Wednesday, 19 August 2009


Arranging a funeral of a loved one can be a very distressing and upsetting time. For many it will be the first time that they have had to deal with such thngs. They are not always aware of the Church's requirements. This information is intended to offer guidance for family members involved in preparing a funeral liturgy, and those others who will assist them.

Go to see the priest who will conduct the funeral, at the earliest opportunity. He will give you guidance on all matters concerning the funeral service. It is essential to remember that a ceremony in church, whether a Mass or Service of Prayer, is always an act of worship and is never simply a 'presentation' or 'event' or 'celebration of a person's life' with those present as observers. Normally a funeral takes the form of a celebration of Mass but this is not always so. A service of prayer may be held at the Crematorium or at the graveside.
Singing forms a necessary or integral part of worship. As well as being a form of prayer it also acts as a means of including all present in what is taking place. The priest will be quite happy to help you choose suitable hymns for the funeral liturgy.
More and more requests are made for non religious music or pop songs at funerals. This is not permitted in either of the churches in our parish. Music of a non-religious kind, whether sung 'live' or played on CDs or audiotapes is best suited either for the crematorium or even at the graveside itself. The music of the liturgy, like the liturgical texts, should be expressions of faith in the saving mystery of Christ's death and resurrection, and appropriate to the part of the liturgy in which they are sung. 'You'll never walk alone' and 'I did it my way' and the like, do not have a place in the Church's liturgy and they should not be used.
Worship in Church always includes passages of God's Word from the Bible. There will usually be two readings from the Scriptures, or maybe three. The last reading is always from the Gospels. The first may be from either the Old or New Testament. If there are three the first is from the Old Testament and the second from the New Testament.
Whilst these texts do have particular associations for people and may be very attractive, they do not fit easily into the normal Catholic Funeral Liturgy. Non-religious poems and texts might come across much better during prayers in the home before or after the funeral liturgy.

It is sometimes requested that a member of the family or friend be permitted to 'say something' in church. This is always a very sensitive issue and needs to be handled carefully. A funeral is a moment of solemnity and it can be very difficult for members of the family to contain their distress. Catholics are not permitted to have addresses of a political nature, and must also always be aware of how any address can cause tension or conflict. The crematorium or the graveside might be better suited to such an address.
A 'personal tribute' should be restricted to the person's qualities and should be in keeping with the religious nature of the occasion.
If there is to be such a personal tribute in church, the person delivering it needs to consult the priest and should write their text beforehand so that it does not take more than two or three minutes. The text should be no longer than 400 words and should be handed to the priest at least two days before the ceremony. The place in the ceremony for such a tribute is after Holy Communion.

It is common nowadays for the Christian symbols of the crucifix and a book of the Gospels to be placed on the coffin at the beginning of the ceremony. A member of the family or a friend may place the symbols.
Any flowers placed on the coffin will be removed as the coffin is brought into the church and then replaced at the end of the Mass when the Book of the Gospels and Crucifix are removed and the procession leaves the church. A table will be provided near the front of the church for people to place Mass cards.

It is sometimes requested that the coffin be covered with a flag. The Catholic Funeral Rite specifically does not permit this in church. National flags, or flags or insignia of associations have no place in the funeral liturgy. They may drape the coffin until it comes to the church door, but will then be respectfully removed before the coffin is brought into the church. They may be replaced again as the coffin is taken from the church after the mass, and before it is placed in the hearse.

Sometimes families request that their deceased relative might lie in church during the night preceding the Funeral Mass. This Prayer Vigil can be arranged with the Funeral Director and the Priest.
When arranging a funeral bear in mind that there are certain Feast days when it may not be possible for the parish to accommodate the celebration in church. Holy Thursday is one such example. You may need to be aware of this when discussing the date and time with the funeral director.

We hope this guidance will be helpful in your planning for the funeral and that the resulting ceremony in church will be dignified and prayerful.

1 comment:

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