Death is shocking. It stirs up a range of emotions. Even when death is not unexpected, it brings grief, pain and sorrow. The celebration of the passing of a person from life to eternal life can be an important source of comfort and strength for those who mourn.
The funeral rites offer hope because in them the Church proclaims that death is not the end.
The night before the funeral offers an important opportunity for people to mourn. Being less public, it frees people to express their grief with family and friends.
Different cultures have different customs for the night before the funeral. One custom is to visit the home of the close relatives of the person who died, to sit with them, to share their grief.
Some people choose to go to the funeral parlour. There they might view the body and pray for a short time. Some parishes have the custom of praying the rosary at the church.
Each of these alternatives provides an opportunity for others to express their sorrow and for you to express both your grief and your hope in the resurrection.
Others might choose to have a vigil at the church. The church provides a ritual or service for this. It consists of prayers, reading of the Word of God, prayers of intercession. You might like to include the sharing of memories.
The funeral service is usually celebrated with a mass with prayers for the dead. This is primarily an expression of our belief in the resurrection. As a Christian funeral, we praise God and give to him our dead relative, commending him or her to God's love.
If you have the opportunity to discuss the funeral mass with the priest, you are likely to find that it enables you to express your love for the person in a unique way. You might choose to make a special booklet, although it is not absolutely necessary.
FREQUENTLY ASKED Questions
My grandfather wants to be cremated. Is this allowed?
The Catholic Church does allow a person to be cremated. Preferably the cremation should take place after the funeral liturgy. The symbolism of the liturgy, the sprinkling with water, the clothing with the pall, is more meaningful if the body is present.
The Church urges us to treat the cremated remains with respect. If possible, we should inter the remains in a grave, mausoleum or columbarium.
Guidelines for 'Speaking In Remembrance of the Deceased'
The Order of Christian Funerals (OCF) provides that a member or friend of the family may speak briefly in remembrance of the deceased after the Communion Prayer and before the Final Commendation.
• ‘Words of remembrance’ at the Funeral Mass are to be respected as an option within the rite. In some circumstances it may be preferable that only the liturgical celebrant need to speak.
• There should be only one person to speak rather than a series of speakers.
• The reflection should be about the deceased person’s human qualities (including their life of faith), and how these qualities can inspire the hearers.
• The words of remembrance should speak honestly and compassionately, reflecting the circumstances of the life of the deceased.
• The reflection should be of reasonable length (say no more than 5-7 minutes).
• The reflection should be written out ahead of time and where possible reviewed with the celebrant beforehand.
• Pastors should suggest that the storytelling, anecdotes, poems songs, etc., can well form part of the Vigil Service or be used in a domestic situation.
A suggested approach to preparing the Words of Remembrance
• Characteristics and qualities of the life of the deceased and how these may reflect the deceased’s life of faith or be of inspiration to the hearers.
• How can this person be best remembered.
• How our relationship with this person is maintained even in death and how we look forward to meeting again.
Parts of this material was prepared by Elizabeth Delaney sgs, Information Officer, Australian Catholic Bishops Conference with thanks to Catholic Ireland for the use of their content. Copyright © 2005, and Catholic Archdiocese Melbourne: http://www.cam.org.au/evangelisation/Liturgy-Music/Liturgical-Guidelines.