The Common Procedures of a Catholic Funeral

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The Common Procedures of a Catholic Funeral
There are three major rites in a traditional Catholic funeral. (Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Traditional Catholic funerals consist of three major religious rites: the Vigil, also known by the more common term, the wake; the celebration of the Eucharist, also know as the Requiem Mass; and the Committal of the body, or burial. These rites are commonly performed by a Catholic priest and permission is required from the parish to perform these sacraments. Other activities such as informal receptions following the burial are common, but not required, in Catholic funerals.

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The Catholic Vigil

The Catholic rite of Vigil is more commonly referred to as the wake. The wake takes place before the burial and funeral Mass. Because it is a sacrament, the Vigil is most commonly presided over by a priest, but a deacon or a layperson who has been trained to preside may substitute. During the Vigil, family and friends gather to offer prayers and reflect on the life of the deceased. The Vigil can be celebrated at home or in a church or funeral home.

The Catholic Requiem Mass

The Funeral Liturgy, or Requiem Mass, is the second rite of the traditional Catholic funeral. The Requiem Mass is always presided over by a priest and consists of a specific sequence of prayers as follows: The Rite of Reception, the Liturgy of the Word, The Liturgy of the Eucharist and the Final Commendation. The Funeral Liturgy can be conducted by a deacon or layperson but this must be done outside of mass and, thus, is not technically a Requiem Mass. Funeral Liturgies conducted outside of Mass by laypersons are more commonly performed for deceased non-practicing Catholics.

The Catholic Committal

The Rite of Committal is the final step in a traditional Catholic funeral. This rite is most commonly conducted by a priest, but can be conducted by a deacon or layperson. The committal is performed at the burial site and there are no specific prayers required for this rite. It is often brief and follows no particular format.

Common Informal Catholic Funeral Traditions

After-burial gatherings are common in traditional Catholic funerals but are not required and are not considered sacraments. These gatherings are sometimes confused with wakes by non-Catholics. Depending on cultural traditions, these gatherings can last for a few hours or several days. No specific religious prayers are offered but the parish priest frequently participates and may offer informal prayers or counsel at this time.

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