The Catholic Funeral

We thank you for visiting our site today and we hope you find the information to be extremely helpful in planning for a Catholic funeral.  Our experienced funeral directors are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year to answer any questions or concerns.  We would be honored to assist you in creating the perfect Celebration of Life for your loved one while honoring our Catholic traditions.

Typically, the Roman Catholic funeral is reserved for all baptized Catholics, catechumens – those adults who are preparing for baptism in the Catholic Church – as well as children who die before they are baptized.  In some instances, with the permission of the parish priest or local bishop, Christians of other faith traditions may have a Roman Catholic funeral.

“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)

Most Catholic funerals consist of three distinct aspects – the Vigil, the Funeral Liturgy and the Committal Service.

The Vigil

Catholic-Funeral-VigilThe Vigil, also known as the wake, is usually held the evening before the Funeral Liturgy and Committal Service.  The Vigil is most commonly held at the funeral home, but it can also be held at the church or another place of importance to the family, including the family’s home.  However, when selecting the appropriate location for the Vigil, considerations should be given as to the anticipated number of attendees to ensure adequate space and should be a place of reverence and respect.

Today, more than ever, families are encouraged to participate in the remembrance or celebration of the life lived.  The visitation, including the vigil service, is the most appropriate and opportune time to have family and friends share memories of the deceased’s life.  Most Vigil services will be led by a priest, deacon, nun or lay minister and will include scripture readings, intercessions, hymns, and quite possibly special musical selections.

In addition to the priest or other liturgical member, many families will also choose to involve the services of a Celebrant.  Celebrants are specially trained individuals who receive certification in performing funeral ceremonies that truly honor a loved ones life.  The Celebrant will act as the Master of Ceremonies and can incorporate many of the family’s favorite stories into the services.  If the family desires to invite friends to come forward and pay tribute to their loved one, the Celebrant can be instrumental in maintaining a flow to the services.  In the absence of a Celebrant or Master of Ceremonies, our funeral directors would be honored to fill this role for families.

 The Funeral Liturgy

Catholic-Funeral-ServicesThe Funeral Liturgy (Funeral Mass) follows the same pattern as a typical Catholic Mass.  However, the Funeral Liturgy incorporates additional elements that reflect upon the place the deceased person had in the life of those who are mourning.  The Christian belief in the Resurrection is the central focus of the Funeral Liturgy.

As with many religions, the Catholic Church uses symbols throughout the Mass.  These symbols include the use of a pall to cover the casket; sprinkling of holy water; a crucifix or other Christian symbols.

The Pall signifies the deceased life in Christ through baptism.   Covering the casket, or the deceased, with the pall is a reminder of the baptismal garment the deceased person received at baptism reminding us of Christ’s promise of eternal life.  It has also been said that since we are all created equal in the eyes of the Lord, the covering of the casket removes any visible representation as to the financial station the deceased may have held in life.

The use of Holy Water to sprinkle the casket is more important than any other symbol used because it’s a tangible remembrance of our Baptism.  In fact, a funeral is really a celebration / reaffirmation of the promises made in baptism.

Catholic-Rite-of-CommittalThe Crucifix and Bible may also be placed on the casket.  Also, a Pascal candle is placed in front of the casket.  These symbols remind us that if we die with Christ, we will live with him forever.

Incense is a symbolic reminder that our prayers rise to heaven.   The priest will also incense the altar, the gifts used at Mass, the people and the body.  In doing so, we recall that the body once was and will be again the temple of the Holy Spirit.  It is a reminder that the body of the deceased is sacred.  The Catholic Church insists upon either burial in sacred ground or interment of the cremated remains in a niche as a sign of sacredness for the human body.  The church does not encourage the spreading or dividing of the remains.

The funeral liturgy is the central liturgical celebration of the Christian community for the deceased.  However, when a Mass cannot be celebrated, a funeral liturgy outside Mass can be celebrated at the church or in the funeral home.

The Church uses the funeral liturgy as an opportunity to gather with the family and friends of the deceased to give praise and thanks to God for Christ’s victory over sin and death.  The Mass also allows the Church and those in attendance to commend the deceased to God’s tender mercy and compassion, and to seek strength in the proclamation of the Paschal Mystery.  Because of this, the funeral liturgy is not only an expression of grief, but also an act of worship.

Rite of Committal (Burial or Interment)

Crucifixion, Jesus Christ on cross in cemeteryThe 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 cemetery or other final resting place at the gravesite 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.

Catholic Funerals: Honoring Life, Celebrating FaithMsgr Gibbons head shot-web

To learn more about the Rite of Christian Burials in the Catholic faith listen to our online radio show, Undertakings, with Monsignor Robert Gibbons from St. Paul’s Catholic Church.  Monsignor provides great insight into the Catholic Funeral Mass in our episode entitled Catholic Funerals: Honoring Life, Celebrating Faith.

Undertakings is the exclusive radio show of Anderson-McQueen Funeral Homes.  Our host, John McQueen, interviews various end-of-life experts on subjects you want to know about.  Subscribe today for free at the iTunes store or visit our radio website at


Information cited from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops