Arranging a Funeral
The Meaning of Death & Christian Hope
In the face of death, the Church confidently proclaims that God created each
person for eternal life and that Jesus, the Son of God, by His death and
resurrection, has broken the chains of sin and death that bound humanity.
Christ “achieved His task of redeeming humanity and giving perfect glory
to God, principally by the Paschal Mystery of His blessed Passion,
Resurrection from the dead, and glorious Ascension”
(Sacrosanctum Concilium #5).
The proclamation of Jesus Christ “who was put to death for our sins and raised to life to justify us” (Romans 4:25) is at the center of the Church’s life. The mystery of the Lord’s Death and Resurrection gives power to all of the Church’s activity. “For it was from the side of Christ as He slept the sleep of death upon the Cross that there came forth the sublime Sacrament of the whole Church” (Sacrosanctum Concilium #5). The Church’s liturgical and sacramental life and proclamation of the Gospel make this mystery present in the life of the faithful. Through the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist, men and women are initiated into this mystery. “You have been taught that when we were baptized into His death; in other words when we were baptized we went into the tomb with Him and joined Him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life. If in union with Christ we have imitated His death, we shall also imitate Him in His Resurrection” (Romans 6:3-5).
In the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the Church’s celebration of Christ’s Passover from death to life, the faith of the baptized in the Paschal Mystery is renewed and nourished. Their union with Christ and with each other is strengthened: “Because there is One Bread, we who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the One Bread” (1 Corinthians 10:17).
At the Death of a Christian, whose life of faith was begun in the waters of Baptism and strengthened at the Eucharistic table, the Church intercedes on
behalf of the deceased because of its confident belief that death is not the end
nor does it break the bonds forged in life. The Church also ministers to the
sorrowing and consoles them in the Funeral Rites with the comforting Word of God and the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
Christians celebrate the Funeral Rites to offer worship, praise, and thanksgiving to God for the gift of a life which has now been returned to God, the Author of Life and the hope of the just. The Mass, the memorial of Christ’s Death and Resurrection, is the principal celebration of the Christian / Catholic Funeral.
The Church through its Funeral Rites commends the dead to God’s merciful love and pleads for the forgiveness of their sins. At the Funeral Rites, especially at the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice (the Mass), the Christian community affirms and expresses the union of the Church on earth with the Church in heaven in the one great communion of Saints. Though separated from the living, the dead are still at one with the community of believers on earth and benefit from their prayer and intercession. At the Rite of Final Commendation and Farewell, the community acknowledges the reality of separation and commends the deceased to God. In this way it recognizes the spiritual bond that still exists between the living and the dead and proclaims its belief that all the faithful will be raised up and reunited in the new heavens and a new earth, where death will be no more.
The celebration of the Christian Funeral brings hope and consolation to the living. While proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ and witnesses to Christian hope in the Resurrection, the Funeral Rites also recall to all who take part in them God’s mercy and judgment and meet the human need to turn always to God in times of crisis.
When a Loved One is Dying
The Parish Office (856-881-9155) should be contacted when a loved one is sick so that the Sacrament of Anointing may be celebrated. It is likewise appropriate to call a Priest as death draws near so that the Sacraments of Penance and Anointing may be celebrated along with Viaticum (Holy Communion administered for the journey through death to eternal life) [Last Rites].
When a Loved One Dies
At the Parish of Saint Michael the Archangel, it is our desire to offer compassion and support to bereaved families during this difficult time. If you have had a death of a family member or friend, we are here to support you.
It is not necessary for you to contact us to arrange a Funeral service. To ease your burden during this time, the Funeral Home that you choose will work directly with us at the church to coordinate the logistics. They will also provide us with your contact information, so you can expect to hear directly from the Priest.
The Vigil (or Viewing or Wake Service)
The Vigil for the deceased is the principal rite celebrated by the Christian community in the time following death and before the Funeral Liturgy, or if there is not to be a Funeral Liturgy, before the Rite of Committal.
The Vigil may be celebrated in the home of the deceased, in the Funeral Home, Parlor, or Chapel of Rest, or in some other suitable place. It may also be celebrated in the Church, but at a time well before the Funeral Liturgy, so that the Funeral Liturgy will not be lengthy and the Liturgy of the Word repetitious.
The community gathers on the evening before the Funeral Mass to pray and to keep watch with the family. The Word of God is proclaimed as a source of hope in the face of darkness and death. All pray for the deceased, in anticipation of the Funeral Mass to be celebrated the next day. Prayers are also offered for the comfort and consolation of the bereaved. This Prayer Service may take place at the Funeral Home or in the Parish Church. It is a vigil and therefore, it is to be celebrated in the evening. As the Vigil is the proper time to share stories about the deceased, it is also the appropriate time to offer a eulogy, eulogies, or words of remembrance. The Vigil is likewise the proper place for families to display pictures or those things that symbolize the life of the deceased.
Having a Viewing in the church is not the same as having it at the Funeral Home. Please remember that in choosing to have the viewing or vigil in church, great reverence and respect for the Church and our Catholic Faith must be observed. The Blessed Sacrament is present in the Tabernacle as evidenced by the red Presence Candle in the Sanctuary. Food and beverages other than water are not to be brought into the church. Cell phone usage should be kept to a minimum and in the Gathering Space or outside. Music inappropriate for a church setting may not be played / performed.
The Funeral Mass
When one of its members dies, the Church encourages the celebration of the Mass. In the proclamation of the Scriptures, the saving Word of God through the power of the Holy Spirit becomes living and active in the minds and hearts of the community. Having been strengthened at the table of God’s Word, the community calls to mind God’s saving deeds and offers the Father in the Spirit of the Eucharistic Sacrifice of Christ’s Passover from death to life, a living sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, of reconciliation and atonement. Holy Communion nourishes the community and expresses its unity. In Communion, the participants have a foretaste of the heavenly banquet that awaits them and are reminded of Christ’s own words: “Whoever eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood shall live forever” (John 6:55). Confident in Jesus’ presence among them in the living Word, the living Sacrifice, the Living Meal, those present in union with the whole Church offer prayers and petitions for the deceased, whom they entrust to God’s merciful love.
The family and friends of the deceased are encouraged to participate in the Funeral Liturgy. The Pastor and / or other Parish representatives will discuss the various ways in which family members can assist at the Funeral Liturgy (placing the pall, proclaiming the readings and / or the prayers of the faithful, presenting the gifts, etc.). A booklet has been prepared to assist the family in preparing the Funeral Liturgy. If the Funeral Director does not provide you with a copy, you may pick one up at the Parish Office prior to meeting with the Pastor to plan the Mass.
A eulogy (also called words of remembrance) is a speech in praise of a person who has died. At the Funeral Liturgy, we gather to thank God and to petition God on behalf of the deceased. We also gather to celebrate the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus who is the “first of many brothers and sisters to rise from the dead.” We hope that our loved one will join Him. A eulogy’s context is the past. A Christian Funeral looks to the future in hope. As such, the Funeral Mass is not the appropriate time for a eulogy. It is far more appropriate for a eulogy to be offered at the Vigil Service or perhaps at the reception that follows the Funeral.
When the Viewing / Vigil occurs in church, if the family insists – prior to the entrance hymn and greeting, one (1) family member or friend may deliver a short remembrance and express their thanks for the community’s support. Please remember that in choosing to offer words of remembrance at this time, great reverence and respect for the Church and our Catholic Faith must be observed. Inappropriate sentiments and language are to be strictly avoided. It is never permitted to have more than one (1) person offer the words of remembrance.
The Burial or Entombment
Since Jesus’ own body was laid in a tomb after His death, it is the traditional practice of the Church to bury or entomb the bodies of our beloved deceased with full faith that our bodies will be glorified in the final resurrection of the dead.
It is most appropriate for Catholics to be buried or entombed in a consecrated Catholic cemetery, mausoleum, or in a military cemetery. The Diocese of Camden maintains a number of cemeteries and mausoleums in all areas of South Jersey. Your Funeral Director or the Priests of the Parish can assist you in making the necessary arrangements at one of the Diocesan cemeteries. Non-Catholic family members may be buried in a Catholic cemetery. For valid reasons, permission can be given for a burial to take place in a sacred place other than a Catholic cemetery.
For more information and to go to the South Jersey Catholic Cemeteries webpage, please click here.
The Importance of the Body
The body is the primary symbol of a person and the instrument through which we communicate during our lifetime. The care taken to prepare the body of the deceased for burial reflects our Christian belief in eternal life and the resurrection of the body. The prayers and gestures of the Funeral Rite also affirm the Church’s reverence for the body as a temple of the Holy Spirit. The Church encourages the long-standing practice of burying the body in a grave or tomb in memory of Jesus’ own three days in the tomb.
The Catholic Church accepts the practice of cremation as long as the reasons for choosing cremation are not contrary to the Christian way of life. The cremated remains of a body should be treated with the same respect given to the human body from which they come. This includes the use of a worthy vessel to contain the ashes, the manner in which they are carried, the care and attention to appropriate placement and transport, and the final disposition. The cremated remains should be buried in a grave or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium. The practice of scattering cremated remains in the sea, from the air, or on the ground, or keeping cremated remains in the home of a relative or friend of the deceased are not the reverent disposition that the Church requires. Likewise, it is not acceptable to retain any portion of the ashes. A Funeral Mass cannot be scheduled at the Parish of Saint Michael the Archangel without specification that the arrangements for a proper Christian burial have been made. Whenever possible, appropriate means for recording with dignity the memory of the deceased should be adopted, such as a plaque or stone which records the name of the deceased.
When the choice has been made to cremate a body, it is recommended that the cremation take place after the Funeral Liturgy. These celebrations should take place with the body present. In this way, the community can honor the body, and the bereaved are allowed the proper time to mourn. Death is the last passage of life and should not be hidden or negated by cremation prior to the Funeral celebration.
In particular circumstances, it may be necessary for cremation to take place prior to the Funeral. In these cases the Church permits the Funeral to be celebrated in the presence of the ashes.
A Memorial Mass
If for some reason the body or the ashes of a loved one have been buried before the Funeral, a Memorial Mass or service may be celebrated. Please contact the Parish Office to make these arrangements.
Non-Catholic Family Members
A non-Catholic member of your immediate family residing in our parish boundaries is at the same time a member of our Parish family. As such, a parishioner may request that the Funeral of a non-Catholic family member take place here in the Parish of Saint Michael the Archangel or may ask the Priest to participate in a service conducted at the Funeral Home. We would be happy to assist you in any way possible.
Annual Parish Memorial Mass
It is the tradition of the Church to remember those who have gone before us in faith and in death during the month of November. The Parish of Saint Michael the Archangel celebrates a Mass each year for those who were buried from our Parish during the previous year (October 1st of the previous year to September 30th of the current year). This Mass is usually celebrated in November (during the month of All Souls). Families will be invited to the Mass once it has been scheduled. All parishioners who have had a loved one pass away during the year are welcome to participate in this Mass.
It is also important to develop traditions in your home that allow you to remember your loved ones. Praying together, enshrining a picture, or visiting the cemetery can help families to mourn and to find hope in the life and love that they continue to share.
Scheduling a Funeral
The Funeral Home / Funeral Director will help to arrange for the date and time of a Funeral. The Parish of Saint Michael the Archangel attempts to schedule Funerals at the convenience of the family. The Church, however, prohibits Funerals and Funeral Masses on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation as well as some other days of the Church year. In some circumstances, a Priest may not be available at a time preferred by the family due to other commitments or scheduled events. In addition, cemetery schedules may affect the choice of a date and time, especially on or near federal holidays.
Preparing the Funeral Liturgy
Representatives from the Parish will contact the family to assist them with planning the Funeral Mass.
Musical selections are to be made with the assistance of the Parish Music Ministry. Secular songs are not permitted in Church celebrations and should be reserved to the reception that follows the Funeral. If you have any questions in this regard, please contact the Parish Office.
Stipends and Donations
On the occasion of a Funeral, a stipend is generally offered to the Parish for the ongoing ministry of the Church. There are also fees if the Viewing / Vigil / Visitation is held in church, and for the Music Ministry (Musician and Cantor).
People are encouraged to remember the Parish of Saint Michael the Archangel and / or Saint Michael the Archangel Regional School in their wills and as their choice of charities at the death of a loved one. All donations received are promptly acknowledged to the family. The second Tuesday of the month following the death of a loved one is offered for all those who have died during the previous month.
Preparing Your Funeral in Advance
The Church encourages us to think about our own Funerals. With respect for the Church’s teaching outlined here, and in dialogue with your family, you may want to leave directions as to how you wish your Funeral to be celebrated. You are welcome to consult with a Priest and / or the Parish Office in making these preparations.
A Final Thought
All too often people say, “Funerals are for the living, not the dead.” For faithful Catholics, such a statement is not complete, because the Catholic Funeral Rites offer us the opportunity to praise and to thank God for the love and mercy He has shown the deceased person. It is also a time where the community of believers prays for the repose of the soul of the deceased and offers consolation to the surviving family and friends.
Order of Christian Funerals [The Roman Ritual revised by Decree of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council and Published by the Authority of Pope Paul VI] (Approved for use in the Dioceses of the United States by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and Confirmed by the Apostolic See) Liturgy Training Publications, Chicago, 2018.