Rites of the Order of Christian Funerals
The Order of Christian Funerals (OCF), the revision and adaptation of the Rite of Funerals, uses "funeral rites" as a general designation of all the liturgical celebrations whereby the assembled community worships God, commends the dead to God's merciful love, and offers support and consolation to the grieving. The first of these rites is the "vigil" or wake service. The "funeral liturgy" is the central celebration, whether as a funeral Mass or a funeral service without Mass. The "rite of committal," usually at graveside, completes the funeral rites.
A variety of terms have been used in recent years, particularly for the funeral Mass. However, "Mass of Christian Burial" gives more prominence to the rite which follows the Mass than to the Mass itself and "Mass of Resurrection" tends to overlook the mourners' natural grief. So too, every Mass is a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. The recommended terminology is: the vigil, the funeral Mass or the funeral service, and the rite of committal.
Offering worship, praying for the deceased, and consoling the family are a primary ministry and responsibility of the Christian community. Therefore, members of our parishes should be actively encouraged and trained to take part in this ministry traditionally called a work of mercy.
Priests, deacons, and laypeople who may preside at funeral rites or minister in them should plan and carry out the rites, keeping in mind the life of the deceased, the circumstances of death, and the spiritual and psychological needs of the family and friends. Whenever possible, the family should be actively involved in planning and encouraged to take liturgical roles. People should also be encouraged to look ahead and to plan for their own funerals as a service to their families. Parish ministers familiar with these guidelines and the Order of Christian Funerals will be able to offer appropriate assistance.
Ministry to the family should not be confined to the funeral rites or end with the liturgical ministry. It is important that parish ministers visit the bereaved. A parish minister may also be present to lead prayer when the family first gathers at the funeral home, when the casket is closed, or before the body is taken to the church.
These funeral services are a right, not a privilege, of all members of the Church, both the faithful and the catechumens (canons 1176; 1183,1). The Order of Christian Funerals also provides for the celebration of funeral rites for children whose parents intended them to be baptized (canon 1183, 2). Read more.
The Three Rites
The ritual and prayer of the Christian Funeral is approached as one prayer, like a procession that moves from the deathbed to the cemetery. Within this procession there are three moments or rites that are marked by us as we assemble to pray around the body of the deceased.
The Vigil for the Deceased
The vigil for the deceased (or, as it is often called, the wake service) is normally the first of the three funeral rites. Read more.
The Funeral Mass
The Mass, the memorial of Christ's death and resurrection, is the principal celebration of the Christian funeral. The funeral Mass includes the reception of the body, if this has not already occurred, the celebration of the liturgy of the word, the liturgy of the eucharist, and the final commendation and farewell. Read more.
The Rite of Commital
This rite is the final act of the faith community in caring for the body of its deceased member. By their presence at this rite the community members help the mourners face the end of one relationship with the deceased and the beginning of a new one based on prayerful remembrance, gratitude, and the hope of resurrection and reunion. The celebration, whenever possible, takes place not in a cemetery chapel but at the open grave, the place of interment, the columbarium or in the crematorium (OCF, 204). Read more.
The second part of the Order of Christian Funerals provides rites for funerals of infants (including unbaptized infants whose parents intended to have them baptized) and young children. Read more.
The ritual requires a tangible, visual focus. The presence of the body at the funeral Mass or service provides such a focus. When the body is not present, due to donation, cremation, prior burial, or any other reason, a picture of the deceased or some other memento may appropriately be placed near the Easter Candle, the preeminent Christian symbol of the hope of eternal life in Christ.
In general, the same norms apply as in the funeral Mass or service when the body is present. The liturgy begins in the usual way, without the rite of the reception of the body. At the final commendation the Easter Candle and picture or other memento may be incensed, if incense has not already been used. (Blessing with holy water does not seem appropriate.) Some of the texts may need to be adapted.
The Place of Burial
The Christian ideal, flowing from the Gospel, calls for a simple and reverential burial rite and a simple and reverential burial place. Read more.