Our Catholic Faith’s Teachings about Death – Part II
Dear friends in Christ:
The death of a loved one is something all of us will have to face. At the time of death of a loved one, there are numerous practical issues that must be dealt with and decisions to be made. Pre-need planning is a prudent thing to do, not only in regards to a will and financial arrangements but also with a funeral director and the parish. It is important that all family members know, understand and respect the teachings of our Catholic faith in regards to the death of a loved one. At the time of death, the parish should be notified. In consultation with the funeral directors, a day and time is set for the funeral liturgies. A meeting will be scheduled for the family to meet with our Funeral Aid Ministry, pastoral staff and parish clergy. In this meeting, the details necessary to prepare for the funeral (readings, music, reception, etc.) will be discussed. Not everything has to be or should be pre-planned. These family meetings are important in dealing with the reality of the death of a loved one. They are more than just deciding the details of the arrangements. They are also one of the important ways the family can show their care and affection for their beloved. Sometimes people erroneously think that if they pre-plan everything to the very last detail that it is better for the surviving family. Actually, it is a good thing for the surviving family to participate in planning the funeral at the time of death.
Our Catholic Faith holds great reverence for the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit. For this reason, we respect and honor to the body in death as we do in life.
There is a preference in Catholic theology, teaching and practice, that the body of the deceased be buried. Cremation is allowed in the Catholic Church but not for any reason which would be contrary to Catholic teaching. Even when cremation is chosen, there is a strong preference that the Funeral Mass be celebrated with the body present and cremation following the funeral mass.
The funerals rites of the Church take place in three parts or stations. The First Station is the Vigil. This is normally conducted in the funeral home on the evening prior to the Funeral Mass and consists of the gathering of family and friends in prayer. The Vigil Service (a Liturgy of the Word) may be prayed and/or the recitation of the rosary. The most appropriate time for remembrances and eulogies is at the vigil. The Second Station is the Funeral Mass. The body is brought to the church and Mass is offered for the repose of the soul of the deceased. The community also prays for the consolation of the family and friends in their time of grief. A homily is given at the funeral reflecting on the scriptures and on the promises of the faith. Eulogies are not given during the funeral mass. Eulogies are given and are appropriate at the Vigil Service and may not take the place of the homily at Mass. After communion, a family member may make brief remarks of 2-3 minutes in remembrance of the deceased and to express the gratitude of the family to the gathered mourners. The Third Station is the burial and Rite of Committal, which normally takes place at the cemetery immediately following the Funeral Mass. Following the burial, a reception for family and friends is often held.
In those instances where cremation has been chosen, the committal is delayed and takes place after the body has been cremated and the remains are ready. Cremated remains are to be treated with respect and dignity and should be buried or interred in a columbarium. They should never be scattered or merely stored or abandoned. When the body cannot be present and there is to be a direct cremation, a Funeral Mass with the ashes present and the Rite of Committal should still be held without unnecessary delay. When the ashes cannot be present or a delay is unavoidable, a Memorial Mass for the Dead is to be offered. Every Catholic should receive the prayers of the Church at the time of death. A proper Catholic burial and the rites of the Church should not be denied to any member of the Church.
Lastly, we should always pray for the dead. We remember the dead in our private prayers and at mass. We can offer masses to be prayed for them. We can visit their graves and we pray that we might be given the grace to live our lives in a holy manner so as to be reunited with them in the Kingdom of God.
To be continued.
In Pace Christi,
Fr. Troy Gately