A Catholic burial continues the journey of Catholic faith and follows the Holy Scripture in accordance with the belief of eternal life. As we celebrate the life of our loved ones, we joyfully and emotionally entrust them to our Lord. Although they have left our earthly world, they are not gone; life has only changed not ended. Yes, our loved ones have moved on, but they will be united with God and reunited with loved ones through the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ.
“I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)
A Catholic burial consists of three parts:
The Vigil Service focuses on the life of the newly departed loved one. The Vigil Service is usually held the eve before the funeral mass and burial rite. However, more recently many Catholics have chosen to combine it and hold the Vigil the same day of the funeral and burial, holding it a few hours prior to the funeral mass. Your funeral director can help you decide what is best for you and your family. “The Vigil for the Deceased is the principal rite celebrated by the Christian community in the time following the death and before the funeral liturgy…” (Order of Christian Funeral, no. 54)
The Vigil Service offers prayers, readings, remembrance of the deceased and the viewing of the newly departed loved one. A reading or a prayer is selected by the family in conjunction with a priest or deacon who delivers it. Reflections, prayers of intercession and a blessing are also performed by a priest or deacon. During this time we gather in prayer asking for mercy for our departed loved one. We also pray for strength, guidance and faith from God to help those grieving. “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” (Order of Christian Funeral, no. 56). It is a time for remembrance, support and comfort. A eulogy is often delivered at the Vigil Service.
The Funeral Liturgy is the central liturgical celebration and thus is centered upon Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. It focuses on the presentation of the deceased to the Lord. The Funeral Mass includes the procession with the body, renewal of baptism, liturgy of the word, liturgy of the eucharist and concludes with a blessing and farewell song.
Many symbols are used including anointing the body with baptismal water, burning of incense, placing the white funeral pall on the casket, placing the cross and bible on the casket. All signs of preparation for the body to be presented to the Lord. The departed loved one and family members process up the aisle presenting their loved one to the Lord. Although the dearly departed loved one is gone from this earthly life, the mass is beautiful and it provides promise for eternal life while moving to a new spiritual relationship with God. “If then, we have died with Christ, we believe we shall also live with him.” (Romans 6:8) Just as in the Vigil, family members and friends are encouraged to actively participate in the mass. Their participation can provide great comfort to all.
The Rite of Committal is the final farewell and takes place at a Catholic cemetery or mausoleum. From the Funeral Mass the remains are taken to its final resting place. Here the family members and friends gather to say their final farewell and place the body in its eternal resting place awaiting resurrection through Jesus Christ. The burial can consist of the blessing of the gravesite, scripture, intercessions, prayers of committal and end with a song of farewell. A priest or deacon resides over the burial location and leads all in attendance. For in-ground burials, typically everyone places a flower on the coffin and says good-bye. This is the climax of a Catholic funeral.
Here a new beginning starts as the Catholic cemetery embraces the responsibility to care for the remains of the departed loved one for all eternity. It is here that family members will come to honor and celebrate the loved one through remembrance like attending memorial masses and placing flowers on the grave during special times of the year. The Catholic Church encourages all Catholics to visit and pray for those who have gone before us. Ultimately, we pray and hope for the day when we will meet again in Heaven.