Preparing for a funeral

When someone dies, how do we go about planning the funeral?

Many people face the issue of planning a funeral for someone, usually while still in shock over the person’s death.  The first step is to discover if the person who died had any special requests.  Under ideal circumstances we all will have planned and provided written documents of our desires for that point in time when we die, expectedly or unexpectedly. 
When such a document is absent the next step would be to meet with the pastor or funeral planner in the local parish.  Depending on the parish there may be few options or many options.  Some pastors have a “packaged funeral” and there are no options for the family.  Other pastors allow the family to customize the funeral to express the family’s personal tastes.  Since I am one of the latter, I will continue from that perspective and I will presume here that there will be a funeral mass.  While it is normal for the body of the deceased to be present a funeral mass can also be celebrated with the cremated remains.
First of the options is to whether or not to have a vigil the evening before.  This is usually done during the viewing or visitation hours.  The viewing/visitation can take place either at the funeral home or in the parish church, depending on availability.  A typical vigil follows the format provided in the Order of Christian Funerals authorized by the U. S. Council of Catholic Bishops, which includes scripture readings, a short homily, intercessory prayers,  the Lord’s prayer, an opportunity for family & friends to share, and a concluding blessing.  Depending on how many family/friends share the vigil can last from 15-30+ minutes.  The custom of praying the rosary is venerable, but not an official part of the vigil and may be lead by community members if desired.
The Funeral mass itself allows for the family to select scripture readings.  I have the most common selections pre-printed for families to pick from but they are not limited to those.  I invite the family to select lectors to proclaim the word.  The family can also select whom they would like to bring up the gifts for the celebration of the Eucharist and Extraordinary Ministers of Most Holy Communion to assist.  A music minister is usually available, and the family is invited to pick liturgical music that is meaningful to them. Keep in mind that eulogies are not part of a Catholic funeral mass. They are best given at the vigil, graveside, or other gathering. After the funeral it is common to go to the graveside, or place of internment for a brief committal service.
In my parishes, it was the custom to offer the immediate family the opportunity for a luncheon after the committal in the social hall.  Depending on the day and time of the funeral and school activities, the number of guests may be limited.
Since it is common in many communities that members within a family belong to different denominations, I also invite the family to have the other pastors participate to the extent that the Church allows.
To help individuals and families, I offered copies of Preparing a Catholic Funeral.  These were free to anyone who would like to prepare in advance, to make the funeral planning easier for their loved ones upon their death.  You may also want to discuss with the local Funeral Homes their options.

Author: yuengerwv

Retired Catholic Priest

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