AT THE DEATH OF A LOVED ONE:
About Catholic Funerals
The loss of a loved one is a traumatic experience, no matter how and when it occurs. At such a time, we need all the love and support our family, our friends and our Church can give. Below are some reflections on the role of the parish at such a time. It is not the last word, but perhaps it can give some guidance.
It is important to let the hospital, nursing home, hospice staff and other caregivers know that the patient is Catholic. You don't have to wait until death is near to let them know. The professional caregivers are usually very happy to arrange for pastoral care of your loved ones.
To arrange for the anointing of the sick, please call the Church Office. You do not need to wait until death is near to celebrate the Sacrament of the Sick. The friars at St. Anthony's are always happy to celebrate the sacraments with your loved ones.
Once death has occurred...
Often, the best place to start is to contact the funeral home. The staff there can give you guidance on legal procedures and other things you need to know. Let them know that your loved one was Catholic.
Funerals are for the living as well as for the deceased. This is especially true when different family members belong to different religions. Usually, a person wishes to be buried in his or her own church, and it is a sacred duty to respect the known will of the deceased. Yet it is important that the whole family can be part of the funeral, and sometimes exceptions must be made.
Catholic services for the departed consist of three parts:
A wake or a vigil is usually offered for the deceased. Some times called the visitation or vcalling hours, the wake is often held at the funeral home the afternoon or evening proceeding the funeral. At the wake, the whole Christian community offers prayer for our sister or brother who has died. The service can be done in different ways: visitations with the family, an evening prayer service, a rosary. A priest is often present, but not always.
The funeral itself takes place in the Church. There is usually a Mass. Please talk with the priest to arrange for this. The body of the deceased should usualy be present for the funeral Mass - if you choose cremation, please arrange to have the cremation delayed until after the funeral Mass. Exceptions, however, can be made, and Mass can be celebrated with the ashes present. Eulogies are not part of the funeral Mass (but might be arranged elsewhere, for example at the wake).
Internment (burial) is part of the ritual. Usually all those present in the Church are asked to accompany the deceased to his or her final place of rest. In the case of cremation, the family can arrange for the priest to attend the internment of the burial urn.
Some advice on planning the services
Both the funeral home and the parish staff want to be as helpful as we can in the planning of the funeral of your loved one. We would ask you to consider things like:
Ceremonial roles at the liturgies - there are pall bearers, lectors (readers), altar servers, communion ministers, gift bearers, ushers and musicians. You may chose to ask friends and family to fulfill these roles in honor of the deceased; the parish can also find volunteers to help. At the vigil (wake), some families choose to ask one or a few people to offer a brief reflection or eulogy.
Biblical readings - there are usually four readings from the Holy Scriptures, including a reading from the Old Testament, a Psalm, a reading from the New Testament and a Gospel. Often, the readings reflect the faith of the deceased. Many people choose readings in advance for their own funeral, and we should honor this choice. The Catholic Bishops of the United States list the common readings here. In addition, the website Catholic Sensibility lists these readings and more in an easy to use format.
Music - our parish organists will be happy to help you in choosing hymns and other appropriate music. You can also arrange for other musicians, in coordination with the pastor and the parish staff.
Hospitality - will you provide a luncheon or other refreshments for the funeral guests? Most of the time, our parish hall is available for funeral luncheons, and the members of the Altar and Rosary Society are very happy to prepare the meal. Just ask. You may, of course, make other arrangements instead.
Please contact the Parish Office for more information.
These reflections are based on the guidelines of the Catholic dioceses of British Columbia and the Yukon in Canada, and have been expanded by St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Angola IN USA.