Christians celebrate funeral rites to offer worship and thanksgiving to God, the author of all life. We pray for the deceased and support the bereaved. The model for Catholic funerals is the Easter journey of Jesus Christ from death to resurrection. Therefore, we are encouraged to celebrate the funeral in three stages: prayer vigil, funeral liturgy, and committal. Funeral practice varies considerably, and the Church provides several options from which we can choose freely. There is greater flexibility and involvement possible than we sometimes imagine.

Why do Catholics pray for the dead? In the Second Book of Maccabees, Judas Maccabee orders his soldiers to offer sacrifices and prayers for their slain comrades. “Therefore, he made atonement for the dead, so that they be delivered from their sin.” (12:46). In Second Timothy (1:18), St. Paul prays for Onesiphorus who has died. We pray for the souls of the dead, that the God who is full of mercy and compassion may forgive their sins and admit them into His Kingdom forever.

Planning a Funeral

Nine Nights

These are the traditional prayers, lasting nine nights, which emphasize praying God’s mercy on the soul of the deceased. The parish provides support and shows care for the family in this way. The Bereavement Team stands ready to assist and be present nightly to lead the prayers.

Prayer Vigil

This is the principal rite celebrated between death and the funeral itself. It is the first stage of the farewell journey; its mood is one of quiet support which helps to prepare the bereaved for the final leave-taking.

The Vigil or wake may be held in the home of the deceased, the funeral home, or in another suitable place. It may also be celebrated in church. The body of the deceased may be present, but this is not necessary. The form of the service is a simple Liturgy of the Word of God or Evening Prayer. Eulogies, tributes, songs and poems may be given in remembrance of the deceased. This service can be organized with the help of the Parish Priest/staff.

Funeral Liturgy

This is the main celebration of the Christian community for the deceased person. It is usually celebrated in the parish church where the local community gathers for the Sunday Eucharist. Two forms are possible: a funeral Mass, or a funeral liturgy outside Mass, where no priest is available. The Church encourages a Mass since the Eucharist remembers and celebrates Christ’s own death and resurrection. However, while the Eucharist is our central liturgy, it is not always the best option for every funeral. To celebrate a funeral without Mass is a truly valid form of Catholic worship; especially where most attendees are not Catholic.


The rite of committal usually follows on immediately from the funeral liturgy. This final act of leave-taking is celebrated at the graveside with the interring of the body, or ashes, sometime afterwards. While we are encouraged to celebrate a funeral over these three stages, for a variety of good reasons this model is not always possible or appropriate to the circumstances. Many combinations of funeral rites are possible. The funeral may even comprise a single act of worship in the cemetery.

A guide to Our Lady of Fair Haven Cathedral Parish Mass of Chriatian Burial can be downloaded HERE

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    Frequently Asked Questions

    What is a Christian Funeral?

    A funeral encompasses all of the various elements that surround the way in which we mark the death of a loved one. This includes the time surrounding the moment/process of dying, the time of saying good-bye, burial, and the grieving process that follows the immediate events.

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