The Order of Christian Funerals offers rich and varied rites and texts as well as valuable general principles and instruction. These notes presume that celebrants, funeral directors and parish bereavement groups are familiar with it and have assess to it. These accompanying notes serve to complement it and give further pastoral guidance on preparations and local customs.

The people and ministries

Every person, including nursing and medical staff, welfare personnel and other carers, funeral directors and pastoral and liturgical ministers, has their particular and important role when someone dies. The family of the deceased, the priest and the parish bereavement team or liturgy group are normally involved in preparing the funeral liturgy. Specific roles are expanded upon below.

The places for various celebrations

The home or hospital, the church, the cemetery or crematorium and the reception hall or home are places which have their own significant and appropriate rituals for the dying, the deceased, the bereaved and the community.

Three major rites in the Catholic Order of Christian Funerals have their own purpose, genre, structure and a special sense of progression:

  • The Vigil in the church, chapel or home is often the first time for family and friends to gather for prayer and keeping watch. Some families may be unaware that the Order of Christian Funerals provides many options from a rich Catholic tradition of readings and prayers. The rosary, if especially desired, may be integrated into the vigil liturgy. Other ritual and words may be better suited here than at the funeral Mass, especially sharing stories and symbols of the person’s life.
  • The Funeral Mass in the church is the central funeral liturgy focusing upon the death and resurrection of Christ and the faith and hope of Christian people. For some families unfamiliar with the Mass, a Liturgy of the Word with final commendation may be chosen. Other Masses should not be needlessly added to distract from this central liturgy. Because of its public and growing popular nature, the celebrant and planners must be aware of ecumenical and social issues and be sensitive to the needs and anxieties of the families and a very varied congregation.
  • The Committal Rite in the cemetery or crematorium is the final farewell and separation of the body of the deceased from the community and so should not be neglected in importance or preparation.

When the rites at these times and places properly explained and performed, the family are helped in their grieving process. There are both human and divine elements in the progression of the rites from the initial notice of death to the final letting go. Care and wisdom is needed in choosing the appropriate rites, texts, gestures and actions at these places so the life and death of the Christian is commemorated and farewelled with pastoral sensitivity and in accordance to current Church practices.

Preparing the Liturgy

The places, dates and times for the funeral liturgy (and vigil, if desired) and burial service (rite of committal) should first be negotiated with the priest and family. A time should be arranged early for the family to gather with the priest and/or parish bereavement ministers to prepare the liturgy.

Parishes should have easy to follow resources to assist the family to select readings, prayers, prayers of the faithful, music and hymns.

Booklet or leaflets may be helpful but are not always needed. Hymnbooks or overhead projector screens may serve the purpose well. Preferably the congregation should listen to the scriptures proclaimed rather than follow texts from booklets.

Preparing the booklet may be a way for people to contribute to the preparation, or it may be an unnecessary burden upon them or the parish. Ensure that copyrights are observed and texts are correctly arranged and placed in booklet to avoid page turning during a specific rite or texts.

Liturgical ministries (readers, leading prayers of the faithful, servers, eucharistic ministers) are integral to the liturgy and properly express the nature of liturgical celebration. Family and or parishioners should be selected with care, and be prepared for their tasks beforehand.

Liturgy of the Word - the readings

The readings express both the Christian meaning of life, death and resurrection and are important to express our faith and receive consolation and encouragement. The Gospel should be the first chosen, then readings from the Old Testament and Psalm and the New Testament (if required). Paraphrased readings are not suitable and non-scriptural readings do not have a place in the Liturgy of the Word. The readings should be proclaimed from the Lectionary or other worthy liturgical books.

Preferably the Psalm or at least the response should be sung. The Gospel Acclamation, if not sung, may be omitted. Note that the Alleluia Verse is not said or sung during Lent but may be replaced by another form of the Gospel Acclamation.

Prayers of the Faithful

Often the family would like to spend time preparing these prayers. Resources, which lay out samples in sections: for the church, for the deceased, for the family, for the community, and for particular needs, are most helpful.

Placing of Symbols

Christian symbols (paschal candle [preferably already lit], white pall, cross, sprinkling of holy water, bible, rosary beads and missal) may be placed on or near the coffin before or during the Funeral Mass. They have their own special significance and should be placed simply, with dignity and without much explanation. Short verses and responses or music may accompany the action. Other symbols or personal articles should be restricted to the vigil or the home and, if left in the Church, placed on a table distinct from the altar and coffin.

Music and Hymns

The responses in the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist have first priority to be sung, though pastoral considerations may modify this general principle.

It is a good to choose a gathering song, which is accessible for the entire congregation to sing. Instrumental music is preferable at the Presentation of the Gifts, though a hymn reflecting the action of presenting the gifts of bread and wine may be sung.

A communion hymn should be familiar and easy for the congregation to sing without undue reference to words, e.g. a song with a repetitive chorus.

When the distribution of Communion is finished, as circumstances allow, a reflective hymn to assist silent prayer or a hymn of thanksgiving may be sung. The "Song of Farewell" may be sung during the sprinkling with holy water and incensing of the coffin. Otherwise this is done in silence.

The final hymn may be replaced with suitable instrumental music. If a hymn is chosen, it should speak of our faith in the resurrection and eternal life.

Choosing hymns or songs that were the deceased person’s favourites are often not appropriate for the occasion of mourning, or liturgical celebration and congregational participation. They may be more fitting to play and listen to at smaller, intimate gatherings to commemorate the person.

The Words of Remembrance

Words of Remembrance, recalling the life, deeds and special stories of the deceased are best given by only one family member or friend as part of the Introductory Rites, that is after the greeting by the presider, and before the placing of Christian symbols. These words should avoid a purely biographical account or series of anecdotes, which are more familiar in so-called eulogies and more appropriate after the vigil or at the reception. The length of the words of remembrance should be in keeping with the length of the homily, that is five to seven minutes, so that the liturgy is balanced and progresses evenly. These words should be written out, and if possible, shared with the celebrant beforehand.

See update guidelines

Homily

The homily serves to illumine the scripture texts and focus on the death and resurrection of Christ, God’s compassion and love and the faith and hope of Christians. The homilist, likewise, should avoid words that are simply biographical or anecdotal in nature.

Rite of Commendation

The rite commendation and farewell immediately follows the post-communion prayer. Silence or a hymn may be sung during the sprinkling and the incensation of the coffin; the celebrant should avoid explanation. The Lord’s Prayer is not said here. The final blessing and dismissal are omitted.

Pastoral Care

After the burial or committal rite, the gathering for refreshments or a meal is both natural and an opportunity for people to meet informally. It is also a sign to the bereaved family that people and ministers continue to care for them.

Funerals present an enormous opportunity for evangelisation and Christian service and witness. People can experience the human face of the Church through its care, concern and effective liturgies. For some it may be their only experience in many years of the Catholic Church and for them an opportunity to explore questions about their faith.

 

Written and recommended by the Diocesan Liturgical Commission, 27 April 2003

Approved and promulgated by the Bishop of Sandhurst, 4 July 2003

This article accompanies Notes on Funerals.

KEY

  • CWB: Catholic Worship Book
  • GA: Gather Australia
  • TIS: Together in Song
  • AOV: As One Voice

MASS SETTING

  • Jubilee Mass of Pope Paul VI---Percy Jones CWB 534
  • Mass Shalom---Colin Smith CWB 537
  • Mass of Creation---in GA
  • Responsorial Mass---John Hogan (manuscript)
    OR
    A Mass setting the parish knows well.

RESPONSORIAL PSALM

  • Crimond (CWB 833) or any version of Psalm 23, such as CWB 33 set by Sr. Kathleen Boschetti, or by Joseph Gelineau GA 29.
  • Ps. 114/115, I will walk in the presence of the Lord in the land of the living CWB 152a
  • Ps. 102, The Lord is kind and merciful CWB 152b
  • Ps. 30, I will praise you, Lord GA 29
  • Ps. 23, Shepherd Me, O God GA 24
  • Ps. 116, In the land of the living GA 68 Refrain III
  • Ps. 91, On Eagles Wings GA 452
  • See also Psalm index in Catholic Worship Book, Gather Australia & Rising Moon for many more suggestions.

GOSPEL ACCLAMATION

  • Celtic Alleluia GA 141
  • Plainsong Alleluia CWB 545, GA 142
  • Easter Alleluia CWB 559
  • Glory and Praise to You (Deiss) CWB 569 GA 148
  • Praise and Honour to You CWB 564 GA 146

RECEIVING THE BODY

  • Welcome Home---Frank Anderson

GATHERING HYMN

  • Come as you are GA 212
  • Here I am Lord GA 496
  • Come to the Water AOV 74
  • Lord of the Dance TIS 242
  • Song of the Body of Christ GA 200
  • Gather us in CWB 684 GA 526
  • Though the Mountains may fall GA 453
  • Strong and Constant CWB 812
  • Micah's Theme CWB 548
  • Day is Done, but love unfailing CWB 666
  • I Thank my God---Frank Anderson
  • Yahweh I know you are near GA 451

COMMUNION HYMN

  • Eagles Wings---Frank Anderson
  • Isaiah 49 GA 472
  • Our Supper Invitation GA 202
  • Do Not Be Afraid (Willcock) CWB 593
  • Make me a channel of your peace CWB 793
  • Make me a means of your peace GA 516
  • My Peace be upon you forever GA 518
  • People of Peace---Carey Landry
  • Keep in Mind CWB 730
  • Come to me all who labour CWB 660 GA 471
  • Eat this Bread---Taize GA 205
  • Bless the Lord, my Soul---Taize GA 84
  • Adoramus Te Domine---Taize
  • You satisfy the hungry heart CWB 751 GA 191
  • My soul is longing for your peace CWB 751 GA 519
  • The Beatitudes CWB 817 GA 489
  • The Lord is my Light CWB 594
  • I am the Bread of Life CWB 718
  • Jesus, Remember Me---Taize GA 308

REFLECTION

  • On Eagles Wings GA 452
  • Farewell my soul (Finlandia) GA 237
  • Restless is the Heart GA 239
  • When human voices cannot sing GA 236
  • I know my Redeemer lives CWB 162c or d
  • Lord, You raised Lazarus CWB 162e
  • May the Angels CWB 164a

RECESSIONAL

  • Any of those in the Reflection section plus:
  • Be not Afraid GA 449
  • Lead Kindly Light---Frank Anderson
  • Be Thou My Vision (Slane) TIS 547
  • Lord of all hopefulness CWB 738
  • Lord of Creation CWB 739
  • Lord, be my vision CWB 733
  • In Faith and Hope and Love CWB 722
  • In Paradise---Frank Anderson
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Psalms and readings from the Liturgy of the Hours, and Mass readings.

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Ethics and Catholic teaching in relation to End of Life,including Palliative Care, Advanced Care Planning and the Victorian Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017. SrCarol is a Sister of Mercy, practising medical doctor and author of “When Lifeis Ending…” (www.cam.org.au/Portals/9/Documents/End-of-life-2017_A5-web-single.pdf

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