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Guide to Funeral Planning

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We wish to offer our sincere condolences to anyone who has lost a loved one. Whether the conditions are expected or not, it hurts all of us to lose any one. Funerals help not only with emotional healing but also spiritually to pray for the deceased and those who remain behind. We celebrate the gift that every human life is but look forward to life after death.

As with every Liturgy of the Church, the Funeral Liturgy is an official, public prayer of the Church. It is the Church’s prayer for the immortal soul of the deceased and for the consolation of those loved ones left behind. The prayers, readings, intercessions, and musical selections represent the “Prayer of the Church” universal in nature.

The laity or family members may serve as readers, musicians, ushers, pallbearers, and, if already commissioned, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. The faithful are encouraged to help plan the funeral in the choice of readings, music, petitions, and liturgical ministers, such as servers and readers.

Three Parts to a Catholic Funeral

Design from the stained glass windows at OLPH.
The Vigil (Wake)

In these three sequential rites, the Church offers to those who are mourning a way to prepare themselves spiritually and emotionally, to say goodbye. As of recent times, Catholics are tending to eliminate one or more of these three rites. We discourage doing this. The burial of the body or cremains should take place in a reasonable time soon after death has occurred. The prayer of the Church is seen as a healthy and timely way to say farewell as well as offer prayers for the immortal soul of the deceased. To delay the Rites of Christian Burial simply for convenience is somewhat inappropriate.

The Vigil (Wake)

At the Vigil, the Christian community keeps watch with the family in prayer to the God of mercy and finds strength in Christ’s presence. The Catholic Vigil is a prayer service, usually held the evening before the funeral. The community of friends and family will usually gather for a service at the funeral home/mortuary. In some cases (especially if many people are expected), the Vigil may be held in the church. The Vigil may include either the rosary or scripture readings, a very brief homily. Essentially both are prayer for both the deceased and the grieving family. Also, it is appropriate for a eulogy to be given or read at the Vigil. Visitation usually follows the Vigil, or Wake, service.

The Funeral Mass

The core of the Catholic funeral celebration is the usually Mass but may be replaced with a service for pastoral reasons. The Eucharist is at the center of the Catholic faith – the celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Scripture readings and prayer play a prominent role in the Catholic funeral service, along with songs, hymns, and a brief message. While following the directives of the Church's ritual in planning the liturgical celebration, the choice of music, appropriate color of vestments (black, white, or purple), biblical readings, and homily should reflect the family’s wishes, while emphasizing as well the community aspect of faith which remains unbroken in death.

The Funeral Mass is customarily celebrated on the day of burial. However, for pastoral reasons the Mass may be celebrated at some other time before the burial. In any event, there should be only one Funeral Mass for the deceased.

Since the proper setting for Mass is a sacred place such as a church or chapel, Mass may not to be celebrated in a funeral home or similar facility except under unique circumstances. The body of the deceased should be present in the church for the Mass.

Liturgical roles should be fulfilled by members of the family who are Catholic in roles of readers and the offertory procession. Exceptions may be made for non-Catholics if necessary. In accordance with the Church's teaching, Holy Communion is not permitted for non-Catholics, but they may serve as pallbearers, lectors, or other ways.

The casket remains closed during the Funeral Mass and should be covered with a pall in remembrance of the baptismal garment. 

The Rite of Committal (Burial/Interment)

In the Catholic faith, there is great respect for the body. Catholics believe that the body is “the temple of the Lord” and that at the end of time, there will be a resurrection of the body. The service at the cemetery is the last farewell, in which the Christian community honors one of its members before the body is buried or entombed. With priest and mourners accompanying the body to the cemetery, the rite is celebrated at the cemetery.

For those involved in civic organizations and those with additional affiliations, patriotic or fraternal services may also be conducted following the burial rite.

The Funeral Mass
Rite of Committal
Design from the stained glass windows at OLPH.
Design from the stained glass windows at OLPH.
Design from the stained glass windows at OLPH.
Cross in ashes

Additional Details

Design from the stained glass windows at OLPH.

Funeral Liturgy Outside of Mass

The funeral liturgy outside of Mass is ordinarily celebrated in the parish church/chapel, but may be celebrated in the home of the deceased, a funeral home, or in a cemetery chapel. Generally speaking, Mass may not be offered as part of the funeral rites for those not entitled to a Catholic funeral according to Church law. Following careful consideration of the deceased's relationship with the Church, the needs and wishes of the bereaved family, and the attitude of the community, the pastor may offer a funeral liturgy outside Mass. This rite may also be appropriate for a deceased Catholic when no members of the family practice the faith. The body of the deceased should be present for the service for a number of pastoral reasons.

Even though Mass may not be celebrated as part of the funeral rite in these situations, it may be offered at another time for the repose of the soul of the deceased and for the spiritual well-being of the relatives and friends.

Ecumenical Considerations

When requested by Catholic relatives or friends of a deceased non-Catholic, a priest or deacon may conduct a prayer service for the non-Catholic in a funeral home. In particular circumstances where the deceased non-Catholic was well disposed to the Church, and if the family requests, a Mass may be celebrated with the body present in church.


In recent years, Catholic funeral practices have been impacted by the increasing popularity of cremation as a means of providing for the final disposition of the body. As a result, a number of burial practices have been embraced by some Catholics which are not appropriate according to the Order of Christian Funerals. In order to help in funeral planning and be aware of the official teachings of the Catholic Church, please review the following principles regarding Cremation. On March 21, 1997, the Holy See granted an indult to the Order of Christian Funerals, for the U.S. Latin-rite bishops for the celebration of the funeral liturgy in the presence of cremated remains. This practice was never intended to be viewed as an equal alternative to the traditional funeral rites.

When cremation of the body is chosen, the Church still prefers that the body be cremated after the Funeral, thus allowing for the presence of the body at the Funeral Mass. When circumstances require it, however, cremation and committal may take place even before the Funeral liturgy. As mentioned above, most of the usual rites which are celebrated in the presence of the body of the deceased may also be celebrated in the presence of the cremated remains. The primary symbols of the Roman Catholic Funeral Liturgy are retained even when the funeral liturgy is celebrated in the presence of the cremated remains. The cremains may be carried in procession and/or placed on a table where the casket normally would be. Photographs and other mementos may be used at the vigil and cemetery, but are generally minimalized for presentation at Mass. Sometimes a display may be placed at the back of the church if a showing with or without the body occurs before the liturgy.

The cremated remains of the deceased should be given the same respect as a body is given during the Rite of Committal. A worthy vessel must carry the cremated remains of the deceased to the place of internment. The cremated remains should be buried in a grave or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium. The practice of scattering ashes over the sea, on the ground, or from the air is not permitted for Catholics and is not considered to be the reverent disposition of the cremated remains.

The cremated remains may be buried at sea as long as they are intact and placed in a worthy vessel that will carry the remains to the bottom of the sea bed. Burial of cremated remains at sea should observe all applicable Federal and State laws and regulations.


Catholics should never keep cremated remains in their homes, places of work, or any other personal space. Neither should Catholics divide and/or share the cremated remains of the deceased with others. The Church strongly encourages that the cremated remains be buried or placed in a location reserved solely for the dead. If the final disposition of the cremated remains will not be laid in such a manner, the family or loved ones will have to find other means to pursue this effort after the funeral Mass. We respectfully leave this decision to your prudential discretion.

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