“For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. ” (Romans 14:8 NAB)
When people whom we love die it hurts. We often are so overcome with grief that we don’t know where to turn or even how to feel. We think of the loved one who is now dead and at one moment we think of the wonderful things they did in their lives; the next moment we are weeping uncontrollably because … because… we don’t even know why. We just know it hurts. How do we deal with our grief? How do we say goodbye to someone whom we love so deeply. We have a funeral.
What is a funeral?
A funeral is a time of praying and celebrating in community the life of someone who has died.
Why do Catholics have funerals?
Catholics believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. They also believe that because we are baptized we share in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Therefore we celebrate what we believe is the passage of a person from our life as we know it to the life in God. The funeral and its attendant vigil helps those who remain behind to deal with the human tragedy of death. A funeral gives the family and friends of the deceased a chance to express in community the spectrum of emotions that result from the passing of their loved one. These often include loss, hurt, betrayal, guilt, sometimes relief and even joy that the person they loved is now in God’s loving hands.
Is Mass always part of a funeral?
When a deceased Catholic dies the Church prefers that remains of the deceased be brought to the Church, where the Eucharist, which is the Catholic sign of unity with Christ, is celebrated. It is at the Church that the Word of God will be proclaimed, and the prayer of thanks to God is said for the life being celebrated. However, there are times when a funeral service will not include the Eucharist. For example, if the deceased’s family is no longer familiar with or comfortable with the Church, a prayer service that includes the celebration of the Word might be more effective in celebrating the life of the deceased.
What does the Church say about cremation?
For many years the Church did not allow cremation, believing that all of us are brought from dust as Adam was and so should return to the dust of the earth. More recently the Church has allowed for the cremation of the deceased. The Church urges its members to have the cremation after the celebration of the funeral. Sometimes funeral directors urge family members to have the cremation prior to the funeral. While the Church adapts to what people do in such circumstances, it urges that the remains of the deceased be in the person’s church for the funeral services.
What happens to the ashes if one is cremated?
Normally, the ashes of a Catholic who is cremated will be placed in a vault at a cemetery known as a crematorium. The Church urges Catholics to avoid distributing the ashes whether at sea or anywhere else.
Are there guidelines for planning a Catholic funeral?
Most Catholic parishes will have guidelines for planning a Catholic funeral. There are several books that have been written which are also helpful guides. At the Cathedral of Saint Andrew, we recommend Through Death to Life. When you meet with the priest to plan the funeral, he will have a copy of that book to plan the service of your loved one.
What does the family of the deceased need to do?
When a loved one dies who is Catholic, the two calls the family should immediately make are with the funeral home and the pastor of their local Catholic Church. In the case of people who are members of the Cathedral of Saint Andrew the telephone number to reach the pastor is 616-456-1454. Once the parish has been contacted, an appointment for the family to come to the parish offices, or for one of the pastoral staff to visit with the family will be established.
At the pastoral appointment, the needs of the family will be addressed and questions about the liturgy will be answered. It is the time to plan the liturgy for the vigil, the funeral, and the committal.
What is a Vigil for the deceased?
The Church has created a vigil service for the deceased. It consists of a service of the word as well as a number of prayers that will help families to deal with the reality of the death of their loved one. It is also the best time and place for people to speak on behalf of the deceased loved one and to share the stories, pictures, and mementos of the person’s life. Many years ago the vigil was often called a wake.
A priest, a deacon, or a dedicated layperson from the parish staff will normally lead a vigil service.
What is a Committal Service?
After a funeral ceremony at the Church, the people, who so wish, will normally go in procession to the cemetery or burial place. There a final service of committing the remains of the deceased to the ground will be conducted. It is a service rich in the tradition of Jesus’ Resurrection. The committal service offers the family a final chance to say goodbye in the hope that the person whom they loved and who is now gone to God, will live forever with God in the Resurrection.
Normally, a priest or deacon will lead the committal service of a Catholic.
Can a Catholic family have a funeral at the Cathedral if their deceased loved one did not share their faith?
If a Catholic family has a deceased loved one, who does not share the Catholic faith with them, and they wish to have him or her buried from a Catholic Church, an ecumenical service of burial can be created for the loved one at the Catholic Church. The Catholic family in such a situation should be in touch with the pastor of their parish as soon as possible after the death of the loved one to make proper arrangements.
Is there a fee for holding a funeral at the Cathedral?
There is a small fee of $100 for parishioners and $500 for non-parishioners for the use of the Church for the liturgy for funerals at the Cathedral of Saint Andrew. The funeral home will take care of paying those expenses for you. The organist for the funeral receives a stipend of $125, and the cantor, or singer, receives a stipend of $75. Again, the funeral home will take care of this expense for you. If the family of the deceased wishes to make an additional offering for the use of the Church, its heating or air-conditioning as well as other maintenance expenses, a contribution will gladly be accepted.
What are some secular things I need to consider during this time?
The needs of a deceased person and his or her family in relation to the secular needs of funerals are available through the following links.
Supporting a Grieving Person
Checklist: What to do when a loved one dies
Probate Administration of a Decedent's Estate