The death of a loved one is a very difficult moment in the life of every family. The parish joins with the family and friends of the deceased and offers sympathy and support.
In the face of death, though, the Church confidently proclaims that God has created each person for eternal life and that Jesus has destroyed death forever through his own death and Resurrection. The sacred liturgy of Christian funerals enables us to proclaim and celebrate this hopeful aspect of our faith, and to pray for the person who has died asking for the forgiveness of sin and the gift of everlasting life.
There are three main aspects to the funeral liturgy that take place, the Vigil Service, the Funeral Mass, and the Rite of Committal. Soon after the death of the loved one, the parish should be called in order to speak with the priest to arrange times for these liturgies.
The Vigil Service takes place in the funeral home the day before the funeral Mass. It is a fairly short liturgy that involves the Word of God and some prayers to God for strength and mercy. It is an important and comforting time for family and friends to gather together in remembrance, and it is an appropriate time to remember the deceased with a eulogy.
The celebration of the Funeral Mass with the body of the deceased present is the heart of the Church’s expression of communion with the departed. The liturgy begins with the reception of the body and is followed by the Liturgy of the Word, the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the Final Commendation and Farewell. Having the body present during the Mass emphasizes the meaning and importance of the body as a Temple of the Holy Spirit through Baptism. As such, the Church certainly prefers that the body be present for the Mass, and does not recommend cremation. However, the Church now permits the Funeral Mass to be celebrated in the presence of the cremated remains if cremation occurs immediately after death. It is important to note that cremated remains must be treated with the same respect as the body of the deceased, and therefore should be buried or entombed in a sacred place.
The Rite of Committal is the final part of the overall funeral liturgy, and it involves the reverential burial of the earthly remains in a blessed grave or entombed in a mausoleum. This is also an appropriate and meaningful time for a family member or friend to remember the deceased with a eulogy. The Archdiocese of Toronto has a number of Catholic Cemeteries that families are encouraged to use, for they ensure the proper honour and respect to our beloved’s earthly remains.
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