There are nearly 1.1 billion Roman Catholics around the world and, alongside Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy, makes up the largest religion in the world: Christianity. They follow the life, teachings and death of Jesus Christ.
Here is our guide to Catholic funerals and the Catholic funeral rites they adhere to.
Catholic beliefs about death
Catholics believe in the afterlife and that actions throughout their life will determine whether their soul goes to heaven, hell, or purgatory. Purgatory is for people who have committed forgivable sins in their lifetime; souls which have been repented can’t go directly to heaven, instead they must serve their time in a place or state of suffering (purgatory) before going to heaven. Purgatory is an official doctrine of the Catholic church and one of the main differences to the Protestant faith – another strand of Christianity.
Catholics and cremation
Catholics believe Christ will return at the end of time, and the bodies of the dead will be resurrected to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. For this reason, cremation is accepted by the Catholic church, but they prefer the ashes not to be scattered. Instead, ashes should be placed in a cremation urn and either buried or kept in a mausoleum. Additionally, autopsies and organ donation are seen as an act of charity so are accepted.
How long is a Catholic funeral after death?
Catholic funerals usually occur within three days of the death, but can be anything up to a week. When a Catholic is nearing death, a special rites and Holy Communion is often carried out by a priest or deacon. After the person has died, their family members may hold a vigil service, also referred to as the reception of the body, the evening before the funeral. Here mourners may pray for their loved one, play music, sing Catholic funeral hymns, or deliver tributes. This service can occur in their local church, at a funeral home or in the family home.
What happens during a Catholic funeral??
- Introductory rite or greeting by the priest
- Procession up the aisle – of priest, coffin, and congregation
- Coffin sprinkled with holy water – the coffin is then placed on a catafalque at the altar and covered with a special cloth (pall)
- Bible or crucifix may be placed on the casket – these are symbols of the Christian faith
- Opening song and prayers
- Funeral liturgy – a family member, friend or the priest will read a passage from Old Testament and a psalm. A eulogy will also be delivered for the person who has died.
- Requiem Mass (optional) – the mourners will receive Holy Communion (Catholic) or a blessing from the priest (non-Catholic)
- Final Commendation – special prayers are delivered, and the priest sprinkles the coffin with holy water as it’s taken out of the church
- Rite of Committal – if the deceased is being buried in a cemetery, family and friends will accompany the coffin to the grave. Here the priest will read a verse of the scripture and say more prayers
How long is a Catholic funeral?
If you’re wondering how long does a Catholic funeral last, the answer varies depending on whether the service includes a Requiem Mass. If one is included, the funeral lasts around 60 minutes, otherwise it is around 30 minutes long.
How long is a Catholic funeral mass?
As mentioned above, a funeral mass lasts around 30 minutes – taking the overall funeral to around an hour.
What to do at a Catholic funeral?
If you are non-Catholic, you do not have to participate in the Holy Communion if you don’t want to. Additionally, it is your choice whether you sing Catholic funeral hymns and join the rest of the congregation when they stand or kneel. Flowers are usually accepted – they can be sent to the family’s home or to the funeral home – and charitable donations may also be offered to a charity chosen by the deceased’s family.
What do I wear to a Catholic funeral?
If attending a Catholic funeral, mourners are expected to dress smartly and wear dark colours. Clothing should be modest i.e. cover the shoulders and knees, and jewellery should be kept simple. Head coverings are not required.
Are Catholic funerals held on Saturdays?
Traditionally, the only day that Catholic funerals are not held is on a Sunday. This is because Sundays are considered rest days and reserved for regular Catholic services.
Can you have a Catholic funeral during holy week?
If it can be avoided, a Catholic funeral is not usually held during Holy Week (the week immediately preceding Easter).
If you are planning a Catholic funeral for your loved one, please contact your local funeral home
What happens at a cremation service?
Cremations are fast becoming the norm in Britain with over 70% of families choosing this type of funeral.
When someone passes away in the UK, the process of repatriating someone to another country can be a complicated task for anyone to deal with.
Further Reading: Arranging a funeral
Read about how funerals are arranged and what services you can expect to get.