The Catholic Funeral: A Celebration of the Church

Catholics celebrate the gift of life at a funeral. We do it, not in private, but as a celebration of the whole Church. We remember the deceased and comfort each other through the Order of Christian Funerals. Death and passing into eternal life are mysteries at the center of our Catholic faith. We believe that God created each person for eternal life and that Jesus, by His death and resurrection, has broken the chains of sin and death.

“The Catechism of the Catholic Church” says: “For the Christian the day of death inaugurates, at the end of his sacramental life, the fulfillment of his new birth begun at Baptism, the definitive “conformity” to “the image of the Son” conferred by the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and participation in the feast of the Kingdom which was anticipated in the Eucharist ” (1682)

The Funeral Rite is celebrated with reverence, joy and hope in three distinct ways:

Vigil for the Deceased (Wake Service)

  • First of the three major funeral rites celebrated by the Christian Community
  • Celebrated between the time of death and the Funeral Mass, often the day or evening before the Mass
  • Focuses on the Liturgy of the Word, with Scripture readings, songs, Psalms and Intercessions
  • Introductory Rites
    • Greeting
    • Opening Song
    • Invitation to Prayer
  • Liturgy of the Word
    • Scripture readings and Psalms
    • Homily
  • Prayer of Intercession, including the Litany of the Saints and “The Lord’s Prayer”
  • Concluding Rite
    • Possible reflections
    • Blessing
  • A Rosary also may be said.

The Funeral Mass:

  • Introductory Rites:
    • This begins at the entrance to the church
    • Greeting
    • Sprinkling with Holy Water, Placing of the Pall
    • Entrance Procession, bringing of the body to the Paschal (Easter) Candle
    • Placing of Christian Symbols (Baptismal symbols such as a Cross or Bible or the Book of the Gospels). In the case of a Holy Cross Priest, a Crucifix, the symbol of Perpetual Profession, is placed on the casket.
    • Opening prayer
  • Liturgy of the Word
    • Scripture Readings and Psalms
    • Homily
    • General Intercessions
  • Liturgy of the Eucharist
    • Preparation of the Altar and Gifts
    • Eucharistic Prayer
    • Communion Rite
    • Prayer After Communion
  • Final Commendation
    • The deceased is entrusted to God’s care
    • The body is incensed
    • Recessional

Meaning of Symbols in the Funeral Mass:

  • Christian Symbols include various Baptismal symbols such as a Cross or a Bible, as well as the Book of the Gospels. In the case of a Holy Cross priest, it is his Crucifix from Perpetual Profession of Vows.
  • Holy Water Reminds the congregants of the saving waters of Baptism
  • Pascal Candle Christ’s victory over sin and death and reminds congregants of their share in the victory by virtue of their initiation
  • Pall Cloth placed over the casket, a reminder of the Baptismal garment
  • Incense A sign of honor to the body of the deceased, which was made a temple of the Holy Spirit through Baptism
  • Liturgical color (White) Expresses Christian hope

In the case of a Holy Cross Religious, the Community, family and friends will participate in the Procession to the Community Cemetery for the Rite of Committal. The final procession is marked by quiet recollection and prayer and mirrors the journey of human life as a pilgrimage to God’s kingdom of peace and light, the new and eternal Jerusalem.


  • The Rite of Committal takes place beside the grave as soon as possible after Mass.
  • Scriptural verse
  • Prayer of Committal
  • Intercessions
  • “The Lord’s Prayer”
  • Blessing

The Cemetery:

Holy Cross Priests in the United States Province are buried at Holy Cross Cemetery at the University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Ind., or in the Holy Cross Fathers and Brothers Cemetery in North Easton, Mass.

“Liturgical Norms for the Celebration of Funeral Rites,” Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Reprinted November, 2005.
“Catechism of the Catholic Church”:
“The Catholic Funeral Rites,” Diocese of St. Petersburg (Fla.), 2003
“Roman Catholic Funeral Rites,” Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions and the Archdiocese of Louisville Office of Worship, 2006
“Guidelines for the Order of Christian Funerals,” Diocese of Richmond

(Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame)

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