What to Expect When Attending a Catholic funeral

What to Expect When Attending a Catholic funeral

Do you have a Catholic funeral to attend? Are you wondering about the traditions that are observed or the etiquette that must be followed at a Catholic funeral service? We put together this guide to help you be prepared and know what to expect at a Catholic funeral service to best pay your respects. 

What is a Catholic Funeral?

A Catholic funeral is a religious ceremony held for a deceased of the Catholic faith. Catholics, unlike all Christians, believe in three destinations for the soul; Hell, Heaven, and Purgatory. While it is believed that souls will end up in Heaven or Hell, depending on how righteous of a life they lived, purgatory is for souls who have committed forgivable sins and may eventually end up in Heaven.

A Catholic funeral is a time to appeal to God to be merciful to the deceased’s soul in order to encourage such forgiveness. You can express a lot of prayers said at the Catholic funeral you attend. 

What is a prayer vigil?

Before the funeral, the deceased’s family may hold a prayer vigil. It usually takes place at the church where the funeral is being held or at the family home. Mourners are encouraged to pray for the person who died. These gatherings are usually led by a priest or a deacon. The family of the deceased may request eulogies and other tributes to be delivered at the vigil.

What are Catholic traditions?

Catholic funerals are held in a Catholic Church most of the time. However, it may also be held at a Funeral Home. The service is led by a priest, usually ordained, who delivers a sermon and a eulogy for the deceased. There are more rites performed at a Catholic service compared to other Christian funerals. The funeral may include a Requiem Mass which symbolizes the resurrection of Christ. Religious music is played throughout the ceremony as well. 

How does the ceremony proceed?

Typically a ceremony without a Requiem Mass is about 40 minutes long while one with a Mass may take around an hour. A Mass includes a Eucharistic Prayer and Holy Communion. Requiem Mass is not required but encouraged by the Church. 

The coffin is usually received by the Church the evening before the funeral. However, if it doesn’t happen, it will be greeted at the door by the priest who sprinkles it with holy water and leads it into the church. The coffin is then placed on a catafalque at the altar which is covered with a pall, an item of special clothing. This is then followed by a family liturgy. At a family liturgy, one text from the Old Testament and the Psalm is read by family, friends, or the priest. 

Next, the priest will read a passage from the Gospel, deliver a homily and give a eulogy for the deceased. 

Mourners, if they are Catholic as well, will receive the Holy Communion, and if they are not Catholic, they will receive simply a blessing from the priest. The funeral includes a Mass, then bread and wine are placed at the altar for the Holy Communion. Holy Communion can only be performed by an ordained priest and if he is not available, the funeral will not include the Mass.

After the Holy Communion, the Final Commendation (special prayers) will be performed. Sometimes, there is another eulogy before the Final Commendation. 

Lastly, the coffin is sprinkled with more Holy water, and family and friends are given a chance to say their final goodbye to their loved one.

What happens at a Catholic Burial/Cremation?

While Catholic burials are preferred to cremation, both are performed around the world. The ashes should not be scattered and kept in an urn at home. The ceremony starts with the Catholic Rite of Committal, a committal service, at the graveyard or mausoleum. This is led by a priest who blesses the site then leads the mourners in prayer, followed by the burial or cremation. 

Catholics do not have a prescribed mourning period. Some families may decide to have a memorial service either up to 6 months after the death or at the anniversary. 

What do you bring to a Catholic funeral?

When it comes to funeral gifts, appropriate Catholic funeral gifts include baked goods, assorted chocolates, a sympathy card, or you can choose to have a gift basket delivered to the home of the mourning family. One type of common Catholic funeral gift you’ll likely notice displayed around the casket are flower crowns containing a condolence note. 

What type of music is played at a Catholic Funeral?

Music at Catholic funerals includes Catholic funeral hymns and sacred music. Composers including Wolfgang Mozart, Guiseppi Verdi, Gabriel Fauré, and in modern times, artist Sarah Brightman have all written pieces of music titled Requiem Mass.

What is the etiquette that is to be followed at a Catholic Funeral? 

As the atmosphere at a Catholic Funeral is respectful and somber, one should dress accordingly. The dress code is black, semi-formal clothing. Men should wear a suit and a tie while women should wear a black skirt, dress, or pantsuit. 

If black is available, attendees should try to wear the darkest, semi-formal clothes they own. While it is not required for women to wear hats anymore, some still do. Men should not wear a hat at the church. Sending flowers is appreciated but you should choose an arrangement that befits the somber church atmosphere. 

If you are not Catholic, you don’t have to take part in the Holy Communion, though you are welcome to. Should you not receive communion, you are still welcome to receive a blessing from the priest.

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