"Seek not death in the error of your life, neither procure ye destruction
by the works of your hands. For God made not death, neither hath He pleasure
in the destruction of the living. For He created all things that they might
be: and he made the nations of the earth for health: and there is no poison
of destruction in them, nor kingdom of hell upon the earth."
I Corinthians 15:51-58 "Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall all indeed
rise again: but we shall not all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling
of an eye, at the last trumpet: for the trumpet shall sound and the dead
shall rise again incorruptible. And we shall be changed. For this corruptible
must put on incorruption: and this mortal must put on immortality. And when
this mortal hath put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that
is written: Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory?
O death, where is thy sting? Now the sting of death is sin: and the power
of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who hath given us the victory through
our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast and
unmoveable: always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour
is not in vain in the Lord."
The first thing to remember about Catholic funerals is the Truth that
the body of the dead one will be resurrected and reunited with the soul
when Jesus comes again at the Last Judgement. In addition, if the
deceased is saved, his body will be glorified. For this reason, the
bodies of our loved ones are treated with the utmost respect and, so,
it is against Catholic custom to cremate the body, having been
allowable in the past only during times of pestilence, for ex., when
cremation was done for the common good. Now, however, the 1983 Code of
Canon Law (Can. 1176 §3) reads
The Church earnestly
recommends that the pious custom of burial be retained; but it does not forbid
cremation, unless this is chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian
Some reasons that are contrary to Christian teaching are, for ex.,
those behind the promotion of cremation by those with an anti-Catholic
agenda. From Fr. John Laux's, Catholic Morality (Imprimatur 1932):
On December 8,
1869, the International Congress of Freemasons imposed it as a duty on all
its members to do all in their power to wipe out Catholicity from the face
of the earth. Cremation was proposed as a suitable means to this end, since
it was calculated to gradually undermine the faith of the people in "the
resurrection of the body and life everlasting."
Russell D. Moore
burial is not the disposal of a thing. It is caring for a person. In burial,
we’re reminded that the body is not a shell, a husk tossed aside by
the “real” person, the soul within. To be absent from the body
is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:6–8; Phil. 1:23), but the body
that remains still belongs to someone, someone we love, someone who will
reclaim it one day.
Our father Abraham did not “dispose” of the “container”
previously occupied by his loved one. Moses tells us that “Abraham buried
Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah east of Mamre (that
is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan” (Gen. 23:19, emphasis mine). His
burial of his wife, returning her to the dust from which she came, honored
our foremother, in precise distinction from the shamefulness with which our
God views the leaving of bodies to decompose publicly (Is. 5:25).
The Gospel of John tells us that “Lazarus had already been in the tomb
four days” (John 11:17). The Holy Spirit chose to identify this body
as Lazarus, communicating continuity with the very same person Jesus had
loved before and would love again.
After the crucifixion of Jesus, the Gospels present us with an example of
devotion to Jesus in the way the women—and Joseph of
Arimathea—minister to him, anointing him with spices, specifically
anointing, Mark tells us, him and not just “his remains” (Mark
16:1), and wrapping him in a shroud. Why is Mary Magdalene so grieved when
she finds the tomb to be empty? It is not that she doubts that a stolen body
can be resurrected by God on the last day. It is instead that she sees violence
done to the body of Jesus as violence done to him, dishonor done to his body
as dishonor to him. When Mary mistakes Jesus for the gardener, she tells
him she is despondent because they “have taken away my Lord, and I do
not know where they have laid him” (John 20:13). This body was, at least
in some sense, still her Lord, and it mattered what someone had done to it.
Jesus and the angelic beings never correct the devoted women. They simply
ponder why they seek the living among the dead.
If one defies tradition
and the Church's earnest recommendation and does opt for cremation, or if
one reasonably cremates because of the threat of disease, the remains must still be interred at a cemetery;
they can't be kept at one's home or be scattered.
The second thing to remember is that our relationship with our dead Christian
loved ones isn't dissolved by death; we pray for our dead in case they are
in Purgatory for a while, and ask them to pray for us.
When a loved one physically dies, the first thing a Catholic should
do is call his priest, and then the funeral home if one is used. Know, though,
that chances are good that you can do much of the funeral -- casket-building,
preparing the body for the Vigil (embalming is most often not necessary or
legally required), transportation of the body to the church and cemetery,
burial, etc. -- yourself, avoiding sterile, often Protestant or Novus Ordo
funeral homes altogether, with their no food/drink/smoking signs, set "visiting
hours," banal and non-Catholic "Wind Beneath My Wings" piped-in music, and
strange blend of "Office" and "Bad Taste Rococo" aesthetics. By handling
as much as you can yourself, you can instead have a truly Catholic and relaxed
atmosphere for the Vigil, ensure that your loved one is treated with the
utmost dignity at all times, and give your loved one the gift of caring for
him after death -- which helps many with their grief, and saves, literally,
thousands of dollars in the process.
At any rate, please consider now, while you and your family members
are healthy, the ways you will handle funerals in the future. They've become
such spiritually impoverished, sterile affairs -- and so incredibly expensive
(US$5,000 to $10,000 is supposed to be a "good deal") -- that the death of
a loved one can be spiritually devastating and bring tremendous financial
pressure to the survivors. If a do-it-yourself funeral appeals to you, learn
about them now, start preparing caskets, learn the laws of your State
and what -- if any -- permits might be required, etc.
If one attends a parish or chapel in which there are no problems receiving
all the Sacraments in the traditional way, arranging a traditional Requiem
Mass shouldn't be a problem. If one attends a parish where the Mass is offered
by indult, the ability to have a traditional Requiem Mass is, sadly, left
up to the whims of the diocese's Ordinary (Bishop), and quite a few of them
might allow the traditional Mass once in a while, but won't allow a Requiem
Mass or traditional Sacraments. Traditional Catholics must consider their
situation and plan for it as far ahead of time as possible; dying as a
traditional Catholic is often even more difficult than living as one these
By the way, if anyone wants to eulogize the dead, the Vigil or, especially,
the after-burial gathering are the times to do it; eulogies are not permitted
at the traditional Requiem Mass. This seems to enrage many people because
it's a very common thing in Protestant, secular America, and is, sadly, common
at Novus Ordo Masses in some dioceses, but eulogies in a church can (and
do) lead to serious problems. The very word, "eulogy," means "high praise"
-- but what if the deceased wasn't so wonderful and not so repentant? Should
we speak the Truth of the dead by speaking ill of him, or lie, in a church,
for the sake of politeness and decorum, thereby endangering souls who hear
typical words that intimate the person is most definitely, without a doubt
in Heaven, right now, even though they know that he was a philanderer, a
cheat, or a thief who may not have repented? Eulogizers are often theologically
ignorant, saying things that are simply not consistent with Catholic doctrine
or that that lead one to believe that Purgatory and Hell do not exist, etc.
In addition, eulogies are often quite personal and quirky, with the deceased
having requested in life that secular, sometimes vulgar, music be played
to remember them by, and such things as that -- things that are best left
for the intimacy of a wake or post-burial gathering, not the liturgy, which
is always, by definition, for the public and an act of the
Church. Most of all, how can we give "high praise" to an unglorified
human being when, in a church, we are in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament?
Think about this and you will see the Church's wisdom.
At any rate, a traditional Catholic funeral consists of three main parts:
the Vigil (sometimes called the "Wake"), the Requiem Mass, and the Burial
and informal after-burial gatherings. Note that the following pertains to
funerals for adults; funerals for baptized children who've not yet reached
the age of reason are quite different and joyful because they, without a
doubt, go straight to Heaven, not having had the opportunity to commit a
mortal sin. In childrens' funerals, the priest wears white, the Gloria Patri
is not replaced with the Requiem aeternam, the Gloria in excelsis is said,
etc. Their Mass is not a Requiem Mass, but a "Votive Mass of the Angels"
(or the Mass of the day if a votive Mass is not allowed that particular
The Vigil (Wake)
The Requiem Mass
The Burial and Informal After-burial Gatherings
The Vigil most
often takes place in a funeral home nowadays, though it could take place
in a home, parish church or chapel, or other place, depending on the laws
of your state and the practices of your parish or chapel. The Vigil is the
time when family gathers around the dead one, first of all to pray for him,
and also to remember his life, and console one another. If the wake takes
place in a funeral home, funeral cards, a type of holy
card, are usually present (ordered through the funeral home's funeral
director), with a Catholic image on one side and, on the other, a prayer,
and the name, birthdate, and (pray God) Heavenly birthdate, of the dead.
If the wake is not held at a funeral home, one can still order custom-made
funeral cards or make one's own.
The Vigil, which may last from a few hours to two days, has the very specific
purpose of attending to the soul of the dead one. At the Vigil, therefore,
prayer for the dead is central, and you should ask your priest to lead the
mourners in the Rosary (Glorious Mysteries) for
the soul of the departed (if no priest is available, you can, of course,
pray the Rosary yourself as a group). Note that the following prayer, the
"Eternal Rest" prayer, is prayed for the dead after each decade of the Rosary
(where the Fatima Prayer is usually prayed):
grant unto him/her (them), O Lord; and let perpetual light shine upon him/her
(them). May he/she (they) rest in peace. Amen.
Latin version: Réquiem ætérnam:
Réquiem ætérnam dona ei (eis) Dómine; et lux
perpétua lúceat ei (eis). Requiéscat (Requiéscant)
in pace. Amen.
(The Eternal Rest
Prayer is a good prayer to pray when thoughts of the dead person come to
mind in the years to come; many Catholics also pray this prayer when passing
a cemetery, and also on All Souls Day, and add it to their Rosaries during
the month of November, which is dedicated to the Holy Souls in Purgatory.)
During the Vigil, the casket is usually open, flanked by
candles at both ends (one's Baptismal Candle should
be used, if possible). In some Catholic cultures, mirrors are covered or
turned toward the wall during this time. It is typical for Catholics to kiss
their loved one goodbye, and being relic-minded
and very conscious of the holiness of a Christian's body and its eternal
relationship to the Christian's soul, to keep a lock of hair or some other
memento which is later placed, along with funeral cards and the like, on
the family altar. This will help remind
them to pray for their loved one.
Flowers, as symbols of the beautifully transient,
are always present, though some might request that, aside from a few
representative flowers from closest family members, donations be made to
selected charities instead of additional bouquets being bought. A
Crucifix is, of course, always present, too,
and often a Rosary will be placed in the dead person's
When you enter
the place of the Vigil (you should dress modestly and somberly; black is
traditional), you might find a visitors' sign-in book. Do sign it, as it
is good for the mourners to see many names listed and to know that their
loved one was cared for by many. These books are often used by the family
in sending Thank You cards afterwards, and make this task much easier in
having all the names and addresses in one place.
Then greet the mourners with words of sympathy and of hope in Christ Risen
and Glorified. After this, you will go and kneel on the kneeler beside the
coffin and pray for a few moments (or as long as you need). The length of
time one "should" stay at a Vigil depends on his closeness to the dead one
and the dead one's family. Immediate family would stay at the Vigil the entire
time; casual friends can pay their respects with even a 10 minute visit and
Food sent to the home of the mourners during the Vigil (if the Vigil is held
at home), between the Vigil and the Mass, or after the burial, helping to
care for little ones, the handling of chores, and other such kindnesses are
best just done without asking instead of offered. While saying "if there
is anything I can do..." is always sweet, it puts the mourner in the position
of having to ask for a favor. Say those wonderful words, yes, but
also, if you think of something the mourner might need to have done
or that would lighten their spirits, just do it. In other words, instead
of saying, "Do you want me to bring a cake," just bring one.
On the day following
the Wake will come the Requiem Mass (non-Catholic visitors will find general
information on how to behave at a Catholic Mass
here). The body is taken from the place of the Vigil to the church or
chapel as the bell with the deepest voice -- the
"tenor bell" -- tolls, if possible. The body is taken toward the Altar, to
just outside the sanctuary. It is placed feet toward the Altar if the body
is that of a layman, and head toward the Altar if the body is that of a
Generally speaking, the Requiem Mass is like other Masses but with the following
differences: Incense is not burned at the Introit and Gospel, the Judica
Me , Gloria, the kissing of the Book after the Gospel Reading,
and Kiss of Peace in Solemnn Masses are omitted.
The priest, dressed in a black cope, will greet
the coffin at the door of the Church, sprinkling it with
Holy Water, and intoning the
De Profundis (Pslam 129) and
the Miserere (Psalm 50). The Introit
asks that eternal rest be given to the departed, and the Collect asks that
God deliver his or her soul. The Epistle will be a reading of I Thessalonians
4:13-18, in which St. Paul speaks of death. After the Gradual, a Tract asking
absolution from every bond of sin on the part of the deceased is intoned,
followed by the glorious Sequence, the Dies
Irae. The Gospel will be a reading of John 11:21-27, the story of
St. Martha's profession of faith that her brother, Lazarus, will rise again.
The Offertory prayer asks Jesus Christ, King of Glory, to deliver the souls
of the faithful departed from Hell, and for St. Michael to lead them into
the holy Light. The Secret asks pity on the soul of the departed. The Communion
asks that light eternal shine on the departed, and the Postcommunion asks
that the Sacrifice of the Mass purify the departed.
Afterwards, the priest, again vested in a black cope, stands at the foot
of the coffin and grants the departed absolution, which is followed by the
Responsory, Libera Me. A Kyrie is then chanted, followed by
the Pater, during which the priest passes twice around the body,
sprinkling it with holy water and incensing it. This is followed by a prayer
asking that the holy angels bear the departed to paradise. As the body is
carried out of church, the Antiphon In Paradisum is sung ("May the
angels lead you into paradise: may the martyrs receive you at your coming,
and lead you into the holy city, Jerusalem. May the choir of angels receive
you, and with Lazarus, who once was poor, may you have everlasting rest.")
Note: It is customary to give the priest a stole fee for Requiem Masses,
as it is customary to give him a stole fee for weddings and Baptisms. This
isn't obligatory, of course -- noone ever has to pay for a Sacrament or a
liturgical service, and the poor are exempt from this sort of etiquette --
but a stole fee -- also called a stipend or honorarium -- is an appreciated
financial recognition of the priest's time and services. Remember that priests
make next to nothing; any gift from his parishioners goes a long way. How
much should one give? Some dioceses suggest amounts for such things as Baptisms,
weddings, and Requiem Masses (and for votive Masses); you can call your chancery
(or chapel, if you attend S.S.P.X. or other "non-indult" traditional Masses)
and ask about it. Other dioceses might not have a prescribed amount, and
you can simply ask fellow parishioners what might be a polite sum to give.
As an example, in my diocese (Indianapolis), I was told that $50 US was a
customary amount (as of July, 2003) for a funeral Mass. My family gave our
priest a little more because the cemetery was an hour outside the city, which
called for him to drive a bit and burn gasoline in order to bless the grave,
and because we like him.
Burial and Informal After-burial
After the Requiem
Mass, the coffin is taken to the cemetery. The ground or mausoleum in which
the body will be disposed should be blessed by a priest if the cemetery is
not a proper Catholic cemetery (which is the ideal) or already blessed. This
is done with these words as the grave and body are sprinkled with holy water
O God, by Your
mercy rest is given to the souls of the faithful, be please to bless this
grave. Appoint Your holy angels to guard it and set free from all the chains
of sin and the soul of him (her) whose body is buried here, so that with
all Thy saints he (she) may rejoice in Thee for ever. Through Christ our
Deus, cujus miseratióne ánimæ fidélium
requiéscunt, hunc túmulum benedícere dignáre,
eíque Angelum tuum sanctum députa custódem: et quorum
quarúmque córpora hic sepeliúntur, ánimas eórum
ab ómnibus absólve vínculis delictórum; ut in
te semper cum Sanctis tuis sine fine læténtur. Per Christum
Dóminum nostrum. Amen..
Now the priest
will intone the Canticle of Luke 1:68-79. This is followed by the Antiphon
John 11:25-26 and by a short Kyrie while the priest prays the Pater silently
and sprinkles the body with holy water. He again asks that the soul rest
in peace, and ends with another prayer for mercy. It all ends with the following,
said as the priest makes the Sign of the Cross over the body:
æternam dona ei,
rest grant unto him (her), O Lord.
perpétua lúceat ei.
||And let perpetual
light shine upon him (her).
||May he (she)
rest in peace.
et ánimæ ómnium fidélium defunctórum, per
misericórdiam Dei requiéscant in pace.
||May his (her)
soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God
rest in peace.
at least in Catholic cemeteries, the body of a layman is buried such that
the head faces East, symbolizing their awaiting bodily resurrection by Christ,
Who is called "Orient." Priests are buried in the opposite direction of the
laity, symbolizing their having to confront the effects of their pastoring
on the souls entrusted to them by God.
After the funeral, it is typical to gather at the house of the one closest
to the departed, to eat, drink, remember, console one another, and pray (these
informal post-burial gatherings are also sometimes referred to as "wakes."
This isn't strictly accurate, but common usage). This is when bringing food
and drink is especially appreciated, as it is in the days to come when the
crowds go home -- but the survivors, still grieving, are beginning to confront
the sad reality of their temporal loss. In fact, it tends to be the days
after the funeral, when all the distractions of funeral arrangements
and greeting people have vanished, that are most painful. Don't forget the
mourners in the weeks that follow. Bring food by, take care of small chores
for them, call them, let them cry and talk. And don't be afraid to mention
the departed; though everyone is different, most mourners want -- need
-- to talk about their loved one. After prayer, just providing an ear
and encouraging the mourner to offer up his
pain are often the best things you can do. Mention the person's name
(or "the baby" in the case of miscarriage), remember the departed with the
mourner, affirm the suffering the mourner is going through. Never, ever tell
someone to "get over it" or that they've "got to move on," etc. Let
them tell you how they feel; don't attempt to orchestrate,
diminish, or ignore their emotions. The best way to deal with grief is to
go through it -- with faith and the support of people who allow
the mourner to mourn.
Who may not have a Christian Burial
Catholic funerals are denied to the unbaptized (note that catechumens, including
infants whose parents planned on having them baptized, are baptized by desire,
and that martyrs are baptized by blood); infidels; heretics; suicides (unless
they were of unsound mind or showed signs of repentance); notorious, unrepentant
sinners; the excommunicated; the schismatic; those under ecclesiastical censure;
those who, without remorse, have openly held the sacraments in contempt;
and those who've directed that their bodies be cremated.
(Note: The 1983 Code of Canon Law Can. 1183 §3 strangely allows for
baptized heretics to be given a Catholic funeral "provided their own minister
is not available" and assuming it isn't established that they wouldn't want
a Catholic funeral, all at the discretion of the Bishop -- but then in Can.
1184 §1 goes to say that "notorious heretics" can't have a Catholic
funeral. As opposed to out and out refusal of a Catholic funeral for those
who request their bodies be cremated, Can. 1184 §1 says that Catholic
funerals are denied to those "who for antichristian motives choose
that their bodies be cremated.")
Praying for the Dead.
1 Moore, Russell D., "Grave Signs," Touchstone
Magazine, January/February, 2007
2 See the book
Caring for the Dead: Your Final Act of Love, Dewey Decimal#
393, ISBN# 0942679210 . The link is offsite, will open in new browser window.
I quibble with the title; caring for your loved one's body isn't the "final"
act of love! We pray for our dead for the rest of our lives!