With an estimated 1.2 billion practicing members across the world, Catholicism reigns supreme as the single largest and most impactful sect of Christianity. With the powerful Vatican serving as the home of the church, and the Pope holding his position as the head of the church, Catholicism has helped influence world politics and actions for centuries. Though the religion itself has gone through many changes in its time, Catholics maintain a strong hold on the church’s long-standing traditions and ceremonial practices, particularly when it comes to funerals.
Catholicism is well known for its relatively strict adherence to Biblical passages and rules, many of which influence the religion’s long wedding and funeral rituals. While both ceremonies include the reading of biblical passages, the singing of hymns, and the taking of communion, it’s the Catholic funeral service that often draws the most attention and the most questions.
Contrary to your average funeral service, Catholic funerals aren’t seen as a “celebration of life”. Instead, the ceremony serves as the chance to return the deceased to God and have them welcomed into the Christian heaven. This serves as the main focus for a Catholic funeral, but there are many very important steps required to complete the funeral rites.
Preparing for a Catholic Funeral
If you’re going to be planning or attending a Catholic funeral in the near future, then it’s important to know the full funeral process, including how to handle the deceased’s remains, what the full ceremony includes, and what sort of outfits, behavior, and worship are acceptable.
The Catholic church places a heavy emphasis on ensuring that the deceased’s immediate family work with funeral homes and priests to select Biblical passages, poetry, and quotes for use in Catholic funeral programs and related materials. While it’s also acceptable to allow a funeral home or clergy member to handle the planning process, most Catholics choose to handle things with the help of family.
From there, the bereaved can select a church for the ceremony, work with the funeral home to clothe and present the body, select an urn if they’re being cremated, and cover any remaining details, such as a post-funeral gathering or remembrance ceremony.
Catholic Cremation and Burial Practices
There is a long-standing belief that Catholics are not allowed to be cremated when they pass, but this isn’t the case with the modern Catholic church. Cremations are notably rarer among Catholics due to their steadfast belief in resurrection and life after death, but have become more and more common due to the rising costs of funerals. Funeral homes, priests, and family members are much more likely to see younger Catholics being cremated, while older Catholics are almost always buried in a traditional grave.
While cremation is an option, Catholicism maintains a series of specific rules related to cremation that don’t necessarily apply to other Christian sects. A cremated Catholic’s remains must be interred at a consecrated site, such as a graveyard or mausoleum, and cannot be scattered at another location. Ashes also cannot be kept in a home or displayed in a public gathering place. The rise in the number of Catholic cremations has, in turn, led to a rise in the number of graveyards offering mausoleums or other respectful storage options.
If the deceased is being buried, then they must be interred at a consecrated graveyard, unless there are specific requests for a different location. Coffins and cremains can also be buried at sea, but the cremains cannot be spread or let outside of their container.
Catholic Wakes and Vigils
The traditional Catholic funeral mass and procession begins with the vigil, also known as a Catholic wake, the Reception of the Body, or simply a prayer vigil. During this time, mourners, visitors, and members of the attending clergy offer their condolences to the family, discuss the life of the deceased, and will often read scripture and poetry, or offer short eulogies for the deceased. Usually, the casket or cremation urn is displayed to attendees, and is often surrounded with flowers, pictures of the deceased, and mementos or ornaments meant to celebrate their life.
Catholic wakes can be held in a variety of locations, including churches, funeral homes, family dwellings, or other locations capable of handling such a service. Churches are the most common choice for the wake, as it allows the mourners to transition directly from the wake to the full funeral ceremony and interment process.
The Catholic Funeral Mass and Procession
Once the Catholic vigil has been completed, the funeral home or clergy will move the casket or urn into the church and the funeral rites will begin. Though the Catholic funeral mass order of service changes between different churches, the basic steps are the same. Before being carried or pushed into the church, the urn or casket will be sprinkled with holy water. In addition, some churches will lay a bible, rosary, or other forms of religious iconography atop the casket. Then, the coffin or urn is brought to the front of the church and an opening prayer is read. This action is known as the introductory rites.
As with most funerals, the first several rows are reserved for immediate family and close friends. Mourners may sit in any pew they desire and are encouraged to sing along with the selected Catholic funeral hymns and songs, and to follow along with the readings and scripture. The second step in the funeral process includes the first reading, a series of psalms, and the singing of selected hymns.
Mid-way through the funeral ceremony, the attending priest will call all Catholic mourners to take communion. Non-Catholic attendees are welcome to join the procession and approach the altar, but cannot receive the full communion. Instead, they are usually blessed by the attending priest and will return to their seats. Non-Catholics can also choose to simply remain in their seats and wait until the communion procession has been completed.
After the communion has been received and the attendees have returned to their seats, the priest will hold a moment of silence and prayer for the deceased, followed by further readings and songs. Then, the mourners and funeral directors will travel to the gravesite or place of interment.
In some churches, the funeral rites will include discussions of the rosary, the deceased’s impact on their friends, family, and church, and the reciting of Hail Mary prayers. Many of these actions are seen as secondary to the service and are not commonly included in modern funeral rites.
An important final consideration is whether or not the deceased is allowed to have a full Catholic funeral. Some churches will consider the deceased’s relationship with the church, how devout they were in their religious practices, and if they moved away from and back toward the church in their life. If the deceased or their family members chose to not hold a traditional Catholic ceremony, then they are encouraged to host a remembrance ceremony.
The final action for a traditional Catholic funeral is called the Month’s Mind Mass. This memorial ceremony is held one month after the funeral and is often seen as the best way to remember those who have passed. Catholics are also encouraged to visit graveyards during November, which is the month traditionally chosen for remembering the dead.
Catholic Funeral Etiquette and Dress
Generally speaking, Catholic funerals don’t require specific outfits or religious adornment for the attendees. While many wonder what they should wear to a Catholic funeral, the answer is fairly simple; the bereaved are simply expected to wear the usual clean, formal clothing seen at nearly all Christian funerals. Catholic women in other countries, such as Italy or Spain, might cover their hair with shawls or wraps.
As with most funerals, flowers are an acceptable way to memorialized and remember the deceased. Flowers can be sent to the service location or directly to the deceased’s surviving family members. Some might also choose to present the deceased’s family members with religious tokens, such as crucifixes or rosary beads.
Catholic Funeral Programs, Cards, and Memorials
Planning a funeral is one of the most difficult things anyone will ever have to do, especially while they’re dealing with the loss of a loved one. For over 40 years, Funeral Prints has helped bereaved families create lasting memorials for funerals of all kinds, including traditional Catholic services.
We encourage you to check out our selection of Catholic mass prayer cards, guest books, keepsakes, and funeral thank you notes to find the best possible options for remembering your loved one. We also offer funeral memorial posters in multiple designs. These eye-catching posters will greet mourners when they enter and help them see the deceased during their best times.
Contact us today to learn more about our available designs and memorial options for Catholic funerals and memorial services.