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Catholic Funeral Mass

Lord for your faithful people life is changed, not ended.  When the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death, we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven.

A Guide to Planning the Funeral Rites at Saint Paul Catholic Church

Burial or Cremation? 
From the first century, Christians have followed the Semitic custom of burying the dead, both in contrast to the Roman practice of cremation and in opposition to the contempt shown Christians by their persecutors in their occasional cremating of the bodies of martyrs and scattering their ashes.   Down through the centuries the practice of rites of burial prevailed.  Today, in the United States, the traditional "Rite of Funerals" includes the vigil for the deceased usually at a funeral home, a Mass of Christian Burial in the parish church and the final commendation at the grave or tomb. 

It is the expressed tradition of the Catholic Church that the practice of Christian burial of the faithful be maintained.  The Code of Canon Law states in canon 1176, § 3, that "The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burying the bodies of the dead be observed; it does not, however, forbid cremation unless it has been chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching." 

In 1997, the Holy See granted an indult to the Order of Christian Funerals permitting the Latin bishop in the United States of America to decide whether to allow a person’s cremated remains at Funeral Masses in their dioceses. The permission is to be granted on a case-by-case basis. It is also clear in the indult that when cremation is chosen, “it is greatly to be preferred that the funeral liturgy take place in the presence of the body of the deceased prior to its cremation.”

While “cremation is now permitted, it does not enjoy the same value as burial of the body. The Church clearly prefers and urges that the body of the deceased be present for the funeral rites, since the presence of the human body better expresses the values which the Church affirms in its rites.” (Order of Christian Funerals, 413) 

If you are not sure what to decide, talk with one of the priests at Saint Paul Catholic Church.

If you wish to read the policy for all Roman Catholic parishes in the State of Florida regarding Cremation, follow this link which will open in a new browser window.

The Funeral Liturgies
The typical funeral liturgies involve a Vigil Service, Funeral Mass, and Rite of Committal (See below) .  However, due to extenuating circumstances some families choose not to have a Vigil or Mass at all, but rather to have a graveside service.  One of our priests or deacons from Saint Paul Catholic Church can help you with a graveside service.

Vigil / Wake
One of the first steps is to decide if you want  a Vigil service (sometimes called a wake).  The Vigil service is generally held when the visitation of family and friends begins the night before the Funeral Mass.   A Vigil can have  one of two formats and can take place in the funeral home or in Saint Paul Catholic Church.

1) A Scripture Vigil (Liturgy of the Word) uses readings from the Bible and has special prayers that are said for the deceased and their family and friends. 

2) A Scriptural Rosary Vigil is the recitation of the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary for the deceased interspersed with quotes from Sacred Scripture.  The minister for the Vigil can be a priest, deacon, or seminarian.

Occasionally the visitation and rosary will be done one or two hours in the church before the Funeral Mass.  This does not usually happen, but may be necessary depending on individual circumstances.   Often a Vigil is not held at all and that is also a very acceptable option. 

The Funeral Mass
The Rite At the Entrance to the church 

Just as the Funeral Mass  is ready to begin, the Priest, the ministers and family members will gather around the casket in the Narthex (main entry to the church).  Father will then bless the body or the cremated remains with holy water as a sign of baptism.   Just as you bless yourself with Holy Water when you enter the church.  The funeral home will then cover the casket with the pall (the large white cloth used to remind us of our white baptismal garments.)

The casket is then brought to the front of the church while the entrance hymn is sung and the  family and pall bearers follow behind.  The entrance hymn is one from our approved music for Funeral Masses which you can find on this website by following this link.  You may want to choose the music from this approved list or we can do that for you. 

The Biblical Readings 
Once the casket is in the front, all have taken their seat, and the entrance hymn is complete, Christian symbols will be placed on the casket.  The priest will pray the opening prayer, and ask all to be seated.  The Biblical Readings then begin.

You may want to help choose the readings, or if you wish the priest will choose them for you.

The first reading is from the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) except during the Easter Season.  During the Easter Season the first reading is from the New Testament. 
During the Easter Season (Easter – Pentecost) one of the readings on pages 14 and following from the approved list of biblical readings is used as a first reading instead of a passage from the Old Testament. See the list of approved biblical readings.  This link will open in a new browser window.

The first reading is followed by a sung Responsorial Psalm.  One frequently used at funerals is “The Lord is my Shepherd” - the 23rd Psalm, though there are other choices.  (View psalm 23 and other choices in new browser window.)

The second reading is from one of the New Testament letters.  (View in new browser window.)

The priest will select the Gospel Reading.  The the priest or deacon proclaims a passage from one of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John).  You may want to ask family members or friends to read the First and Second Readings.  If not, there are several readers  from our parish community who would be honored to be asked to read at funerals.  We can handle all of the readings for you if you wish.

The Homily (sermon)
Following the Gospel reading, the priest or deacon  will give a homily related to the scriptures.  The homily is not a eulogy about the person's life.  It is spiritual in its intent and is commonly concerned with our Catholic core beliefs about life, death, and eternal life. 

The General Intercessions
Following the homily, prayers are said for the deceased and for their family members and friends. You may ask a friend or family member to read these prayers, or the priest, deacon, or one of our parish members will.

The Preparation of gift (offertory)
During this time, the gifts of bread and wine are brought forward.  These will be transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus, which we will receive at Communion. Two people are needed to bring up the gifts.  If a family member or friend would like to bring up the gifts that would be fine.  If you would prefer that church Sacristan bring up the gifts on behalf of the family, that would be fine too.

The Eucharistic Prayer 
This is an ancient prayer of the Church. The word Eucharist means thanksgiving and during this prayer we give thanks to God for His goodness. 

During a regular Sunday Mass, we kneel for the Eucharistic prayer.  The Eucharistic prayer concludes with the “ Great Amen”. 

The Lord’s Prayer and Holy Communion 

Following the Lord’s Prayer is the Greeting of Peace and then Holy Communion,   All practicing Roman Catholics are now invited to come forward to receive Communion.  After the "Lamb of God" the priest may say:  "As we come now to Holy Communion, those of you who are practicing Catholics in good standing may come forward now to receive. Those who will not be receiving communion today, are asked to spend this time in prayer for the repose of the soul of N. and for the consolation of his family and friends"

Remembrances (eulogy)
Occasionally someone from the family or a special friend may speak about the person who has died.  We do this after the prayer after Communion.  We ask that there only be one person giving a remembrance and that Father know of this ahead of time.  We discourage the practice of asking anyone who wants to speak to come forward.  This is more appropriate during the Vigil or the reception following the funeral.

The final Commendation and Farewell 

The Mass ends with special prayers for the deceased and an incensing of the body.   During the incensing of the Body we sing the Song of Farewell.
We incense the body for two reasons:
1) As a sign of honor to the body of the deceased which became the temple of the Holy Spirit at Baptism.  That is a very important concept for Catholics. 
2) When the women went to the tomb to anoint Jesus Body they took with them myrrh.   The incense we use at Saint Paul is pure myrrh which also gives honor to the dignity of the human body especially when considered in the context of the women at the tomb.
3) As a sensual sign of the faithful’s prayers for the deceased rising to God.  It is that beautiful sign of prayer in action.

At the conclusion of these prayers, the closing music or hymn begins and the casket is led out of church.   Family and friends follow. 

After the Funeral Mass

If you would like a reception at the church, either immediately following the Mass or on your return from the cemetery, our Caring Hearts Ministry is available to help you with that.  Gertie Halstead, our funeral reception Caring Hearts coordinator, will call you concerning this.

The priest or deacon will go with you to the cemetery for the Internment and the Rite of Committal.  The priest, cemetery, and the funeral home will handle planning the Rite of Committal and Internment.  Again, some families choose not to have a Mass at all, but rather to have a graveside service.  One of our priests or deacons from Saint Paul Catholic Church can help you with that. 

Planning checklist
You may read over the following check list or follow this link to download in pdf, and print a checklist to turn in to our office or the funeral home.

 Who will do the readings? (Remember one of our parish readers can also do this). 

First Reading 

Second Reading 

General Intercessions

 ___ Ask Father to ask the  parish Reader to read 

Are there special readings that you want? 

First Reading 

Second Reading

____Father will choose the readings

Preparation of the Gifts (Offertory) Who will bring up the gifts? (You can have two  people do this). 



___ please choose someone for us 

What  Music would you like from the Approved Music for Funeral list?   The placement of the music is usually best left to the discretion and experience of the parish Music Director.  So if you will choose the pieces from the above list the Music Director will decide when it is best to utilize them.  

Entrance Hymn

Preparation of Gifts 


Communion Meditation (optional) 

 Closing Hymn  (While a closing Hymn is sometimes sung, it is often best treated as an instrumental piece.)

___ please choose the music for us 

 Is there someone you would like to ask to a remembrance (eulogy)? 

For Commonly Asked Questions Regarding Catholic Funerals, click here
Fr. Doug Halsema, 
Dec 24, 2009 10:58 AM