Planning A Funeral Liturgy

As Catholics, we believe that God has created each person for eternal life.  Our physical death, therefore, is really a preparation for eternity.  It is with this belief in the promise of eternal life that we celebrate the Catholic Funeral Mass.

It is during the Funeral Liturgy that we remember not only the life of the one who has died but also the presence of the Lord Jesus in that person’s life.  At the death of a Christian, whose life of faith began in Baptism and was strengthened by the Eucharist, the Church intercedes on behalf of the deceased because of its belief that death is not the end nor does it break the bonds formed in life.  The Church also ministers to those who grieve the loss of a loved one and aids them in finding consolation through the funeral rites and the sacrament of the Eucharist.

The following words were written by Father Paul Seaman, our pastor, shortly after the death of his father.  Perhaps they will help give a context to the wake and funeral which we hope is helpful for you.

Lessons Relearned

The passing of my father has given me pause and a time to reflect on many things.  And while I have many memories to recall, faith issues to sort out and family time to share, it’s also given me a chance to think about the “professional” aspects of my life as related to death.
 
There is a growing trend among people, even Catholics, to make the choice to have no wake or funeral Mass.  There are all kinds of reasons, some more understandable than others. But having just experienced it, I came to certain realizations.

The value of ritual is greater than one might think.  As my family came together the day dad died, we were aimless and overwhelmed.  We had lots of stories, lots tears and a lot of inner turmoil.  But then we needed to get through preparation for the funeral….working with a funeral home, making connections with the church and most importantly, trying to get the word out to family and friends.

The wake was an amazing evening.  So many good friends came from so far, and I was especially touched by so many who came from Saint Pascal. People tried to express their concern and love. It was beautiful. But as Bishop Manz said at the funeral Mass, “It isn’t what people say, as much as it is simply their presence.”  That was certainly true for me.  And while some people may object that the wake is a long day for the family (and it is), it is also filled with kindness and friendship.
 
The funeral was, I admit, a moment of anxiety.  Being the mourning son of the dead person and the priest responsible for bringing God’s comfort is a difficult and conflicting position.  In fact, some priests don’t say family funerals and allow themselves to be ministered to.  I understand that but, like my father, I’m probably too much of a control freak!  My whole family was deeply touched by the number of people who turned out.  We had at least a couple dozen priests and members of the Saint Pascal choir joined members from Saint Emeric.  My sister shared some wonderful words. It was a wonderful celebration of faith, hope and trust in God.
 
Walking through these rituals helped give my family direction.  They opened the door for friends to express concern and love.  The rituals reminded us of the faith that was at the core of my father, as it is for all of us. The rituals gave us a meaningful way to say “goodbye.”  And for us believers, it was also a way for us to turn Dad over to God, asking His forgiveness and offer prayers for his salvation.  This last one, more than any other, is why Catholics should always have a funeral Mass for a loved one.  It doesn’t matter if the person went to church or not, or if the family does.  In fact, that’s all the more reason why we need to pray for those who have died.  Don’t deprive your loved one --- or yourself --- of this moving and redemptive ritual of life and death.

Typically, here at St. Pascal, a member of the Ministry of Consolation will contact you to arrange a time to meet and assist you with planning the Funeral Liturgy.  This website has been designed to help you understand the rituals that are used by the Church when a member of the Body of Christ dies and help you with questions you might have when planning a Funeral Mass. It also serves to provide you with selected readings, psalms, prayers of the faithful and song selections to review prior to meeting with the Ministry of Consolation.  Here you will find helpful links to the following:

Old Testament Readings / New Testament Readings / Prayers of the Faithful
Selected Responsorial Psalms / Gospel Readings / Song Selections


The Funeral Mass

At the Funeral Mass we offer worship, praise and thanksgiving to God for the gift of a life which has been returned to God.  We are strengthened by our belief in the resurrection and find strength and consolation through our faith in God.  During the Mass we are united in a living memorial of the suffering and death of Jesus in the Resurrection.

The Reception of the Deceased at the entrance to the church is a reminder that the deceased's Christian life began in Baptism and the sprinkling of holy water at this time reminds us of the person's Baptism and initiation into the community of faith.

The Placing of the Pall on the casket serves to remind us of the baptismal garment of the deceased. It is a sign of the Christian dignity of the person and also signifies that all are equal in the eyes of the Lord. It is a large white cloth that has symbols of the light of Christ and Baptism stitched on it.

Family members have the choice of placing the pall on the casket themselves, thus taking part in the liturgy for the deceased, or allowing the funeral director or pallbearers to place it. If the family chooses to do this the funeral director will assist.

The Paschal Candle reminds us of Christ's undying presence among us, of His victory over sin and death and of our share in that victory by virtue of our baptism. The Paschal candle reminds us of the Easter vigil, the night when we await the Lord's resurrection and when new light for the living and the dead is kindled.

Incense is used during the final commendation at the Funeral Mass as a sign of honor to the body of the deceased, which through baptism became the temple of the Holy Spirit. It is also a sign of our prayers for the deceased rising to our Lord and as a symbol of farewell.

The Cross that is usually placed in or on the casket is a reminder that we, as Christians, were marked with the cross in baptism and through Jesus' suffering on the cross, we are brought to his resurrection.

White Vestments, the color used through the Easter season of the Church are worn by the presiding priest as an expression of Christian joy.

The Readings, Prayers and Psalms proclaim to us the promise of eternal life, convey the hope of being gathered together again in God's kingdom and support the witness of Christian life. Family members also have the choice of choosing the readings and the psalm appropriate for their loved one.  During the Funeral Mass a total of three readings are recommended.  Family or friends of the deceased are welcome to proclaim the first two readings while the priest or deacon proclaims the Gospel.

The first reading is drawn from the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament.  Click here for a list of selected Old Testament Readings.

After the first reading, the cantor leads the congregation in singing the Responsorial Psalm.  Click here for a list of selected Responsorial Psalms.

After the Responsorial Psalm, the second reading is drawn from the New Testament.  Click here for a list of selected New Testament Readings.

Just before the Gospel, the congregation stands and sings the Alleluia.  The priest or deacon then reads the selected Gospel reading.  Family members are also welcome to choose the Gospel reading or they may leave the choice to the priest or deacon.  Click here for a list of selected Gospel Readings.

The Homily at a Catholic Mass is meant to link the scripture passages which have been proclaimed to our reason for gathering - commending our loved one to the Risen Lord. The presider of the Mass will ordinarily personalize the homily, keeping in mind the personal reflections you have shared with us. Prior to meeting with a member of the Ministry of Consolation, you will be asked to reflect on two questions: 1) What would you most want others to know about the deceased, and, 2) What was the deceased’s relationship to his or her faith.  The answers to these questions will be most helpful in personalizing the homily.

The Prayers of the Faithful are a series of prayers which are said at the conclusion of the Liturgy of the Word.  These prayers are the way in which the faithful respond to the Word of God and offer prayers for the salvation of all.  The prayers are introduced by the celebrating priest, then a deacon, a family member, or friend of the deceased reads the prayers and the people respond with “Lord, hear our prayer.”  Click here for a list of selected Prayers of the Faithful.

The Presentation of the Gifts is the ritual in which bread, wine and water are brought to the altar.  Family members or friends of the deceased are invited to serve as gift bearers and in so doing serve as a reminder to all present of our commitment to become what we will soon share – the Body and Blood of Christ.

The Final Commendation at the end of Mass expresses our farewell and shows honor to one of its members, a temple of the Holy Spirit, before the body is buried. At this time the celebrant incenses the deceased, as together we entrust our loved one to our Lord and profess that we will share the resurrection with our loved one on the last day.

The Rite of Committal is the final act of the community of faith in caring for the body of its deceased member. It marks the physical separation of the deceased from the mourners. It may be celebrated at the grave, at a cemetery chapel, or a crematorium. Through this simple rite the Church assists us as we complete our care of the deceased and lay the body to rest. This rite also expresses our continued link as the Community of Saints.

A Eulogy is not part of the funeral liturgy. If the family desires a eulogy, it is fitting to be shared at the wake, the cemetery, or the luncheon that usually follows.


Music

Music is essential to the funeral rites. It allows the community to express convictions and feelings that words alone may not convey. Music has the power to console and uplift the mourners and strengthen the unit of the assembly in faith and love.

In the funeral liturgy there are four opportunities for hymns:  The Gathering Song, the Song at the Presentation of the Gifts, the Song at Communion and the Recessional Song at the end of the Mass.

The music chosen for the funeral liturgy should be chosen with great care. It should support, console and uplift the mourners and help create in them the spirit of peace of the risen Lord.

A soloist/pianist is prepared to do the music for the Funeral liturgy. If the family has their own musician whom they would like to have participate in the liturgy we would welcome their participation. Please let us know ahead of time.

With this in mind we present to the bereaved family a list of Song Selections that are appropriate to a funeral Mass. The texts of these songs offer consolation to the mourners and express the Paschal mystery of the Lord's suffering, death and triumph over death, and relate to the readings from Scripture. Special requests for a song that is not on the list will be considered providing that it is an appropriate Christian song for a funeral Mass and that we have the music for it. Please note that the words to the Songs can be found in our Companion Missal.


Cremation

Although cremation is now permitted by the Church, the Church clearly prefers that the body of the deceased be present for the Funeral Mass since the presence of the body better expresses the main beliefs that the Church affirms during the funeral ritual. At times, when circumstances recommend that the cremation of the body occur before the funeral mass, the cremated remains should be present.

The cremated remains should be buried in a grave or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium.  The practice of scattering cremated remains or keeping them in the home of a relative or friend of the deceased is not considered the reverent disposition that the Church requires.  After the Funeral Mass, the cremated remains should be reverently taken to the place of burial or entombment in a timely manner.


A Final Word 

We hope these explanations of the rites and symbols of the Funeral Mass and other information are of help to you during the preparation of your loved one’s funeral. 

If we at St. Pascal can offer any further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us.

May our merciful Lord grant you consolation in your sorrow.