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Funeral Guidelines

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WHAT IS A CATHOLIC FUNERAL LITURGY?
The Catholic Funeral Liturgy consists of three parts: a Wake, Mass of Christian Burial and Burial.
The Wake, which takes place at the funeral home, provides an important opportunity for friends and families to gather and celebrate the life of the deceased, while also enabling family and friends to express their mutual support for each other.
During the Mass of Christian Burial, Christ’s Sacrifice of the Cross is made re-present for the sake of the deceased for the forgiveness of their sins and remission of temporal punishment. In the words of the Catechism: “From the beginning, the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God.” (CCC 1032).
The primary purpose of the Catholic Funeral Mass is to offer prayers for the repose of the soul of the deceased and to pray for our own eternal salvation.
The Burial, which should occur immediately following the funeral or shortly afterward, is the opportunity for family and friends to say their final farewell.
Finally, although it is not a formal part of the Catholic Funeral Liturgy, the repast or reception following a funeral is an opportunity for families to once again gather, as they had during the Wake, to support each other and to celebrate the life of the deceased by sharing stories and memories.


PLANNING FOR THE FUNERAL:
The family of the deceased is welcome and encouraged to actively participate in planning the Funeral Rites.
After the death of a loved one, the family’s first contact is a local funeral home. It is the responsibility of the funeral home to contact the parish office to arrange for a funeral liturgy. The parish office, working with the funeral home, will additionally schedule a meeting with the family at the parish office. There is a twofold purpose to this meeting. First, it provides an opportunity for clergy, along with the parish staff, to work with the family in choosing the readings, music, gift bearers, readers etc. and to answer any questions the family may have. Secondly, it enables us to learn more about their loved one, so that the funeral liturgy and homily will be both personal and appropriate to the family and to the deceased.


FLOWERS:
Any flowers delivered directly to the church will be displayed in the church’s vestibule. If the family desires it, one or two floral arrangements may be brought to the sanctuary area and placed near the Altar. Flowers for the casket are removed before for the Funeral Liturgy, in order that the Funeral Pall can be placed upon it. The flowers are returned to the casket again at the conclusion of the Funeral Liturgy.
THE FUNERAL PALL:
The Funeral Pall (a large white cloth which covers the entire casket) recalls the white garment with which the deceased was clothed on the day of his or her Baptism. At the beginning of the Funeral Liturgy, the casket is sprinkled with Holy Water, which recalls the water of Baptism. Then the Funeral Pall is draped over the casket. Family members are welcome and encouraged to take part in the placing of the Funeral Pall. A Crucifix or some other Christian symbol may be then placed on top of the casket.


MUSIC:
Music is a particularly important part of the Funeral Liturgy. There are many beautiful hymns that come to us from the many centuries of the Church’s life of prayer and worship, which are available to be played and sung at the Funeral Liturgy. A sample list follows at the end of these Guidelines.
By its very nature, the Church’s Liturgy is sacred. It is a time set apart, in a sacred place, specifically for the worship of God. Thus, it is only possible for sacred music to be used during the Funeral Liturgy. Any non-sacred, or “secular” music, even if it may hold a particular significance to the family of the deceased, is not permitted to be sung or played during the Funeral Mass. Rather, secular music may be played at either the wake or at the reception following the Funeral Liturgy.
All musicians and music for a Funeral Mass must be approved by the Church of the Holy Spirit. Fees for musicians are arranged between families and the organist and canters.


READERS:
Those chosen to proclaim the First Reading (from the Old Testament) and the Second Reading (from the New Testament) will be called by the priest celebrant to come forward at the proper time. When they leave their pew, if they pass by the altar, they should bow to the altar.
Prior to the funeral, the selected readings will be placed on the ambo (pulpit), with the name of the reader on each one. The reader should not carry a paper copy of the reading with them up to the ambo. It will already be there for them. After the reader reaches the ambo, he or she should proclaim the reading slowly and clearly, without rushing. When the reading is concluded, they return to the front of the center aisle, bow to the altar, and then return to their pew.

GIFT BEARERS:
Families may designate up to four people to bring forward the gifts of bread and wine for the celebration of the Eucharist. At the time the gifts will be presented (after the homily), the priest celebrant will call upon the gift bearers by name, and an altar server will lead them down the aisle to the gift table, and back up the aisle to present the gifts to the priest celebrant.


GUIDELINES FOR THE RECEPTION OF HOLY COMMUNION:
Every person of goodwill is welcome to be present at the celebration of the Church’s Liturgy. When it comes time for the reception of Holy Communion, however, questions sometimes arise as to who may receive Holy Communion. The Guidelines for the Reception of Holy Communion, promulgated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, follow here for your reference:
For Catholics As Catholics, we fully participate in the celebration of the Eucharist when we receive Holy Communion. We are encouraged to receive Communion devoutly and frequently. In order to be properly disposed to receive Communion, participants should not be conscious of grave sin and normally should have fasted for one hour. A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord without prior sacramental confession except for a grave reason where there is no opportunity for confession. In this case, the person is to be mindful of the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition, including the intention of confessing as soon as possible (canon 916). A frequent reception of the Sacrament of Penance is encouraged for all.
For our fellow Christians, We welcome our fellow Christians to this celebration of the Eucharist as our brothers and sisters. We pray that our common baptism and the action of the Holy Spirit in this Eucharist will draw us closer to one another and begin to dispel the sad divisions which separate us. We pray that these will lessen and finally disappear, in keeping with Christ's prayer for us "that they may all be one" (Jn 17:21).
Because Catholics believe that the celebration of the Eucharist is a sign of the reality of the oneness of faith, life, and worship, members of those churches with whom we are not yet fully united are ordinarily not admitted to Holy Communion. Eucharistic sharing in exceptional circumstances by other Christians requires permission according to the directives of the diocesan bishop and the provisions of canon law (canon 844 §4). Members of the Orthodox Churches, the Assyrian Church of the East, and the Polish National Catholic Church are urged to respect the discipline of their own Churches. According to Roman Catholic discipline, the Code of Canon Law does not object to the reception of Communion by Christians of these Churches (canon 844 §3).
For those not receiving Holy Communion, All who are not receiving Holy Communion are encouraged to express in their hearts a prayerful desire for unity with the Lord Jesus and with one another.
For non-Christians, We also welcome to this celebration those who do not share our faith in Jesus Christ. While we cannot admit them to Holy Communion, we ask them to offer their prayers for the peace and the unity of the human family.

To help alleviate any confusion, a brief announcement will be made by the priest celebrant, just prior to the distribution of Holy Communion. He will indicate that, for the reception of Holy Communion, all those who are currently practicing Catholics and prepared to receive Holy Communion *(see above) are welcome to come forward in the usual way, and that those who will not be receiving Holy Communion are welcome either to remain in the pew or, if they would like to come forward, they should cross their arms over their chest, indicating that they would like to receive a blessing from the priest celebrant, rather than Holy Communion.


WORDS OF REMEMBRANCE:
The prayer of the Sacrifice of the Mass is the greatest gift the Church can give in honor of our deceased loved ones. The primary purpose of the Catholic Funeral Mass is to offer prayers for the repose of the soul of the deceased and to pray for our own eternal salvation. We pray as a people with great hope, but we should not pray with presumption. The focus of the Mass should always be Our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Great effort is given to provide a homily which is as personal to the deceased as possible, while the focus remains on Jesus Christ and recalling the hope of eternal life which is offered to us in Christ’s victory over sin and death.
If the family does wish that Words of Remembrance be offered, they are to take place at the wake, at the cemetery, or at the luncheon following the burial, not at the Funeral Mass itself. Since eulogies are often seen at funerals, families sometimes think they must designate someone to offer a remembrance of the deceased or to express thanks on behalf of the family during the Funeral Mass, but eulogies are not part of a Catholic Funeral Mass. These expressions are important, but are properly expressed during the Wake, Burial or Repast, which are intended primarily for the celebration of the life of their loved one, a sharing of memories, and support for the family.


CREMATION
“Although cremation is now permitted by the Church, 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 those rites.”
(Order of Christian Funerals, no. 413).
For various reasons, some families choose the option of cremation. While intact burial is clearly preferred, in imitation of Jesus’ own burial after His Crucifixion and before His Resurrection, cremation is nonetheless permitted by the Church, as long as it is not carried out so as to deny the Church’s unchanging faith in the resurrection of each person’s mortal body when Christ comes again at the end of time, to judge the living and the dead.
If cremation is chosen and takes place before the Funeral Mass, the urn is brought to church, and placed on a table in the sanctuary. A photograph of the deceased, as well as flowers, may be placed next to the urn on the table, should the family wish this.
Following the Mass, the cremated remains must be buried, just like a body, in a cemetery, crypt, or other appropriate burial place. Out of respect for the remains of the deceased, whose body was once a temple of the Holy Spirit and which will be raised up again on the Last Day, scattering ashes, dividing them up, or keeping them at home, is not permitted.


PRIESTS OR DEACONS FROM OTHER PARISHES:
If a family would like to invite a Priest or Deacon from another parish to preside at any of the Funeral Liturgies, they would be welcome to do so, provided that the invited Priest or Deacon is currently in good standing in his Diocese or Religious Order.
If an invited Priest or Deacon is from another Diocese, or from a Religious Order outside the Diocese of Bridgeport, he must bring with him a document called a Testimonial of Ministerial Suitability from his Bishop or Religious Superior, for presentation to the Office for Clergy and Religious, here in the Diocese of Bridgeport. Our parish priests would be happy to facilitate this process with any visiting clergy.


FINAL THOUGHTS ON CATHOLIC FUNERALS:
When a member of your family is seriously ill or near death, whether at home or in the hospital, a family member should contact the parish office to request the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick and the Apostolic Pardon.

 

Image of Christ

“We have loved them in life. Let us never forget them…
and let us conduct them, by our prayers,
into the house of the Lord.”

- St. Ambrose

Download these Guidelines along with the Scripture readings and sacred music selections that may be part of the Mass of Christian Burial.

 

Scripture Selections

Sacred Music Selections

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