Catholic funerals centre around helping the deceased’s soul pass from the physical world to the afterlife. Given that catholicism is listed as the largest religious denomination in Australia, you will likely attend a Catholic funeral throughout your life.
We’ve put together this guide to help you understand the history, traditions and standard procedures at a catholic funeral.
What is a Catholic funeral?
A Catholic funeral is a religious service held for someone of the Catholic faith after they pass away. The Catholic practice teaches its followers that your soul leaves the physical life after you pass away and enters either Heaven, Purgatory or Hell.
Therefore, Catholic funerals have a unique set of guidelines that ensure the deceased is treated with respect and in line with tradition.
The historic and overarching purpose for such formality is so that there’s an opportunity to encourage forgiveness and appeal to God to be merciful as the person's soul transitions from the physical to the non-physical world.
Catholic Funeral Proceedings
A Catholic funeral is held in a church by a priest or a member of the clergy. The proceedings include the eucharistic prayer accompanied by the giving of the holy communion, also known as the body and blood of Christ.
The holy communion is a blessing that includes an edible wafer and a sip of red wine as a symbol of Christ. Typically, this proceeding is for reconciled Catholics.
Catholic Funeral Traditions
Historically, Catholic funerals have always been steep in tradition. While traditions might change from one generation to the next, the following traditions are almost guaranteed:
- A Catholic priest leads and delivers the sermon.
- Catholicism prefers burials. However, cremation is becoming more acceptable.
- Holding a wake is a popular tradition. Depending on the family, these can occur before the burial or afterwards as a celebration of life.
- Eulogies and tributes are common to commemorate the deceased.
Components of a Catholic Funeral
Traditionally, a Catholic funeral has three main components: the rosary, the funeral mass and the rite of committal.
1. The Holy Rosary
The Holy Rosary is a sequence of prayers. It is typically delivered the night before the service, however it has become more popular to conduct the ceremony prior to mass at church. The Holy Rosary can be delivered by clergy or a family member.
2. Funeral Mass
A Catholic priest leads the funeral mass. It includes the Eucharistic Prayer and the giving of Holy Communion. During Holy Communion, Catholic mourners proceed to the front of the church to receive a communion wafer and sip of wine.
The Holy Communion is an integral part of the Catholic faith because they believe bread and wine are the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Therefore, non-catholic mourners are welcome to join the procession but will receive a blessing instead.
Before the casket is carried out of the church, it’s often blessed with incense and sprinkled with holy water. The priest may also place symbols of Christianity on top of the coffin, such as a bible or crucifix.
3. Rite of Commital
The Rite of Committal is the final tradition in a Catholic funeral. This part typically takes place at the commitment location, such as the burial site or crematorium. When committing the body to its resting place, the Catholic community prays that God will greet the deceased.
Overall, it’s an expression of the connection between the Church on earth and the Church in heaven. The idea is that after the deceased dies, the physical world passes them to the afterlife with prayer in the hopes they are greeted by those who have seen God face-to-face.
Catholic funeral etiquette
It’s common etiquette at a Catholic funeral that the first few rows of pews are for close family. It’s acceptable to send flowers to the family’s home before or directly to the funeral home. The family may also request a donation to a charity of their choice.
Typical attire at a Catholic funeral is black and modest. However, as more people choose to have a celebration of life, the family may specify the dress code in the funeral notice.
Typically, there are memorial votive candles present near the front or at the church entrance. Lighting the candle is a Catholic funeral tradition that acts as a gesture of remembrance. In addition, if there’s a guest book, you are encouraged to leave a small condolence message.
Cremation, Autopsies and Organ Donation
In recent years cremation and autopsies have become more acceptable in the Catholic church. However, they prefer the ashes to be buried or kept in a mausoleum instead of scattering them. The reason is that Catholics believe that at the end of time, when Christ returns, the bodies of the dead will rise from the grave to the kingdom of Heaven.
Donating your body to science is also considered acceptable and is now widely regarded as a final act of goodness before burial preparations. Some believe that this is a final act of repentance, influencing their fate in the afterlife.
Catholic funerals have several traditions that involve helping the deceased pass from the physical world into the afterlife. Therefore, it’s important to show your respect for the church, the deceased, and their family when attending a Catholic funeral.
If you have specific wishes for your funeral, consider Willed’s prepaid funerals. You can plan and pay for your funeral in advance to save your family time, money and stress.