If you are planning a Catholic funeral service or about to attend one, you’re probably wondering how long it lasts and what to expect. If you are, here’s everything you need to know about Catholic funerals and what goes on in one. I’ve also included the rules for burials, so you can be more informed about the Catholic funeral practices.
Catholic funerals usually last about 30 minutes to an hour, depending on whether a mass will be held. While the Church encourages all faithful to have a funeral mass, it’s not mandatory. A funeral with mass is longer as it includes Holy Communion. Without a mass, it can last from 30 to 40 minutes.
So why do Catholic funerals last this long? Continue reading to find out.
How Long are Most Catholic Funerals?
A Catholic funeral can be held with or without mass. With a mass, it can last up to an hour or more, depending on the number of prayers and readers included. Without a mass, it can last up to 30 to 40 minutes, significantly shorter since there will be no Holy Communion.
What Happens During a Catholic Funeral?
Catholic funeral rites are heavily steeped in ritual and tradition. Thus, they follow a specific order or structure, which every member is expected to follow. That said, they incorporate the following ceremonies:
The vigil service or wake always goes first. This usually occurs during viewing and visitation at one’s home, a funeral home, a chapel, or another suitable place. It can even be held in the church, so long as there’s significant time before the second ceremony: the liturgy. According to the Order of Christian Funerals, no. 54: “The vigil for the deceased is the principal rite celebrated by the Christian community in the time following death and before the funeral liturgy, or if there is no funeral liturgy, before the rite of committal.”
The vigil can be in the form of a Liturgy of the Word with readings from the Bible accompanied by prayers and reflection, or a part of the “Office for the Dead”.
In the Order of Christian Funerals, no. 56, it also says: “At the vigil, the Christian community keeps watch with the family in prayer to the God of mercy and finds strength in Christ’s presence… In this time of loss, the family and community turn to God’s word as the source of faith and hope, as light and life in the face of darkness and death.”
This is the time when one’s family and friends gather and remember his/her life, sharing stories and memories. This is why eulogies are encouraged at this time.
After the vigil, the liturgy or funeral liturgy will take place, usually the following day. This is likely held at the church where the deceased has received the other sacraments. It is the main liturgical rite of Catholic funerals. Every member of the Church is encouraged to receive this celebration at a mass.
The funeral mass is almost the same as any other Catholic mass. There will still be opening rites when the priest enters, readings from scripture, Holy Communion, and closing rites, which include a prayer of commendation and a final blessing. The only difference is that the priest blesses the deceased’s casket, the readings are specifically chosen to reflect the person’s life, and the homily centers around the individual and his/her faith.
That said, this is the time when one’s family and friends gather with the Church to thank and praise God, to ask Him to receive the deceased and to find strength in Him. Meaning, this rite is not merely to express grief. Rather, it’s an act of worship. This is why the Church and priests deem it an inappropriate time for eulogies.
Take note that the liturgy may still be given to the deceased even if there’s no mass. In this case, it may be held in a funeral home, one’s residence, or a chapel. When this happens, a priest will still read from Scripture and put forth the spirit of the deceased to God. It will be shorter, however, since there won’t be the Rite of Communion.
3. Rite of Committal
Once the Liturgy is done, the Rite of Committal will take place. This part of a Catholic funeral is stricter since it has to happen at the place where the person’s body will be laid to rest. And so, it rarely occurs at the Church unless there’s a crypt on site. Other ceremonies, like social or cultural rites and military honors, may be performed after the Rite of Committal.
During this part of the funeral service, the body of the deceased is committed to its resting place. It is also when the community shares its hope, along with those in heaven, for the deceased to receive God’s glory of resurrection. It is an expression of the Catholic belief that those who are on earth and those who are in heaven are in communion with each other. And so, with such a rite, we are praying for the deceased to pass on and be welcomed by our brothers and sisters who are already with the Lord.
What Are Catholic Rules for Burial?
To be considered a proper Catholic funeral, one must receive all the three rites I’ve mentioned above. However, this is not a rule or an obligation. Some funeral services may not have some of these traditional rites, such as a mass.
For other Catholic rules on burial and funeral services, here are some of what the Code of Canon Law states:
- All Christian faithful who die must be given an ecclesiastical funeral “according to the norm of law.” (Canon 1176, 1)
- The church recommends burying the body of the deceased. However, it does not prohibit cremation unless it is chosen for reasons that go against the Christian doctrine. (Canon 1176, 3) You can learn more about cremation in our article “Can Catholics Be Cremated?”
- The funeral service for any faithful must be celebrated in his/her parish church. However, a member of the faithful or the one planning the funeral may request another church for the funeral rite. (Can 1177, 1 & 2)
- Notorious apostates, schismatics, heretics, those who chose cremation for reasons contrary to the Christian faith, and other sinners who, if granted ecclesiastical funeral, may cause public scandal are not allowed to be given a Catholic funeral unless they gave some signs of repentance before death. (Canon 1184)