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  • The Vigil and Related Rites and Prayers
  • The Funeral Liturgy
  • The Rite of Committal

The vigil for the deceased is the principal rite celebrated by the Christian community in the time following death and before the funeral liturgy. (Order of Christian Funerals, #54)

The first ritual, the Vigil, may take the form of a celebration of the Liturgy of the Word, or some part of the Office for the Dead. The vigil may be celebrated at the church with the body or at a funeral home. Sometimes the family will prefer to pray the Rosary at the vigil. It is possible to have both the Liturgy of the Word or the Office of the Dead and the Rosary. A priest or deacon usually presides at the vigil, but in their absence a lay person may preside.

The related rites and prayers may be used as the family gathers for prayer. They include “Prayers after Death,” “Gathering in the Presence of the Body,” and “Transfer of the Body to the Church or to the Place of Committal.” A priest, deacon or lay person may preside at these rites.

The funeral liturgy is the central liturgical celebration of the Christian community for the deceased. (Order of Christian Funerals, #128)

There are two forms of the second ritual, the Funeral Liturgy. They are the “Funeral Mass” and the “Funeral Liturgy outside Mass.” The Church especially encourages the celebration of the Mass.

The rite of committal, is the final act of the community of faith in caring for the body of its deceased member. (Order of Christian Funerals, #204)

The third ritual is the Rite of Committal. There are two forms of this rite. The first form “Rite of Committal” takes place at the end of the funeral liturgy. The second form, “Rite of Committal with Final Commendation” is used if the final commendation does not take place during the funeral liturgy. It may
take place at the grave, tomb, or crematorium. A priest, deacon or lay person may preside at the rite of committal. 

Laywomen and laymen may serve as lectors, musicians, ushers, pallbearers and extraordinary ministers of holy communion. Family members of the deceased are encouraged to fulfill these ministries unless it would be difficult for them due to the circumstances.

During the funeral liturgy biblical readings may not be replaced by non-biblical readings. Non-biblical readings may be used during prayer services in addition to readings from Scripture. The psalms are designated for use in many places in the funeral rites and, whenever possible, should be
sung. A homily based on the scripture readings is always given after the gospel reading at a funeral liturgy. There is never to be a eulogy. If a family member or friend of the deceased would like to say a few words in memory or tribute, this should occur after the Final Blessing of the funeral Mass before the final commendation.

The music at funerals should support, console, and uplift the participants and should help to create in them a spirit of hope in Christ’s victory over death and in the Christian’s share in that victory. (Order of Christian Funerals, #31)

Music should be provided for the vigil and funeral liturgy, and if possible for the processions and rite of committal. An instrumentalist, a cantor, and a choir if one is available, should assist with leading the assembly in song. The texts of the songs chosen for a particular celebration should express the paschal mystery of the Lord’s suffering, death and triumph over death and should be related to the readings from Scripture. (Order of
Christian Funerals, 30)

It is customary for a pall to be placed over the coffin as a reminder of the baptismal garment of the deceased. It also signifies that “all are equal in the eyes of God” (James 2:1-9). Family members, if they wish, may assist in placing the pall over the coffin before the funeral liturgy begins. Only Christian symbols may rest on or be placed near the coffin during the funeral liturgy. A book of the Gospels, a Bible or a cross may be used.


Although cremation is now permitted by the Church, it does not enjoy the same value as burial of the body. The Church clearly prefers and urges that the body of the deceased be present for the funeral rites, since the presence of the human body better expresses the values which the Church affirms in those rites. (Order of Christian Funerals, Appendix-Cremation #413)

Cremation is permitted in the Catholic Church, but it is preferred that cremation take place after the funeral rites with the body. It may be necessary to cremate a body before the funeral rites can be celebrated. The cremated remains of a body should be treated with the same respect given to a human body. A worthy vessel should be used to contain the cremated remains. The vessel must be buried in a grave or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium. The church does not permit scattering of cremated remains or keeping them in the home of a friend or relative. 

Need help planning a funeral for a loved one? Our parish planning sheet will help you choose music and readings for the ceremony. 

Need help planning a funeral for a loved one? Our parish planning sheet will help you choose music and readings for the ceremony.