Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Not Customary

I don't spend a lot of time going to funerals (thank goodness), but in my experience when someone dies, there's usually a set series of events: a wake the night before at a funeral parlor, then the funeral the next morning, immediately followed by a drive to the cemetery. Today I went to a funeral that didn't follow the normal order.

The deceased was a cousin of Tony's. He'd lived out of town for many years, and I've never met him. We heard over the weekend that he had passed away and there would be a memorial today at a local funeral parlor since he was being buried here in town. The obituary stated there would be a visitation at 9:00 and a service later in the morning. We arrived to find the chapel full of people, and chatted with relatives we never see except at funerals and weddings until it was time for the service.

Much to my surprise, since I was under the impression there had to be a Mass when a Catholic person died, the service was led by a priest. There were several prayers, scripture readings with a Responsorial Psalm, and a beautiful homily. That was followed by a litany, The Lord's Prayer, and a closing prayer. After the closing, we were directed out to the parking lot; those who were going to the cemetery were given directions about getting in line and turning on their car lights and blinkers.

When I got home I did a bit of research about Catholic ceremonies for the dead. I learned that there are three principal components to a Catholic funeral: the vigil for the deceased (sometimes referred to as the "wake"), the funeral liturgy (which often, but not always includes the celebration of Mass), and the rite of committal (at the cemetery). While a funeral Mass is preferred, a funeral liturgy outside Mass is permitted.

I guess I learned something today.


  1. The only reason that I knew this was because I went to a funeral for the mother of a former co-worker back in 05

  2. My background is Catholic and I had no idea that you could get away with no mass. Catholic funerals [with mass] are really not my favourite. I've been to a number of them and they lack the personal-ness of other types of funerals.

  3. My niece died two weeks ago and they only had a graveside service. It was terrible--some priest reading from a book (never said anything about my niece), sprinkled water all around, and called it a day. Maybe 10 minutes. I was aghast. I want to hear stories about the person's life. Did their life matter?