the parish priest of the deceased or another local priest, along with the funeral director, to properly plan and perform the service. Here are some of the most important of them to consider as you plan for the funeral of your Catholic loved one.

Eligibility for Catholic Funeral

To have a Catholic funeral, the deceased must have been baptized and confirmed in the Catholic faith. With the consultation of a priest, exceptions may be made for certain circumstances, such as for young children not yet baptized, or for catechumens, or those who are in the process of joining the Catholic church.  Catholics who have not been actively practicing their faith, but who are from a Catholic family, may be considered eligible as well.

Prior to the Funeral Mass

Several rights and traditions are commonly held for a deceased Catholic prior to the funeral itself and include the following.

  • The Catholic Vigil for the Deceased is typically held the evening prior to or the morning of the Funeral Mass. The Vigil commonly takes place in a Catholic church but can also be held in the home of the deceased or another family member, a funeral home, or another appropriate location. The deceased is traditionally present at the wake, in either an open or closed casket, so loved ones can pay their respects. During the vigil, family or friends may coordinate with the priest to read appropriate passages from Scripture, offer prayers, or speak in remembrance of their departed loved one. Candles and incense are often used to symbolize the life of the deceased and the prayers of the attendees rising to Heaven.
  • The Holy Rosary is a form of meditative, devotional Catholic prayer offered by many Catholics, and is often included in Catholic funerals, particularly if the deceased was devoted to praying it during their life. The Rosary is often prayed as part of the Vigil or just prior to the Funeral Mass and may be led by a family member, friend, member of the parish, or the priest.
  • The Wake or Visitation is a time set aside just prior to the Funeral Mass to allow family and friends to view and say goodbye to their loved one, as well as to offer comfort and support to the family.

Funeral Mass

As with most rites within the Catholic faith, the main Catholic funeral rite is the Funeral Mass, also known as the Requiem Mass. The Funeral Mass must be held in a Catholic church, most often where the deceased was a member of the parish. In the Funeral Mass, the Church provides a special liturgy with specific prayers honoring the life and faith of the deceased and asking God that they receive peace and safe passage to Heaven.

Emphasis is often placed on family or friends working with the priest to select Scripture passages appropriate for the deceased and the occasion, with up to three family members or friends participating in these readings. Families wishing to further personalize the Funeral Mass may work with the priest and funeral director to select their choice of music as well.

The priest will provide a homily that speaks of the faith of the deceased throughout their life and offers comfort and solace to the attendees. Non-Catholics in attendance are invited to participate in the Funeral Mass if they choose, but according to Catholic teaching, only Catholics may receive Holy Communion.

Following Holy Communion, a family member or close friend will often give a short eulogy, sharing a few stories or other remembrances of their loved one.  In addition to the selected readings, the Funeral Mass often includes such traditions as placing a crucifix and pall over the casket, an entry procession, sprinkling the casket with holy water, and special songs and prayers of farewell.

Catholic Burial

With the Funeral Mass completed, the attendees proceed to the place of burial, typically a cemetery or mausoleum. There, the right of passage, or burial, takes place in which the casket or urn containing the earthly remains of the deceased is committed to his or her final resting place. Catholic teaching holds that cremated remains must be committed to a consecrated site, not stored in a home, or scattered.  At the site of committal, the priest will offer burial rite prayers that both bless the final resting place and commit the soul of the departed to the care of God.

No matter the religion or faith journey, traditions are a beautiful way to honor the life of a loved one. Our team of licensed funeral home directors and staff are here to support you and your family to create an honoring experience. Available 24/7, we are here for you.