Understanding Our Faith

Christian Funerals

Having looked at the rites for the sick and the dying over the last few weeks, we will now move on to look at how the Church commits those who have died into the hands of God. 

The Christian Funeral is always a celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus and the involvement of the person who has died in that death and resurrection.  Just as Jesus passed through death to the Father, so in the funeral rites, we trustfully hand the dead over to the Father just as in the rites preceding death we invited the dying person to hand themselves over into the Father’s hands as did Jesus on the cross.

There are three major elements to the Christian Funeral: the Vigil for the deceased, the Funeral Liturgy, and the Rite of Committal which takes place either at the cemetery of the crematorium.

The Vigil is supposed to take place before the main Funeral Liturgy; usually on the night before it.  This is intended to centre on the immediate time following death and the grief that people are feeling at that time.

The Funeral Liturgy itself can be the Funeral Mass or a Liturgy of the Word without the celebration of Mass.  This is preceded by special symbolic rites bringing out the meaning of a Christian death and is followed by further prayers specific to a funeral called the Final Commendation.

The Rite of Committal is a simple rite designed to be used at the burial or at the cremation.  A burial of ashes can take place at a suitable time after a cremation, if the family wishes.

For practical and financial reasons, this three-part set of rites is often reduced to two or even to one.  Vigils are becoming less and less common and the things designed to take place during it – such as Eulogies – are often added to the Funeral Liturgy.  It is also becoming more common for the cremation in particular, to take place without anyone attending it.  This is probably less common for burials.

Over the next few weeks in this segment, we will look at these rites in more detail.

By Fr Frank O’Loughlin


Faith Reflections


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