Elements of a Roman Catholic funeral are: 1. A vigil service with either the body or cremated remains present. If the body is present, the casket may be either open or closed. 2. A funeral Mass or service with either the body or cremated remains present. If the body is not present, the service is referred to as a Memorial Mass. 3. A graveside service with burial of the body or cremated remains or the placing of the remains in a columbarium or mausoleum.
The Vigil: Is a prayer ceremony where friends and family gather together to pay their respects to the deceased and his or her family. It may take place at a funeral home, a church, the family home, or some other location. Typical elements include prayers lead by a priest or appropriate layperson. Eulogies, memorials, singing of hymns or secular music, readings and poems may be incorporated as well.
Funeral Mass: The funeral Mass (Memorial Mass if no body is present) is held at the church. At the entrance to the church, the remains are sprinkled with holy water and covered with a pall, a reminder of baptism.
Burial: After the service, the remains are transported to a cemetery, where there is a formal committal or burial ceremony, presided over by the priest or deacon. In the case of cremation, this may take place at a columbarium or mausoleum.
Roman Catholics and Cremation: Historically, the Catholic Church forbade cremation. However, in the early 1960s the Church relaxed the rules and today many Catholics choose cremation. Recently the Church clarified its position on cremation for Catholics and in October 2016, the Pope issued updated guidelines. Today, cremation is allowed but the ashes must be kept in a “sacred place” such as a church cemetery. Ashes should not be scattered or kept in an urn at home.
Catholic Funeral Etiquette for Non-Catholics: When attending a Catholic funeral, non-Catholics should use the same etiquette they would for any funeral. Be respectful and aware that during Mass the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist (communion) will take place. As a non-Catholic, you will not participate in communion. During the service, you can follow along, participate in the singing of hymns, and stand or kneel when others do.