May 3, 2024

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When we say goodbye to the people we love, we often have certain traditions. Some of these traditions come from our families, but for many people, the faith they had in life informs the way their spirits are given a final farewell. When it comes to the Catholic faith, the Church offers a purposeful way to say goodbye, one that strengthens their bond with God and the community’s faith in Christ. This tradition is called the Catholic funeral rites or the Catholic burial rites, which contain three vital parts.

What are the Catholic burial rites?

Vigil Service

The first part of the Catholic funeral or burial rites is the vigil service, often referred to as the wake. A Catholic wake is led by prayer, as well as reflections on the life of the loved one. Family and friends gather together to pray and say goodbye while the decedent is present. Most often, the decedent is either in an open or closed casket at the vigil. According to the Catholic faith, a wake is the most appropriate time for eulogies.

Funeral Liturgy

While the vigil provides family and friends the opportunity to honor their loved one, the funeral liturgy is more about honoring God and commending the decedent to God’s glory. The funeral liturgy is a special type of Catholic Mass called the Funeral Mass. It begins with the Opening Rites, where the presiding priest greets the congregation and leads them through an opening prayer.

Following the Opening Rites is the Liturgy of the Word. Just like with traditional Catholic Masses, the priest, deacon and laity will read scripture coming from the Bible and give a homily, but in this case, the passages and homily are focused on the life of the decedent and the Catholic beliefs regarding death and eternal life. A Catholic funeral is generally less about expressing grief and more about strengthening our faith in God and worshipping Him.

Then, the Liturgy of the Eucharist begins, offering the consecrated bread and wine to Catholic followers in the congregation, followed by the Closing Rites. These Closing Rites are the last step of the Funeral Mass and include the Prayer of Commendation, commending the spirit of the decedent to God, and a final blessing. The priest may also lead a hymn before he, the casket of the decedent, and immediate family members file out of the church. Only when they leave are the remaining congregation allowed to go as well.

Rite of Committal

The Rite of Committal is the final funeral rite and ideally takes place at the place of committal, such as an open grave or a place of interment. This rite, led by prayer, sanctifies the communion between the Church in this world and the Church in Heaven. It also solidifies that the bonds we’ve made in life do not end in death.

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