Your Catholic Rites – Vigil, Liturgy and Committal
Making your wishes known to your loved ones will give you peace of mind
The Vigil (Wake Service), the Funeral Liturgy (The Mass) and the Committal (Cemetery Service) – each with its own distinct character and purpose – are together a part of the journey to healing and wholeness – true gifts to us during a confusing and difficult time.
Download our handy brochure which explains the vigil, funeral liturgy, rite of committal, and general information about Catholic funerals: A Guide for Planning Catholic Funerals.
1. Vigil for the Deceased (Wake)
“The Lord will Carry Us”
The Vigil is truly a time to laugh and a time to cry, a time to remember and a time to pray. A time to rejoice in all that the person was and is. This can truly be a healing time for all those who are hurting.
The Vigil for the Deceased is the first way that the Church captures the sentiments of those who are grieving and sets them in the context of our faith. A prayer service with readings selected from Scripture to fit the circumstances of the deceased, a homily that comforts and gives hope, intercessions that speak to the faith of those gathered around the deceased, and prayers selected from the rich resources found in the Order of Christian Funerals can do a great deal to prepare people to enter into the Christian spirit of the Funeral Liturgy. The Rosary or other prayers to the Blessed Virgin Mary can be part of the Vigil.
Eulogies are best given at an appropriate time during the Vigil Service. While there is a natural desire to say good things about a person who has died, we must always remember that in the context of prayer, it is the working of God’s grace in the life of the deceased for which we want to give thanks and praise. Eulogies in the context of prayer must be more than mere tributes to the goodness of the deceased. There must be a reference to what God has done for the deceased person and for us through him/her. Priests, deacons and parish bereavement ministers are available to assist families in selecting Scripture readings and music for the wake service and funeral liturgies.
2. Funeral Liturgy
“The Eucharist…where we are united Jesus, the Saints, and all those who share eternal life.”
The Funeral Liturgy is our great “Thank You” to God who created us, died for us, and who is calling each of us back to Himself. In this step the focus shifts slightly from emphasis on the deceased to God’s saving works through Jesus Christ. The Mass, particularly at the time of death, is truly a special moment, a holy moment, a God-moment.
Celebrating the Funeral Liturgy at Mass in the parish church is the customary way in which most Catholics experience the Order of Christian Funerals. The Eucharist looks forward to our participation in the heavenly banquet, where we are united with Jesus, the saints, and all those who share eternal life. Jesus said, “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood shall live forever.” (John 6:54) The Eucharist is truly the central point in a Catholic funeral. Its effectiveness is greatly enhanced when the family participates in appropriate ways: clothing the casket with the pall, selecting the Scripture readings, serving as lectors or extraordinary ministers, singing the responses and the hymns and especially receiving Holy Communion.
The funeral homily is of utmost importance in the funeral liturgy. A homily may only be delivered by a priest or a deacon, as liturgical homilies are part of the sacramental rite of the Eucharist. The homily speaks of the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection and gives the deeper meaning that is found in the experience of death and dying. The homily occurs within the context of a funeral Mass that is offered for the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of the soul of the faithful departed.
3. Rite of Committal (Cemetery)
And the last step – the last concrete act we can do for our loved ones in this world – the Rite of Committal (Cemetery Service) is the burial or entombment of the remains of the deceased. The relationships, bonds and “communion” we build with one another in faith are not broken by death. Resting in a holy place with our brothers and sisters is a profound statement of that belief.
The Rite of Committal is the final liturgy in the Order of Christian Funerals. Like the Vigil Service, the Rite of Committal makes use of Scripture, a few words of hope by the presider, intercessions and prayers.
A Catholic cemetery is a sacred place of honor and respect for those who have died. It is a visible and lasting tribute to the faith of those that are interred in its consecrated ground. It is a sacred place where Catholics come to prayerfully express their faith, their grief and the belief of the resurrection of their loved ones who have preceded them in death. It is a living memorial to someone whose body was a temple of the Holy Spirit on earth and now awaits the resurrection from the dead.
To have a representative of the Church present at this final moment is a great source of consolation to those who will now have to continue their journey in life without their beloved. While a priest may be unable to preside at the Committal Service, a deacon or a trained bereavement minister may represent the Church at this final moment.
The Vigil, the Funeral Liturgy and the Committal set us on a path to true healing, wholeness and peace. We don’t have to face it alone, nor should we, our church will be there for us, for that we are truly thankful.