Some centering thoughts:
“For everything there is a season, a time to be born and a time to die” (Eccl 3:1-2)”
This quote from the Book of Ecclesiastes reflects what every society and religious tradition recognises: the reality of death. Beliefs about death are expressed in rituals surrounding the time of death, burial and grieving.
For the Christian these beliefs are grounded in the reality of Christ’s death and Resurrection.
WHAT THEN DO CATHOLIC CHRISTIANS BELIEVE ABOUT DEATH?
Baptism brings the person into the life of the whole Christian community, which we call the Body of Christ. When a member of the faith community dies, the Christian assembly gathers to remember the Christian life of the deceased as this person is entrusted into the loving embrace of God, and also to give comfort and support to the bereaved family and relatives.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THE CHRISTIAN FUNERAL?
The funeral rite offers comfort at the time of death: its task is to proclaim once more that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our death is transformed into life everlasting.
We celebrate God’s love which has been shown to us in the life, death and rising of Jesus. We celebrate that the person who has died was baptized, and who, in their life, with its joys, sorrows, goodness and sin, tried to love God and their neighbor. We celebrate that as a Church we are called to spread this news of God’s love in our daily lives, to a world that suffers sickness, injustice and despair.
THE FUNERAL LITURGY
Given the belief in the Paschal Mystery of Christ (i.e. the life, death and resurrection of Christ) which is the foundation of an understanding of Christian funerals, the Funeral Rite is often celebrated with a Requiem Mass. However, the Church also provides for a Funeral liturgy without a Requiem Mass.
THE RITE OF COMMITTAL
This short ritual takes place at the grave-site, at the Crematorium, or at the church after the funeral liturgy. This is the last rite in the presence of the body of the deceased.
WHAT IS THE TASK OF THE PARISH COMMUNITY?
The parish community journeys in various ways with the deceased and their family. These may include:
- Preparation of the Funeral rites with family and Celebrant.
- Celebration of the Funeral Liturgy and the Rite of Committal.
- Coordination with Funeral Directors and parish people.
- Visitation of relatives and friends after the funeral, and providing ongoing care.
ARRANGING A FUNERAL
At the time of a bereavement, particularly the first in a family, it can be difficult to know where to turn for advice in arranging a funeral. While it is appropriate to contact the church and speak with a priest, it is also important to work with a funeral director for practical reasons of scheduling and other arrangements.
Most Catholic families will immediately think of a Mass for their departed loved ones, to be celebrated in a parish church, and in most cases the cortege will proceed to a cemetery or crematorium for the Rite of Committal.
Others may choose a simpler funeral service, without Mass. This would usually take place in a parish church, but may also be held at a cemetery or funeral director’s chapel, or at a crematorium. It is good to discuss these options and your preferences with both the parish and the funeral director.
Circumstances may exist where the deceased is the non-Catholic partner or parent of a Catholic. When the presence of a non-Catholic minister is desired, the service itself should be recognisable as Christian funeral service, in keeping with the character of a Christian church.
Many families take the opportunity to prepare an Order of Service or commemorative booklet. The parish is happy to assist in preparing readings and prayers suited to the particular occasion. The funeral director often also provides this service and arranges for the printing of booklets or other material.
It is customary to make an offering to the church and the celebrant and usually funeral homes will also offer some suggestions in this regard.