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.

Some Thoughts on Planning a Funeral by Fr. Dees

The death of a loved one is always a challenging time. Whether that death was at the end of a long and fulfilling life or whether it came too soon, whether it was long prepared for or sudden and unexpected, death always has a way of catching us off-guard. Speaking from personal experience, the death of someone we love can be a strange mix of emotions: sadness at the parting, but also comfort and sometimes even laughter as we listen to the many memories and stories that friends and family share.

None of us particularly likes to think about our passing from this life, but I think one of the most important gifts that we can give to our families is to make our wishes clear ahead of time and to prepare our funeral mass long before we might need it. In the weeks leading up to my ordination to the priesthood, the Archdiocese had me fill out a lot of paperwork about all sorts of things. The thing that struck me most was the plan for my funeral. Here I was at the age of twenty-five being asked to prepare for something that I hoped would be many, many decades in the future. Yet it made sense the more I thought about it; why not prepare now for something that would save my family the trouble of having to read my mind and guess my wishes, especially when they themselves were going through sadness and grief?

One of the things I love about our Catholic faith is the ritual. As both a mourner and one who has celebrated funeral masses for friends and relatives, I like the comfort of being able to enter into a preset pattern and ritual that holds me up when my mind and heart might be distracted by sadness and tears. Unfortunately, there is a growing trend among many people, even faithful Catholics, to forego a wake, funeral mass, or burial. There are many reasons that a family might decide to do this, yet I think we are missing something when we don’t allow ourselves the ritual of mourning. There’s a great comfort in walking through the steps with family and friends, allowing the tradition of our Church to guide us through our grief.

From my own experience, the wake can be a wonderful occasion. At the wakes for my grandparents, I was struck by who showed up. We saw people we hadn’t seen in years and I learned so much about my grandparents that I hadn’t before: the depth of their generosity in helping out friends and neighbors, their humorous and playful side as experienced by their friends, the way they were there for people in difficult times. My family shared many laughs as old stories were retold and new ones were shared. The wake can certainly be a long (and exhausting) day, yet I wouldn’t trade it for anything. There were sad moments to be sure, but what a comfort to see the love and support of so many people.

The funeral can certainly be a difficult time. Saying the funeral mass for my uncle who died much too young was an incredibly difficult experience and yet I wouldn’t have had it any other way. To be able to offer that mass for him, to pray alongside my hurting family in that profound way, it was an incredibly deep experience of God’s mercy and love. The rituals of the mass, the readings and music, the prayers and sacrament, gave expression to thoughts and feelings that were deep inside us but for which we did not have the words. The funeral mass allowed us to grieve in a way that we couldn’t have done without it. The words helped us to say goodbye and express the faith we have in our Lord Jesus Christ. There is a part of the funeral called the Final Commendation and it is the moment wherein we entrust the departed into the hands of our loving and merciful God.

This is perhaps the most important reason to have a funeral Mass. Whether or not we or our loved ones were frequent Mass-goers, we are all in need of our loving God. The funeral is a chance to one final time put our beloved dead in the hands of our merciful and loving God.

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. otreadings.html

    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.