Vatican Statement on Christian Burial
Since Vatican II the church does allow the cremation option under certain circumstances and understandings. In Cannon 1176 paragraph 3 it is written; “The church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burying the bodies of the dead be observed; it does not, however, forbid certain cremation unless it has been chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching.”
Ministry of Consolation
According to the Order of Christian Funeral, it is the obligation of all to minister to those who are in grief due to the loss of a loved one. The Church calls each member of Christ’s Body- priest, deacon, layperson to participate in the ministry of consolation: to care for the dying, to pray for the dead, to comfort those who mourn. The responsibility for the ministry of consolation rests with the believing community.
The Order of Christian Funeral
“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 . . Christians celebrate the funeral rites to offer worship, praise, and thanksgiving to God for the gift of a life which has now been returned to God.” (Order of Christian Funerals, 4-5)
The Catholic Church has a beautiful three-part plan for funerals. If our schedules permitted, members of the community would walk with the bereaved family through all three parts of the funeral rites (from vigil through burial). Each of these rites has a distinctive purpose and is described below.
Vigil for the Deceased (Wake)
The Vigil is the official prayer of the church for the deceased in the time following death and before the funeral liturgy; or if there is no funeral liturgy, before the rite of committal. It should not be omitted or replaced by devotional prayers (such as the rosary). Devotional prayers may be offered in addition to the celebration of the Vigil for the Deceased either at the time of the Vigil itself, or at another time. The vigil may take place in the home of the deceased, at a funeral home, or in church. A priest, deacon or layperson may preside at this liturgy. The vigil consists of readings from sacred Scripture, songs, psalms and intercessions. A brief homily or reflection is included. The vigil is the preferred time for family and friends to tell stories, and to offer reflections and eulogies. In today’s society, the vigil has often been minimized by a lack of participation by friends and family, who sometimes spend only a few moments at the funeral home viewing the body and offering condolences to the family; but a full celebration of the vigil is the appropriate beginning of the funeral rites.
The Funeral Mass is the primary liturgical celebration of the Christian community for the deceased. The Funeral Liturgy (Mass) celebrates the life of the deceased Christian by reaffirming the baptismal share in Christ’s death and resurrection and looking forward to a continued share in that life in the kingdom of heaven. At the Funeral Liturgy the assembly receives the body of the deceased in a casket, which is sprinkled with holy water and has a pall placed upon it to recall the deceased’s baptism. Then the body is carried toward the altar and placed near the Easter candle. The Mass continues as usual. The homily is based on the readings and focuses on the paschal mystery (death/resurrection). A final commendation follows the prayer after Communion. Then the body is incensed (offered to God) and a song of farewell is sung to affirm our hope in life everlasting. The body is then carried to the place of burial (committal).
Rite of Committal
The Rite of Committal concludes the funeral rites. This brief rite helps the bereaved at this difficult time of parting. It includes a short Scriptural verse, the prayer of committal, intercessions, the Lord’s Prayer and a blessing. The body is then lowered into the grave or placed in a tomb or crematorium. A song may conclude this rite.