Funeral Ceremonies and Symbols
The Catholic Funeral Mass emphasizes our faith in Jesus' victory over death and our hope in resurrection, even as we mourn our temporary separation from a loved one. We believe that death is not the end, but the beginning of a perfect, permanent life with Christ in heaven. Through the many ceremonies and symbols that are part of our faith, we find hope in the midst of our tears. In order to help make the funeral liturgy more consoling and understandable, we have provided some explanations of these parts of the liturgy.
The Priest's Vestments
Since we are celebrating our loved one's entrance into everlasting life and sharing in Christ's victory over death, the clergy normally wears the color white, which is associated with resurrection and used at Easter, weddings, baptisms and other joyous events.
The hymns and songs express our belief that death is a passage to ultimate resurrection and eternal union with God. The music reflects the theme of expectant joy.
The Personal Funeral Service
There is a rich variety of prayers, readings, and ceremonies in the official Catholic ritual for Christian burial. The priest will be happy to assist families and friends in selecting the readings and prayers which best capture the life experience of your loved one as a disciple of Christ.
You may select three passages from the Bible : one from the Old Testament, one from the New Testament, and one from the Gospels. Please see the Funeral Scripture Reading section to make your selections.
The Easter or Paschal Candle
The Easter candle is lit to symbolize the light of the risen Christ and our belief that He has conquered the darkness of sin and death. This candle stands in the sanctuary space to greet the body and remind us that our loved one, through his or her death, shares in the victory of Jesus over these powers of darkness.
Sprinkling of the Casket
We share in the Lord's death and resurrection through the waters of our baptism. The same cleansing waters of baptism, that made us sons and daughters of God and filled us with the Holy Spirit, are sprinkled over the deceased to remind us the grace and hope that we have in Christ Jesus our Lord and God's power of our mortal and flawed nature.
Presentation of the Gifts
Family and friends are encouraged to bring the bread and wine to the altar at the Funeral Mass. This action symbolizes that we are saying "Lord, we give our loved one back to you. We accept your will and we trust in you." Special symbolic items such as a familiar rosary, a cross, a special picture, or a token of the loved one`s life or vocation may also be placed on a small table before or near the altar.
What more perfect way to share in the Funeral Mass than to receive Holy Communion. The words of Jesus "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has life eternal and I will raise him on the last day" recall our hope for eternal life in Christ.
Placing of the Pall
The funeral pall points back to the white garment given us at our Baptism and symbolizes our life in Christ. It is draped over the coffin at the beginning of the liturgy, usually by family members.
Symbols of Christian Life
A symbol of Christian life, such as a bible, a book of the gospels, or a cross may be placed on the coffin as a sign that the Christian is marked, in Baptism, and through Jesus` victory over death is brought to eternal life.
Often, the death of a loved one touches family members and friends who have become alienated from God and wish to become reconciled. The parish priest may assist in that process by offering the opportunity for the sacrament of penance or reconciliation at the church or funeral home before calling hours. If this is desirable, please contact the parish priest to ask if these arrangements can be made.
Funeral Homily and Family Remarks
The priest or deacon will give a brief homily based on the scriptures chosen for the funeral service. He will most likely want to speak with you about your loved one's life so he can better integrate the particular texts you have chosen into his message. Following the prayer after communion and before the final commendation, a family member or friend may speak in remembrance of the deceased loved one. However, a eulogy is usually more appropriately offered at the Vigil or Wake service on the night before the funeral.
Final Commendation and Committal
The last ceremony after the Funeral Mass and at the cemetery is a liturgy of final farewell or commendation and committal. Many times, this is the most difficult time for the family and friends because it is a final good-bye to one we have loved through life. This is more than an end; it is a beginning of our loved one's eternal life in Christ. The holy burial place of our loved one also offers a sacred place to return, visit, and offer our prayers.
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