A “Catholic funeral” is a set of funeral rites used by the Roman Catholic Church, sometimes refers to them as ecclesiastical funerals. The role of the Church in a Catholic funeral is to provide spiritual support for the deceased and to honor their bodies, and to provide a measure of hope for surviving family and friends.
Parts of a Catholic Funeral
Traditionally, Catholic funerals for adults consist of three main parts: the Wake (sometimes referred to as a “Vigil”), the Mass, and the Burial. Catholic funerals for baptized children are different than adults. In childrens’ funerals, a “Votive Mass of the Angels” is performed.
The Wake (or Vigil)
The Wake is the time when family and friends gather, fto pray and to honor their life, and to console one another. Funeral cards are frequently distributed with a Catholic image on one side and the other side generally has a prayer, along with the name, birthdate, and date of death. The Wake may last from a few hours to a couple of days and the casket is usually open, surrounded by candles. In some Catholic cultures, mirrors are covered or turned towards the wall. Flowers are traditionally sent to the family, though frequently families may request that donations be made in lieu of flowers.
Visitors at the wake generally sign a visitor sign-in book which is frequently used by the family in sending Thank You cards after the funeral services. The mourners are greeted with sympathetic words and visitors traditionally kneel beside the coffin and pray for a few moments.
The day after the Wake, the body is taken from the place of vigil to the church or chapel. The priest will dress in black and greet the coffin at the door, sprinkling Holy Water and intoning prayers. The full requiem mass is then performed, and afterwards the priest stands at the foot of the coffin granting absolution. The priest will incense the body and again sprinkle the body with holy water, which is followed by more payers.
Most Catholic funerals in North America conclude with earth burial, which is burying the remains contained in a casket into the ground. Above ground entombment is provided in mausoleums, buildings designed and maintained to house human remains. After the requiem mass, the coffin is brought to the cemetery or mausoleum where the body will be interred and blessed by a priest. The priest says prayers and sprinkles the body with holy water, asking that the soul rest in peace. The priest will then make the Sign of the cross over the body. In Catholic cemeteries, people are generally buried so that their heads face East, symbolizing the fact they are waiting for resurrection by Christ. Priests are traditionally buried in the opposite direction.
When the funeral is over, traditionally family and friends gather at the house of the closest surviving relative to eat, drink, console one another, share memories, and to pray.