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What to Expect at a Catholic Funeral Service

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With Catholicism being one of the most popular religions in Ohio, it’s likely you’ll end up attending a Catholic funeral service at some point in your life.

Like all other religions, Catholicism has its own unique end-of-life customs and traditions when it comes to method of disposition, type of service and more. It’s important to follow these practices in order to honor and respect the departed and their surviving family members.

Below, we share an overview of Catholicism and what you’ll likely experience when attending a Catholic funeral service.

Catholicism Overview

Catholicism is the largest denomination of Christianity. Founded in the first century by Jesus Christ, Catholicism centers around the belief in God the father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, which form the Holy Trinity. Because of its early roots, much of early Catholicism has been documented and passed down in the Bible, a collection of sacred passages and stories.

A central part of this faith community is “Burying the Dead,” which is considered a corporal work of mercy and is often thought to include supporting those going through the loss of a loved one.

Catholics also believe that those who pass will go to either Heaven, Hell or Purgatory. Additionally, they typically choose burial as their method of disposition, though cremation is also permitted under specific guidelines—mainly to ensure the cremated remains be placed, in full, in a permanent place of honor like a cemetery.

What to Expect at a Catholic Funeral

Though Catholic funerals can vary, most include the common structure of a wake, Mass of Christian Burial and a committal service. During each stage, it’s appropriate to wear dark or black clothes. Though there aren’t strict guidelines, modest dress clothes are preferred.

>>>Related Resource: What's the Difference Between a Wake, Funeral and Memorial Service

Wakes are typically held in the days before the funeral mass. During a wake, you’ll likely see either an open or closed casket at the front of the funeral home, surrounded by personal touches, photographs, memorabilia, a crucifix and flowers. Those gathering at the wake will form a line to offer condolences to surviving family members and say a prayer over the casket where the departed individual may be wearing a scapular and/or holding a rosary. Wakes can last a few days or a few hours depending on the family’s preferences.

A funeral mass will generally take place the morning following the final day of the wake. Prior to attending Mass, family members often gather at the funeral home to say their final goodbyes. Select family members or friends, known as pallbearers, will carry the casket into the church during the procession.

Upon arrival, the priest opens in prayer and blesses the casket with holy water. After, the family places the pall on the casket, which is a reminder of the deceased’s baptismal garment and fellowship in the church. The Mass of Christian Burial will typically last about an hour and include the liturgy of the Word and liturgy of the Eucharistwhich includes Old Testament, New Testament and gospel readings.

Although common at other types of religious funerals, eulogies are discouraged during Catholic funeral masses. Before the conclusion, the priest will often bless the casket with incense which is a sign of prayers rising to Heaven.

Once the funeral mass concludes, the casket is carried out to a hearse, where it’s driven to the cemetery, followed by friends and family of the departed. At the cemetery, the priest will perform the Rite of Committal, or a series of concluding prayers. At this time, the casket will be lowered into the grave, and guests will say their final goodbyes.

Following the Rite of Committal, families will sometimes host gatherings or luncheons for guests at the funeral home, a restaurant or their own homes.

>>>Related Resources: What to Expect at a Buddhist Funeral Service and What to Expect at a Hindu or Sikh Funeral Service

We Can Help You Plan a Culturally Significant Funeral Service

Busch Funeral and Crematory Services has experience serving a number of cultures and communities. Contact us today, so we can help you arrange a thoughtful, culturally significant service for your loved one.

Contact us for funeral planning.

David Napoli
David Napoli
David has been in funeral service for over 10 years as a second career, leaving behind seminary life and working in the Catholic Church for a decade. He enjoys all things family, especially exploring the greater Cleveland area and Metro Parks with his wife, two children and their white shepherd.

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