The purpose of this page is to briefly explain the catholic funeral ritual.
“Christians celebrate the funeral rites to offer worship, praise, and thanksgiving to God for the gift of life which has been returned to God, the author of life and the hope of the just. The Mass, the memorial of Christ’s death and resurrection, is the principal celebration of the Christian funeral.”
Order of Christian Funerals, para 5.
Q. Can Catholics Be Cremated?
A. The practice of burying the body goes back to early Christian times. For centuries cremation was expressly forbidden in the Church because of the belief that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, as well as the belief in the resurrection of the body. Cremation was seen as a pagan practice that denied the doctrine of the Resurrection.
In 1963, the Vatican lifted the ban on cremation for Catholics. In doing so, the Church allowed cremation in certain circumstances – provided the reasons for choosing it did not counter Christian belief. However, no allowances were made for any prayer or rituals to be used with the cremated remains. This meant all funeral services were to occur in the presence of the body, with cremation taking place afterwards.
On March 21, 1997, the Vatican granted permission for the cremated remains (cremains) to be brought into church for the Mass of Christian Burial. It is still, however, the Church’s preference to have the body present for the Mass of Christian Burial … and then have cremation afterwards.
All too often people say, “Funerals are for the living, not the dead.” For Catholics such a statement is not complete, because the Catholic funeral rites offer us the opportunity to praise and thank God for the love and mercy He has shown the deceased person. It is also a time where the community of believers prays for the repose of the soul of the deceased, and offers consolation to the surviving family and friends.
Q. Why doesn’t the Church allow cremated remains to be scattered or kept in a home?
A. The Church believes cremains of a body should be treated with the same respect given the human body from which they come. If cremains are not treated with honor and dignity, cremation can allow for disrespect of the human body.
Scattering the ashes deprives loved ones and descendants of the opportunity to visit the remains where they can pray and reflect upon the life and memory of the deceased. Dividing the cremated remains among family and friends or keeping them in the home seems to diminish the respect for human life and shows a lack of proper respect and dignity for the dead.
The core of the Order of Christian Funerals
is the Mass.
Other rites, such as the Vigil of Rite of Committal,
compliment the Funeral Liturgy or Mass.
Listed below is a “hierarchy of sorts” for Catholic funerals. It lists, in order of preference, those practices which are deemed acceptable by the Catholic Church for funeral liturgies.
The Church holds up, as normative, the Rites contained in its ritual book – The Order of Christian Funerals. Normally these rites include:
- a Vigil (Wake) Service celebrated in the funeral home,
- the Mass of Christian Burial in the Church, and;
- the Rite of Committal of the body at the cemetery.
Despite being valuable expressions of faith, the rosary and other traditions are not to replace the Vigil for the Deceased. However, these devotions may be celebrated in addition to the Vigil Service.
It is the Church’s preference that the body of the deceased be present for the Vigil Service. In addition, the body of the deceased should be brought to the local parish church for the Mass of Christian Burial. Funeral Masses are not permitted in funeral homes or cemetery chapels.
The Rite of Committal of the body normally takes place at the cemetery, although the committal may be done at the end of the Funeral Mass.
The body of the deceased is to be interred, either in the ground or in a crypt following the Rite of Committal.
When the choice has been made to cremate a body, it is recommended that the cremation take place after the Funeral Liturgy. In this case, the Wake service should be celebrated in the presence of the body. Then, the body should be brought to the parish church for the Mass of Christian Burial … and cremation should take place afterwards.After cremation, the cremains should be buried, according to the Order of Christian Funerals. The cremains should be treated with the same respect given to the human body. Therefore, they should be buried in a grave, or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium (but not a common/communal columbarium). This is the reverent disposition of the cremated remains that the Church requires.
While the Church has granted the celebration of the Funeral Liturgy, including Mass, in the presence of the cremated remains of the deceased – it is considered the least desirable option. The Church strongly prefers that the body of the deceased be present for its funeral rites since the presence of the body clearly recalls the life and death of the person.Realizing that the practice of cremation is being chosen for a variety of reasons, including economy and practicality, cremation often occurs before the funeral rites. When this happens, the Vigil for the deceased may be celebrated in the presence of the cremains. Likewise, the cremains may be brought to church for the celebration of the Funeral Mass.
If you wish to download a booklet, to help you in planning a Mass of Christian Burial, please click here.
Looking for “helpful hints” on how to explain the passing of a loved one to a child? Click here.
If you don’t have Adobe Acrobat Reader installed on your computer, you’ll need it in order to use the planning booklet.