Roman Catholic Funerals

The Catholic Church

The Catholic Church, whose head is the Pope in Rome, takes the Easter journey of Jesus Christ from death to resurrection as the model for its funeral service.

When a person is nearing death, they should try to go to sacramental confession. This will be followed by the anointing of the sick (extreme unction) and then final communion given by a priest.  Subsequent communions, if required, can be given by a deacon or extraordinary minister. If appropriate, Communion can also be given to those tending to the sick person too.

The Roman Catholic funeral services offers worship and thanksgiving to God for the life of a faithful and committed member of the Church and offers hope and consolation to those left behind. The Catholic Funeral Liturgy has time-honoured traditions and ritual forms and texts. However, within this framework there is some flexibility allowing for the service to be a unique and personal occasion.

The Funeral Service

It is not always possible to follow the tradition of the reception of the body into the church the night before the funeral. Often a single service is held, but still following the traditional three stages: The Vigil, The Funeral Liturgy (or service) and The Committal.

The Vigil is the first stage of the farewell journey and helps prepared the bereaved for leave-taking. Held in the home or another suitable place, the service is a simple Liturgy of the Word of God or Evening Prayer.

The Liturgy is usually celebrated in a church or a crematorium or cemetery chapel. Family, friends and the local community gather for the Sunday Eucharist; either a Requiem Mass or a funeral liturgy outside Mass. If appropriate, a funeral without a Mass is also an option.

The Committal, at the graveside or at the crematorium, usually follows immediately after The Liturgy.  

Traditionally, Roman Catholics are buried. Sprinkling earth or water on the coffin as it is lowered into the ground is an important part of saying farewell to a loved one.

Cremation has only been permitted by the Vatican since 1963. After cremation, the farewell process must be completed by interning the ashes in a final resting place. Retaining or scattering the ashes, whilst not forbidden, is discouraged.

After the Funeral

It is usual to gather family and friends together after the service, either at home or at a local venue such as a village hall, hotel or public house. The scale and nature of this occasion is largely the choice of those closest to the person who has died. It is an opportunity to console and support each other, reminisce and share stories. Light refreshments may be served.

What to Wear

Dark, modest clothing should be worn, usually a suit for men and a dress, skirt or smart trousers with a long-sleeved top for women.

Charitable Donations and Flowers

Floral tributes can be sent to the Funeral Director, who will bring these in the hearse with the coffin, or to the home of the family.

It is customary to give Mass cards to the family of the deceased. This is a greeting card given to someone to let them know that they, or a deceased’s loved-one, will be remembered and prayed for in the intentions at a Mass. Cards can be obtained and an offering (donation) made, at the parish office or they can be purchased from a store. 

Acceptable Practices

Burial, Cremation and Embalming and donation of the body to medical research are all acceptable.

For more information, please see:

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