Sunday, 01 November 2020 16:26

The Catholic funeral rites

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Why it’s happening less and how you can ensure Why it’s happening less and how you can ensure at your death you receive these critical graces

It’s becoming a growing problem in the Catholic Church — fewer funeral Masses and a big reason has nothing to do with the faith of the deceased.

“It’s a sad and unfortunate reality that adult children are choosing against the life-long desires of their parents and denying the funeral Mass they hoped for,” said Father Daren Zehnle, director of the Office for Divine Worship and the Catechumenate for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. “Not only are these children disrespecting their parent’s wishes, they are more critically denying graces for their parent’s soul. The church’s funeral rite is full of powerful prayers, consoling liturgies, and most importantly, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass — all offered to implore God’s mercy for the deceased. Much more than a mere celebration of life, the Mass is the ultimate prayer, a participation in the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, and denying so great a prayer is a tragedy.”

So, what are the Catholic funeral rites? The first includes a gathering with the family in the presence of the body, which is followed by a vigil service. “At the vigil, the Christian community keeps watch with the family in prayer to the God of mercy and finds strength in Christ’s presence” (Order of Christian Funerals, no. 56).

Next is the Funeral Liturgy itself, which can be offered within or outside of the Mass. “At the death of a Christian, whose life of faith was begun in the waters of Baptism and strengthened at the Eucharistic table, the Church intercedes on behalf of the deceased because of its confident belief that death is not the end, nor does it break the bonds forged in life. The Church also ministers to the sorrowing and consoles them in the funeral rite with the comforting Word of God and the Sacrament of the Eucharist” (Order of Christian Funerals, no. 4).

Finally, there is the Rite of Committal (burial or interment). “The Rite of Committal is an expression of the communion that exists between the Church on earth and the Church in heaven: the deceased passes with the farewell prayers of the community of believers into the welcoming company of those who need faith no longer, but see God face-to-face” (USCCB’s An Overview of Catholic Funeral Rites).

“These treasures of our faith not only pray for the dead, a Corporal Work of Mercy, but also provide emotional and spiritual support for the family and friends who remain,” Father Zehnle said. “We have no idea how important this rite is for the person who died.”

So, what can you do to ensure you receive these treasures upon your death? It’s best to pre-plan your funeral with a Catholic funeral home, especially if your adult children are not practicing. Also, make sure the children are notified the funeral has been pre-planned. You should also clarify that if choosing cremation, it should be done after the Mass and for the burial to happen within 30 days.

What does the church say about cremation? The Catholic Church allows cremation, but it is not preferred. Cremated remains are to be treated with the same respect as the full body. This includes that the remains are not divided, not mixed with anything else, not made into jewelry, not taken home, not scattered, and should fully be interred into a sacred space within 30 days. The preference is for the body to be present for the funeral Liturgy (followed by cremation and then internment).

Why is it preferred that the body be present? It is because we are called to follow Jesus both in life and in death. The church’s funeral rites are, at least in part, based on how the body of Jesus was honored and entombed. If possible, the body should be present for the funeral Mass so that the body, the temple of the Holy Spirit, can be properly and fittingly honored, in imitation of Jesus.

“Honoring your loved one never means scattering their remains in an ocean or (on a) golf course,” Father Zehnle said. “Doing so actually dishonors the deceased because it robs the family and friends of a certain place to go to pray for the deceased. It is also important to remember that the Christian is called to imitate Christ in all things, both in life and in death. Christians, therefore, prefer burial or entombment as a way to imitate the Lord Jesus. Because we believe in the resurrection of the dead, the way to honor our faith and life of the deceased is to have all their remains properly and respectfully in one place interred in the ground at a cemetery.”

Alkaline hydrolysis — otherwise known as biocremation, flameless cremation, or water cremation — is a cremation process that uses lyre and heat. The Catholic Church does not approve of this method as it unnecessarily disrespects the human body.