For many Catholics the standard funeral feels like a deeply traditional affair with deep seated and unchanged roots. While most of the rituals are ridged and go back a long time it should be noted that within the many local, national and stratified versions of the faith there’s quite a high level of difference. Indeed even within some areas there is actual conflict over death and how it is codified, this is in addition to customs and practices which have changed over the years. This is to be expected from one of the earths largest religions. With this in mind it may be helpful to clarify with the departeds notes and wishes, religious leaders, friends and family before settling on some of the more conflicted areas. This is especially true in cases where the dead person is a devout Catholic with very specific views.
What’s different about a Catholic funeral and lead up to the funeral?
Before death the custom within most if not all Catholic churches is to have a priest present to administer prayers and the “last rites” (a prayer) and the eating of a holy bread. Following death the priest and the main mourners will take part in some prayer and planning for the funeral will commence. In many countries with large Catholic populations its common for communities to have established relationships with funeral homes and the removal and preparation of the body is done by the funeral home involved. A vigil or prayer or wake ceremony is common before the funeral mass where family and friends get together to pray and console the grieving.
Where does a Catholic ceremony take place?
Usually Catholic funeral masses are carried out in Catholic churches. These are steeped in tradition however their composition vary from place to place. Once the mass has ended and the casket has been transported to the crematorium, grave or burial monument there may also be an additional ceremony at the that venue with prayers and some final words spoken of the deceased.
What normally happens at a Catholic funeral and what do non observers need to know?
Music, prayer and some readings from holy books are to be expected as the community reflects upon the loss. Cremation is gaining in popularity however burial in graves, mausoleums or crypts is more common. The key element to remember for non believers is to wear sombre clothes and be aware many ceremonies will offer all participants an opportunity to console the chief mourners (the closest family members). Flowers are also usually accepted except in cases where charitable donations in lieu (in place) of flowers is asked for.