The Meaning of Catholic Funerals

In life, there are only a very few certainties.

Death is one of them.

Death comes to us all, and since this is so, in and throughout each of our lives death affects us all, and we feel this affect most profoundly whenever to death we lose a loved one. Our sadness and our mourning is, in a certain sense, the price that we must pay for having loved the person who is now deceased, for had we not loved the now-deceased person, then their passing from us would not be an affliction. But our loved one’s death is an affliction, and it is this affliction that the Church bears with us and, at the same time, enables us to behold with strength and peace.

Such strength and peace are rooted in the proclamation that Jesus Christ was put to death for our sins and raised to life to justify us. This proclamation, which is at the center of the Church’s life, enables the Church to confidently proclaim that God created each human person for eternal life. Hence – at the death of a loved one – in faith and in hope we comprehend that our deceased loved one’s life has merely changed, not ended and, in love, we continue living our lives in this world with confidence that someday, in the next, we will be reunited with our deceased loved ones again.

What was accomplished and acknowledged at a deceased person’s baptism (i.e. his/her death and rebirth in Christ) is recalled during their funeral, which has two purposes. The first is to comfort those who are afflicted by the person’s passing. The second is to commend to God’s mercy the deceased person. To accomplish these two ends, Christian funerals are comprised of 3 principal ritual moments: the Vigil, the Funeral Liturgy, and the Commendation. Under normal circumstance, all 3 rituals are celebrated.

The Vigil

The Vigil, which is comprised of prayers and readings for the deceased person and the comfort of his or her family, is normally celebrated at the funeral home, but can also be celebrated at the home of the deceased, or in some other suitable place in the presence of the body.

The Funeral Liturgy

The Funeral Liturgy, which is celebrated at the Church, is the central ritual moment. During it, prayers and readings convey, among other truths, that Christ has defeated death for all who believe in him. Normally also included in the funeral liturgy is a Mass, whereby Catholic participants, by eating Christ’s body, are reminded of Christ’s injunction, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood shall live forever.” By this means, participants attain a foretaste of the heavenly banquet in which, it is hoped, the deceased person will also partake.

The Committal

The Committal, which occurs at the place of burial, marks the separation in this life of the mourners from the deceased and, most importantly, expresses the Church’s hope that the body of the person now being laid to rest will be resurrected “on the last day.” At the grave, both time and eternity and earth and heaven converge in the hearts and minds of those who, at least for now, must take final leave of their loved one.

Local funeral directors arrange funerals at St. Columbkille on behalf of families, who have the opportunity to choose readings and appropriate music.

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