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Funeral Guidelines

Directives for the Order of Christian Funerals occurring at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral Parish

Revised May 15, 2011

There has been a great deal of confusion lately around Roman Catholic burial practices.  In order to reduce that confusion the following directives have been prepared. These directives are in keeping with the Order of Christian Funerals, which is the definitive ritual book of Roman Catholic funeral practices.

The Theology and Required Elements of the Funeral Liturgy

“… 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 … .  The Church calls each member of Christ’s Body – priest, deacon, and layperson – to participate in the ministry of consolation: to care for the dying, to pray for the dead, to comfort those who mourn….The community’s principal involvement in the ministry of consolation is expressed in its active participation in the celebration of the funeral rites, particularly the vigil for the deceased, the funeral liturgy, and the rite of committal.  For this reason these rites should be scheduled at times that permit as many of the community as possible to be present”.

Thus the Funeral Liturgy of the Catholic Church is not the personal prayer of the deceased or of the family of the deceased.  As with every Liturgy of the Church, the Funeral Liturgy is an official, public prayer of the Church.  In the case of the Funeral Liturgy it is the Church’s prayer for the immortal soul of the deceased and for the consolation of those loved ones left behind.  The prayers, readings, intercessions and musical selections should represent the “Prayer of the Church” for the two above mentioned concerns and still be universal in nature.

In the celebration of the funeral rites the laity may serve as readers, musicians, ushers, pallbearers, and, if they are already commissioned to do so at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral Parish, as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion.  The family is encouraged to assist the parish ministers in planning the funeral rites: in the choice of readings from the prescribed scriptural texts, the selection of music appropriate for the rites, and in the designation of liturgical ministers such as servers and readers.

The Order of Christian Funerals reflects a theology in which the body is either buried or entombed as the principal manner of disposition.  As Catholics we believe the human body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and should be reverently honored in death.  “Church funerals are to be celebrated according to the norms of the liturgical books.  In these rites the Church prays for the spiritual support of the dead, it honors their bodies, and at the same time it brings to the living the comfort of hope.  The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burial be retained; but it does not forbid cremation, unless this is chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching” (Canon 1176.2.3).

The Order of Christian Funerals is divided into three sequential rites which should occur at every Funeral:

  • The Vigil for the Deceased
  • The Funeral Liturgy
  • The Rite of Committal

In these three sequential rites the Church offers to those who are mourning a way to prepare themselves spiritually and emotionally, to say their goodbyes.  More and more Catholics are eliminating one or more of these three rites.  Except in extraordinary circumstances this should not be the case.  The burial of the body or cremains should take place in a reasonable time after death has occurred.  The prayer of the Church is seen as a timely way to say farewell and to offer prayers for the immortal soul of the deceased.  To delay the Rites of Christian Burial simply for convenience is inappropriate.

Preference for the presence of the body
The body of a deceased loved one forcefully brings to the mind the mystery of life and death.  As Christians, the body of the deceased speaks also to our belief that we are destined for future glory at the resurrection of the dead.  Therefore “the Church clearly prefers and urges that the body of the deceased be present for its funeral rites, since the presence of the human body better expresses the values which the Church affirms in its rites.”  Because the human body is integral to the human person, it is difficult to think of a person apart from their body.  “Thus, the Roman Catholic Church’s reverence and care for the body grows out of reverence and concerns for the person whom the Church now commends to the care of God.  The longstanding practice of burying the body of the deceased in a grave or tomb continues to be encouraged as a sign of Christian faith.”

Cremation and the Catholic Church
In recent years Catholic funeral practices have been impacted by the increasing popularity of cremation as a means of providing for the final disposition of the body.  As a result a number of burial practices have been embraced by some Catholics which are not permitted according to the “Order of Christian Funerals.”  In order to help in funeral planning and allow you to follow the teachings of the Catholic Church, please review the following principles regarding Cremation in the Catholic Church.

On March 21, 1997, the Holy See granted an indult to The Order of Christian Funerals, giving permission to the U.S. Latin-rite bishops to allow the celebration of the funeral liturgy in the presence of cremated remains.  This practice was never intended to be viewed as an “equally” good alternative to the traditional funeral rites of the Church which entail the burial of the body intact.  Permission to cremate and to celebrate the funeral liturgy in the presence of cremated remains was intended to be granted on a case by case basis.  At Blessed Sacrament Cathedral the priests of the parish will determine what is appropriate in each given situation.

Additionally the parish priests will collaborate with all local funeral directors and educate them in the acceptable practices of funeral rites for Roman Catholics.  Whenever a family chooses cremation over traditional burial, families should be made aware of the preference to honor the body before cremation.

On October 4, 1997, the appendix to The Order of Christian Funerals was published for use in the funeral rites involving the presence of the cremated remains.  In the Diocese of Greensburg Pastors and Parochial Vicars, for pastoral reasons, may permit the funeral liturgy to be celebrated in the presence of the cremated remains.  However the following should always be observed:

  • The remains should be placed in a worthy vessel.
  • The paschal candle should be placed in a prominent position as it is when the body is present for a funeral.
  • Explicit references to baptism must be omitted when blessing the cremated remains.
  • A white cloth should not be used to cover the cremated remains as this mimics the practice of draping the funeral pall upon the body which clearly connects the body to baptism.
  • The cremains may be incensed out of respect for the deceased’s cremated body.
  • The cremated remains may be sprinkled with holy water. 

Funeral Rites with Cremation
When cremation of the body is chosen, the Church still prefers that the body be cremated after the Funeral, thus allowing for the presence of the body at the Funeral Mass.  When circumstances require it, however, cremation and committal may take place even before the Funeral liturgy.  As mentioned above, most of the usual rites which are celebrated in the presence of the body of the deceased may also be celebrated in the presence of the cremated remains.  The primary symbols of the Roman Catholic Funeral Liturgy are retained even when the funeral liturgy is celebrated in the presence of the cremated remains.  The cremains may be carried in procession and/or placed on a table where the casket normally would be.  Photographs and other mementos may be used at the vigil and cemetery, but are not appropriate at the Mass.

The disposition of cremated remains
The cremated remains of the deceased must be given the same respect as a body is given during the Rite of Committal.  A worthy vessel must carry the cremated remains of the deceased to the place of internment.  The cremated remains should be buried in a grave or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium.  The practice of scattering ashes over the sea, on the ground, or from the air is not permitted for Catholics and is not considered to be the reverent disposition of the cremated remains.

The cremated remains may be buried at sea as long as they are intact and placed in a worthy vessel that will carry the remains to the bottom of the sea bed.  Burial of cremated remains at sea should observe all applicable Federal and State laws and regulations.

Catholics should never retain the cremated remains in their homes, places of work, or any other personal space.  Neither should Catholics divide and share the cremated remains of the deceased.  The Church requires that the cremated remains be buried or placed in a recognized area of reverence for the dead.  If the final disposition of the cremated remains does not take place according to the teaching of the Church with reverence and in a sacred place, the remains will not be permitted to be brought into the Church for the Funeral Liturgy. 

Readings at all Funeral Liturgies
Readings are provided in The Order of Christian Funerals to give grieving families an opportunity to hear God speak to them in their fears and in their sorrows, offering hope in the midst of their pain.  The biblical readings may never be replaced by non-biblical readings.  The Word proclaimed is God’s way of speaking to us and can never be replaced by conventional wisdom or poetry.

If the family wishes to use additional readings that are not contained within The Order of Christian Funerals, they can do so at the conclusion of the Vigil for the Deceased, at the conclusion of the Rite of Committal, or during the funeral meal.

Two readings may be selected for use during the Funeral Liturgy.   These readings are to be chosen from The Order of Christian Funerals.  The first reading is taken from the Old Testament and the second is selected from the New Testament options.  The responsorial psalm should always be sung.  The psalm should never be replaced by a regular hymn which contains no psalmody.  The Gospel will be selected by the Presider.  The Gospel may only be proclaimed by a priest or deacon.  Only those priests or deacons in good standing, who have been granted faculties by the Diocese of Greensburg may celebrate, concelebrate or preach at a Blessed Sacrament Cathedral funeral.

The General Intercessions
The General Intercessions are to be taken from The Order of Christian Funerals.  There may be an addition of one or two personal petitions to the prescribed set if approved by the priest prior to the day of the funeral.

Music at the Funeral Liturgy
Sacred music is an integral part to the celebration of the funeral liturgy.  A cantor or our funeral choir will be present to foster the full and active participation of the assembly in the Funeral Mass.  The selection of music must be liturgical and express our Christian belief in the gift of the resurrection.  Religious hymns should speak to the mysteries of our Faith regarding death and resurrection.  While popular music may warm the hearts of those who are left behind, it must never replace sacred music.  The Priest’s of the Cathedral will have final determination regarding the music used for the Funeral Liturgy.  Every effort must be made to accompany the funeral rites with appropriate hymns, responses, and acclamations.  The Director of Music will assist and guide the family in appropriate musical selections for the Liturgy.

No taped music of any kind will be permitted in church or during any of the three formal parts of the “Order of Christian Funerals.”  In particular, if bag pipes are requested they may be played outside the church, in the funeral home, at the cemetery after the service, or at the wake meal.  They may not be used as accompaniment for the Liturgy.

Family Remarks (Eulogies)
The funeral liturgy of a loved one or a friend is a difficult time for everyone involved.  In order to allow for a moment of personal sharing by a family member or a friend of the deceased, the Order of Christian Funerals (OCF) of the Catholic Church states the following:

The Funeral Rite # 170 States: “A member or a friend of the family may speak in remembrance of the deceased … .”  In the Diocese of Greensburg this decision is determined at the parish level.

At Blessed Sacrament Cathedral Parish, directive #170 is observed in the following manner: 

  1. One person, and only one person, is permitted to speak during the designated funeral rites as listed below.
  2. At Blessed Sacrament Cathedral Parish these remarks may not occur during the Funeral Mass.  The remarks by a friend or family member can be made at the funeral home during the viewing, or at the Vigil service; during the parting prayers prior to bringing the body to church, at the cemetery during the prayers of commendation, or at the mercy meal following the service, if this is applicable.
  3. If remarks are made at one of the above listed times, then the content of the remarks should be about the deceased and need to be respectfully presented.  The speaker needs to be mindful that the setting is to be reverent, and only content which is appropriate to that setting should be presented.  Nothing contrary to the views of the Catholic Church should ever be presented.
  4. The remarks should be personal.  Additional readings from Sacred Scripture, secular writings, poetry, book excerpts, etc., should not normally be used at this time.  If the presentation of a poem or other scriptural or literary piece is desired, it is suggested that this piece might be presented after the formal service at the Cemetery, at the wake meal, included in the “Thank You” notes or even handed out to the congregation at the end of the services.
  5. The Family Remarks should be limited to three to five (3-5) minutes.​​​