DEATH IN THE CHRISTIAN CONTEXT
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.
THE ORDER OF CHRISTIAN FUNERALS (OCF)
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).
For more information on burial within a Catholic Cemetery