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Order of Christian Funerals 


The Christian response to death must stand as a symbol of the central and pivotal Christian beliefs of a person’s life, here and hereafter. Both private and liturgical prayers unite us to the great Paschal Mystery and its hope of eternal union with God.

The events which surround death naturally evoke a community response. The community of relatives, friends and parishioners come together to provide prayerful support. The entire Christian community, through the Church’s liturgy, offers prayer for God’s mercy for the deceased and God’s strength for the bereaved.

As a result of these vital realities of Catholic life, Christian burial is a rite that the Church provides for its faithful departed and is a source of strength, hope and encouragement for those who are bereaved. This rite consists of three parts:

1. The Vigil
2. The Funeral Liturgy
3. The Rite of Committal

Each part has a distinct role, and each must reflect the circumstances of both the deceased and those who mourn. The following guidelines are offered to assist the faithful and those who serve the Church through bereavement and funeral ministry.


A. The Vigil
Of all the parts of the funeral rites, the vigil (wake) is sometimes the most difficult because it is usually the first time the family and friends view the remains of the deceased and confront the reality of death. While some would prefer to avoid the vigil because of pain and grief, this ritual moment can be a catalyst for the grieving process fostering psychological and spiritual health.
Gathering together for prayer and support before the funeral liturgy is important. The Order of Christian Funerals offers two formats for vigil services for adults and one format for children (OCF 69, 82, 248).

The place of the vigil service is either the funeral home, the home of the deceased or the parish church. Regardless of the place, the vigil is a liturgical service requiring a presider, a reader and a minister of music. A priest or deacon normally presides and is vested in alb and stole. A friend or relative of the deceased may speak in remembrance following the concluding prayer and before the blessing.

B. Funeral Mass (Mass of Christian Burial)
The Church encourages the celebration of the Funeral Mass for its deceased members. Some will hesitate to have a Funeral Mass because of doubts about their own faith or worthiness or that of the deceased. In such cases, the judgment of the pastoral minister is essential. It should be explained that the Funeral Mass is a prayer for God’s mercy for the deceased and a solace for the living and does not presume a life of exemplary faith or virtue.

It should be noted that the “Funeral Mass” or “Mass of Christian Burial” is the correct title for the Mass celebrated prior to burial. The Funeral Mass may be celebrated on any day except those excluded (see below). The presider should make full use of the texts for particular circumstances which are present in the Order of Christian Funerals and in the Sacramentary and Lectionary. In Funeral Masses in which cremated remains are present, prayers which do not make reference to the honoring or burying of the body should be chosen instead of those which contain those images (OCF 424).

C. The Rite of Committal
The Rite of Committal is the final act of the caring for the body (or cremated remains) of the deceased member of the church (OCF 204). The movement to the cemetery is a ritual procession to the final resting place of the deceased. A spirit of prayer is encouraged to be maintained throughout the automobile cortege. When a body is to be cremated following the celebration of a Funeral Mass, the Rite of Committal is to be celebrated as soon as possible following the funeral (OCF 425, 431).

Those who were part of the Catholic community are buried together in a Catholic cemetery. Not only is the cemetery a sacred place, it is also a link in the community of the faithful living and dead. It is a recognition of the shared belief of the dead and the living who commit their deceased to holy ground and to the love and mercy of the Lord. (Canons 1240-1243).

Why We Bury Our Dead- 
Our Relationship Transformed

Why should we bury our dead? Why choose a Catholic Cemetery? Are Catholic cemeteries really necessary? Why do we visit the cemetery they’re not really there. Why should we pray for the dead? Why not just have them cremated and scattered at their favorite place? When we are faced with the death of someone we love so many things seem to happen all at once and so many decisions need to be made. As we suffer from the shock of a death, we find ourselves absorbed by the distraction of needing to plan a funeral. And as we navigate our way through the confusion surrounding the aftermath of a death, are we confronted with the question of the necessity of a cemetery?

We must realize the importance of a place where we can go to remember, a place where our faith is alive and our hope in the future is evident. A Catholic cemetery is more than just a place where we inter our beloved dead it is a place where our relationship with the dead is renewed. We look to the very foundation of our faith and we find in it the acknowledgment of our relationship with the dead.

When Mary Magdalene went searching for our Lord at the tomb, she was distressed when she thought His body was stolen. She then stated to the man who she thought was a gardener, “they have taken my Lord and I do not know where they have laid Him.” By that statement she acknowledged that our Saviors’ death did not dissolve her relationship with Him.

As Catholics we bury our dead in a Catholic cemetery, because we acknowledge that their death does not obliterate our relationship with them. We bury our dead because we believe that the body must be treated with reverence. As Joseph of Arimathea and the women who were with Jesus ministered to His body with care and reverence before being placed in a tomb, we also treat our dead with reverence. It is our Catholic faith that directs us to bury the body in a sacred place. The body is not a thing to be tossed aside; it is not a shell nor a husk but the body of the person we love. “The Church’s belief in the sacredness of the human body and the resurrection of the dead has traditionally found expression in the care taken to prepare the bodies of the deceased for burial.”(OCF 411) As we would not leave a body at someone’s favorite place why is it acceptable that we scatter their cremated remains?

When we are confronted with the death of someone we love, will we be influenced by those seeking to diminish the teachings of the Catholic Church? Will we be influenced by those who see a funeral mass as an inconvenience? Will we allow ourselves to be convinced that to obliterate the human person by scattering them to the wind is as reverent as burying them in a place set aside as sacred? We must not be tempted by this new secular theology and allow our dead to be treated as empty shells and simply discarded. We must remember that our relationship with the dead is not dissolved by death. As a community of faith we must turn to the teachings of our Catholic Church and avoid the temptation of treating our dead with little or no regard for the sacredness of the human body.

Our Catholic faith teaches us that “[t]his is the body once washed in baptism, anointed with the oil of salvation, and fed with the bread of life. This is the body whose hands clothed the poor and embraced the sorrowing. Indeed, the human body is so inextricably associated with the human person that it is hard to think of a human person apart from his or her body. Thus, the Church’s reverence and care for the body grows out of a reverence and concern for the person whom the Church now commends to the care of God.” (OCF 412).

Interment in a proper place, a sacred place, challenges the modernists push to undermine our faith and our ancient traditions. The Catholic Church once forbade cremation because it was being used to challenge its’ teachings on the resurrection with the objective of destroying the Catholic faith. While cremation is no longer banned if it is not anti-Catholic in purpose, one must question if scattering is now being promoted to undermine the teachings of our Catholic faith. As people of faith we must always question the motives of those seeking to undo our most sacred teachings.

When looking through our oldest records at  Saint Brigid’s Cemetery, Westbury, it is amazing to discover the diversity of the people buried at this sacred place. The records at Saint Brigid’s Cemetery (a section within the Cemetery of the Holy Rood) tell a story and acknowledge a life once lived. The records preserved in perpetuity give the assurance that the final chapter of a person’s life is recorded, no matter how obscure a life lived may have been. Without a burial in a sacred place the record of someone’s life would not exist and the final chapter of the book would remain unwritten. As Catholics we bury our dead because of our belief in the promise of the resurrection and we do so in a Catholic cemetery because we recognize that their death did not terminate our relationship with them, it was merely transformed.