death of someone we love is one of life’s most heart-rending
moments. We are often numb with shock and filled with grief. The
Catholic Church’s funeral liturgies offer mourners consolation,
hope and faith in the resurrection. They usually occur in three
parts: the vigil, the Mass of Christian Burial, and the rite of
committal or graveside service.
|who's in the sanctuary?
| Cantor: The cantor is
the liturgy’s chief singer. In monastic choirs, this was
an office of high honor and the cantor often carried a staff
to indicate rank. The cantor leads the congregation in song,
frequently proclaiming the verses of the responsorial psalm.
You may see the cantor move to the ambo for the proclamation
of this psalm.
vigil takes place for one or more days prior to the funeral. It
used to be the custom for the vigil, or wake, to be held in the
home of the deceased. Now, it is more customarily held in a funeral
home. Recently, there has also been a growing trend to celebrate
the vigil in the parish church or hall - it is very moving
to receive the condolences of friends and family in the presence
of the Blessed Sacrament and in a place where the deceased person
worshipped in community. It is common for the evenings of the wake
to close with the recitation of the rosary or a Scripture service.
The vigil is also the most appropriate place for eulogies, in which
stories and memories of the dead person are shared.
The Mass of Christian Burial is the fulcrum of the funeral liturgies.
At the beginning of the Mass, the priest welcomes the body at the
entrance to the church. Family members place a white pall over the
casket, representing the white garment in which the person was clothed
at his or her baptism. The body is carried to the front of the church,
where members of the family place a crucifix and a Bible on it,
symbolizing the person’s Christian faith.
Changes in the funeral rites since Vatican II mean that we focus
on the joy of resurrection rather than the sorrow of loss. The vestments
are white, symbolizing joy, rather than their former black. The
emphasis is on eternity, not on our present grief. The Liturgy of
the Word comprises readings chosen by the family - they are
selected for their consolation and hope of eternal life. The priest
or deacon preaches on the readings - offering a homily, not
The Liturgy of the Eucharist follows, reminding us of Christ’s
passion, death and resurrection. We are offered the hope of eternal
life - for our loved one and for ourselves. Members of the
family may serve as extraordinary ministers of Communion, readers
and altar servers. After Communion, a friend or family member may
be invited to share a brief reflection on the life of the departed.
There is a final procession to the place of committal, the cemetery.
At the graveside, the priest or deacon offers a final commendation
and prayers of farewell are said. If there has not been a eulogy,
one may be offered at this point.
Occasionally, the family may have chosen to cremate the body. The
Catholic Church permits cremation and, since 1997, it has been permissible
in the United States to have the cremated remains present for a
funeral liturgy. Afterward, the remains should be treated with the
same respect as a body would be - not kept in the home, but
interred in a cemetery or entombed in a columbarium.
The Catholic celebration of a person’s life, coupled with
the community’s consolation to that person’s loved ones,
is one of the most profound ways the church acts as Christ in the
why do we do that?
“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord!” You’ll
notice that the Scripture mentions joy, not pitch or key. Singing
is an important part of worship and some elements of the Mass
are specifically designed to be sung. Examples are the Sanctus
(“Holy, holy, holy” prayer) and the great Amen.
Singing is a wonderful way for a congregation to express unity,
since they are singing the same words at the same time and in
approximately the same tone. The General Instruction of the
Roman Missal (GIRM) extols the importance of congregational
singing and stresses its necessity at Sunday and holy day Masses.
Everyone present is urged to sing out with great joy, not just
those who can carry a tune!
what's he wearing?
The bishop carries a tall hooked staff called a crosier. In
the Western church, it is shaped like a shepherd’s crook
to symbolize the bishop’s role as the shepherd of his
flock. Crosiers dating from as early as the fourth century have
been found in catacombs. By the Council of Toledo in 633, the
crosier is mentioned as a liturgical implement.
|what's the season?
| What is Advent?
Advent is the beginning of the church’s year - occurring
not in January, but during the four weeks prior to Christmas.
Advent begins on the Sunday closest to Nov. 30, the Feast of
St. Andrew. We prepare for the coming of Christ in joyful anticipation.
In the earliest days of the church, Advent lasted six weeks,
until St. Gregory the Great, of calendar fame, fixed the season
at four weeks and composed prayers and antiphons to celebrate
it. The liturgical color for Advent is purple.
what's in the church?
vessels: The chalice is the cup in which the wine
that becomes the blood of Christ is contained. The ciborium
is the container for the hosts that will be consecrated at Mass
and reserved in the tabernacle - it may be shaped somewhat
like the chalice, but has a fitted lid. In medieval times, the
word ciborium also referred to a canopy over the tabernacle,
but that is no longer the case. The pyx is a small container
that holds a few consecrated hosts - extraordinary ministers
of holy Communion use a pyx to take Communion to the sick and
homebound. All of these vessels are to be made of a material
of value that is not easily broken. They should be treated with
reverence due to their sacred functions.