In the face of death, the Church confidently proclaims that God has created each person for eternal life and that Jesus, by his death and resurrection, has destroyed death forever.
Christians celebrate the funeral rites to offer worship, praise and thanksgiving to God for the gift of a life which has now been returned to God, the author of life. We pray for the person who has died asking for the forgiveness of sin and the gift of everlasting life.
A Ministry of Consolation
The Church calls each member of Christ’s Body to care for the dying, to pray for the dead, to comfort those who mourn. When a member of Christ’s Body dies, the faithful are called to a ministry of consolation to those who have suffered the loss of one whom they love. Christian consolation is rooted in that hope that comes from faith in the saving death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christian hope faces the reality of death and grief but with an attitude of trust.
The circumstances surrounding a loved one’s death can vary immensely. The very old person who peacefully and quietly died, the young child tragically killed in an accident. Suicide. A lengthy illness. No matter how death has taken place, the community of faith is called to that ministry of consolation with words of faith and support and acts of kindness.
Such assistance then allows members of the family to devote time to planning the funeral rites with the priest and other ministers. Often much has to be done in a relatively short period of time, and sensitivity by all involved will enable the funeral to be planned in a positive and helpful atmosphere.
Preparation for the Funeral
In planning and carrying out the funeral rites, the priest and all other ministers should keep in mind the life of the deceased and the circumstances of death. They should take into consideration the spiritual and psychological needs of the family and friends of the deceased and their sense of loss. Planning of the funeral rites can take place at an appropriate time after death and before the Vigil Service. Ministers are then given the opportunity to explain the meaning and significance of each of the funeral rites, especially the Vigil, the funeral liturgy, and the Rite of Committal.
If pastoral and personal considerations allow, the period before death may be an appropriate time to plan the funeral rites with the family and even with the person who is dying. This can help all come to terms with the reality of death and Christian hope.
The liturgical celebration involves the whole person and so requires attention to all that affects emotional as well as spiritual well-being.
The Word of God
In every celebration for the dead, the Church attaches great importance to the reading of the Word of God and accordingly it is not to be omitted. The readings proclaim to the assembly by the paschal mystery, teach remembrance of the dead, convey the hope of being gathered together again in God’s Kingdom, and encourage the witness of Christian life. The homily will reflect these pastoral elements in the context of the person’s life.
Music is integral to the funeral rites. It allows the community to express convictions and feelings that words alone may fail to convey. It has the power to console and uplift the bereaved and to strengthen the unity of the assembly in faith and love. The music at funerals should support, console and uplift the participants and should help to create in them a spirit of hope in Christ’s victory over death and in the Christian’s share in that victory.
The ideal is to have music which reflects the Paschal mystery, hope and consolation, families often do request favourite music which they like. While the use of non-sacred music is not encouraged, it may be that the songs requested are not discordant with the Christian message
A Journey of Farewell
The time immediately following death is often one of bewilderment and may involve shock or heart-rending grief for the family and close friends. The Church then, in its rites, begins a journey of farewell. The ministry of the Church is one of gently accompanying the mourners.
The Vigil for the deceased, which is normally celebrated in the parish Church, is the principle rite celebrated by the Christian community in the time following death and before the funeral liturgy. It may also be celebrated in the home of the deceased, Funeral Home, Marae or in another suitable place. The Vigil is a very appropriate time for those more personal touches, eg tributes/eulogies and favourite songs which the funeral Mass is not able to accommodate.
It is also comforting to use the other three brief rites ‘Prayers after Death, Gathering in the Presence of the Body and Transfer of the Body to the Church or Place of Committal’. These rites are signs of the concern of the Christian community.
The circumstances for the celebration of these rites may vary from place to place and culture to culture. The rites given are models only for adaptation according to circumstances.
The funeral liturgy is the central liturgical celebration of the Christian community for the deceased. When one of its members dies, the Church encourages the celebration of the Mass. When Mass cannot be celebrated, the Funeral Liturgy outside Mass is celebrated.
At the funeral liturgy the community gathers with the family and friends to give praise and thanks to God for Christ’s victory over death, to commend the deceased to God’s tender mercy and to seek strength in the proclamation of the paschal mystery.
It is the policy of this Archdiocese to ensure there is no more than one eulogy at the funeral Mass, and this is to take place directly after the opening greeting. Tributes/eulogies are encouraged at the Vigil Service. This protects the integrity of the funeral liturgy.
The final commendation is the final farewell by the members of the community, an act of respect for one of their members whom they entrust to God. It also acknowledges the reality of separation and affirms that we all share the same destiny.
The rite of committal, the conclusion of the funeral rites, is the final act of the community of faith in caring for the body of its deceased member. It may be used at the grave or crematorium. In committing the body to its final resting place, the community expresses the hope that the deceased awaits the glory of the resurrection.