“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord” (Apoc. 14:13)
The Christian meaning of death is revealed in the light of the Paschal Mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ in whom resides our only hope. The Christian who dies in Christ Jesus is “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (II Cor. 5:8).
For the Christian the day of death inaugurates, at the end of his sacramental life, the fulfilment of his new birth begun at Baptism, the definitive “conformity” to “the image of the Son” conferred by the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and participation in the feast of the Kingdom which was anticipated in the Eucharist – even if final purifications are still necessary for him in order to be clothed with the nuptial garment.
The Church who, as Mother, has sacramentally borne the Christian in her womb during his earthly pilgrimage, accompanies him at his journey’s end, in order to surrender him into the Father’s hands”. She offers to the Father, in Christ, the child of his grace, and she commits to the earth, in hope, the seed of the body that will rise in glory. This offering is fully celebrated in the Eucharistic sacrifice; the blessings before and after Mass are sacramentals (Catechism of the Catholic Church, §§ 1681 – 1682).
The purpose of the Catholic funeral rites is to pray for the dead, to commit the deceased to the earth in expectation of the general resurrection and to comfort the mourners. While it is appropriate to give thanks for the graces God bestowed on the deceased during life, the funeral rites are not to be confused with a “celebration of the life” of the departed, which is a secular celebration aptly carried out in a secular setting such as a wake or reception after the burial rites are concluded.
How does one Prepare for a Catholic Funeral?
The most important preparations begin before death, and consist in calling a priest to hear the confession of the one dying, to anoint him or her with the Oil of the Sick and to console him or her with the Body of Christ in Holy Viaticum (Holy Communion for the last time). This is of critical importance to ensure that the soul of the dying is fortified for the last struggles, as it prepares to meet its Creator and Judge. The administration of the “Last Rites” should be given sooner rather than later; when the person is still conscious and able to confess to the priest. As the Anointing has the secondary purpose of strengthening the body, those who are dying often rally if they are not too advanced in their illness.
As death approaches, the priest should be called again to give the Apostolic Blessing. This is a special faculty given to the priest to give a plenary indulgence at the moment of death, i.e. full remission of all punishment due to sins committed in this life. A person that has received this blessing in the right disposition will be admitted directly to the Beatific Vision of God in heaven.
After death, the family contacts their funeral director of choice, who will in turn arrange the date and time of the funeral rites with the parish priest. These normally consist of a Requiem Mass for the soul of the departed, and Christian Burial.
“The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection. The burial of the dead is a corporal work of mercy; it honours the children of God, who are temples of the Holy Spirit” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, § 2300). “The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burying the bodies of the dead be observed; it does not, however, forbid cremation unless it has been chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching” (cf. Canon 1176 § 3). Funeral rites are not to be performed at the place of cremation, and afterwards, the ashes are to be placed in a designated resting place, but not kept at home, not divided among family members, nor scattered to the winds.
Preparing for the Requiem Mass
In accordance with universal and diocesan liturgical laws, the following must be observed:
Both the ordinary (English) and the extraordinary (Traditional Latin) forms of the Requiem Mass are offered at St Gerard’s, according as the family chooses.
When the family would like booklets to be made up for distribution at the Mass, the funeral directors will take care of these needs. Funeral directors should be aware of the translation changes in the Roman Missal and prepare their booklets accordingly.
Only the approved Scriptural texts as contained in the liturgical books may be used at the Mass. The celebrant of the Mass will be more than happy to help the family to select the texts, should this be requested.
A photograph of the deceased and only Christian symbols such as a rosary or a missal may be placed on the coffin in the church.
The family is welcome to pray the rosary before the Requiem Mass, but are asked to have a family member or friend lead the prayers. It is often impossible for the priest to do this, as he will be busy with the immediate preparations for the Mass.
In keeping with the dignity and purpose of the funeral liturgy, slideshows of the deceased are not permitted in the church at St Gerard’s; these remembrances are better shared with tears and laughter at the wake or the reception afterwards. Likewise, a eulogy is better deferred until the reception. However, if the family prefers, one short eulogy may be delivered before the beginning of the Mass. When the eulogy is to be read in the church, it must be respectful of the sacred place and neither contain jokes or crass references, nor exceed five minutes. A eulogy to be read in the church must be submitted to the celebrant at least the day before for approval.
Sacred music can help the devotion of those present at the Mass. While recorded music is not permitted at St Gerard’s, the parish has a list of organist-singers that can be hired at a reasonable cost. Secular songs of any kind are strictly forbidden during Mass.
It is the simplicity of the Requiem Mass that makes it a beautiful ceremony that is respectful of the deceased. The celebrant will be pleased to assist the family in the preparation of the funeral rites as needed.