New Ritual Offers Special Prayers
For Unique Situations
"Already splendid' funeral Mass polished
[Last of three parts]
The new Order of Christian Funerals released this fall for Catholics in the United States has polished up a service tat was already splendid. There are many changes in the funeral Mass, but few are noticeable.
Most parts of a funeral Mass resemble any Mass. Its most distinctive features are the reception of the body in the opening rites and the final commendation at the end.
In addition, what makes a 'Funeral Mass' are the special prayers: the opening prayer, the prayer over the gifts, the preface, and addition to the Eucharistic Prayer, and the communion prayer. Of these, only the opening prayer has been changed.
There have always been many options for the opening prayer at a funeral. Now those options have been expanded and the old prayers have been rewritten. The presider will happily note that these prayers may now be found in the same book with the opening rites. Formerly, the opening prayer was fond only in the sacramentary. Now the presider no longer needs to switch books for the first part of the funeral Mass.
The Communion prayer, however, is still located in the sacramentary. There is a selection of Communion prayers in the back of the funeral book under 'Holy Communion outside Mass,' but he full range of options is only in the sacramentary.
Here are examples of the new prayers. In the 1969 Rite of Funerals, the prayer for one who suffered a long illness was as follows:
Lord God, in is (her) suffering and
In the new rite, the same prayer reads:
God of deliverance, You called our
There are newly composed prayers, too. Here is one for a person who died by suicide:
God, lover of souls, you hold dear
Remember the faith of those who
The reception of the body at the church door also has a new format. This is the set of prayers which stresses the Easter/baptismal imagery of Christian death: We sprinkle holy water, we clothe the body in a white pall, the Easter candle burns brightly. At baptism we begin life in Christ; at death we reach its perfection.
In the case where the vigil has been celebrated in church and not at the funeral home, the prayers for the reception of the body take place at the vigil and are omitted at the beginning of Mass. These images pertain to greeting the body at the door of the church the place where those to be baptized are greeted for the first time.
Up to this time, when the casket was sprinkled with holy water and covered with the pall, the presider cited passages from St. Paul ('All of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death') and commented on them ('on the day of Christ's coming may the deceased be clothed with eternal glory.')
In the new rite, this commentary is simplified. The Scripture text has been removed, since it belongs as an option with the readings for the Mass. The commentary is much briefer, letting the symbols speak for themselves.
The funeral pall over the casket is an important reminder of baptism. Because of this, draping the casket with a national flag is inappropriate for the church services.
Incense, a tradition for Catholic funerals, may still be used. However, the new rite no longer suggests incensing the body during the preparation of the gifts. If the assembly is incensed at this time, the body is included as a member of the assembly. The body is incensed during the final commendation.
The rite also suggests that a family member or friend of the deceased may speak about the person after the communion prayer and before the final commendation. Or, this may also take place at the vigil service the night before the Mass.
The final commendation ends with the song of farewell, 'May the angels lead you into paradise.' Although another song may be chosen, the rite strongly suggests that this traditional text remain part of the burial tradition. It includes sever metric versions which we may sing to familiar hymn tunes.
Families may choose the time and place for all services. The vigil service and Mass may both take place in church. The vigil may be extended over more than one night. The Mass may take place in the evening as well as the daytime. In this case, burial may occur the next day with an appropriate service at the place of final rest.
The funeral rite of the Catholic Church performs an incomparable ministry. When people mourn the death of one they love they turn to the church for consolation. The liturgy speaks a message of hope for hose who have faith in eternal life. At the death of one we love, grief is deep, and grief is immediate. The challenge of the church is to console the grieving as soon as possible with the depth of faith which is our treasure. The funeral rites must express this faith deeply and sincerely.
The new funeral rite will help the faithful to plan rituals for the dead, to celebrate them with confidence, and to face grief without fear. A renewal of the funeral liturgy calls for a renewal of those who minister to the deceased and the grieving. And, it calls each of us to renew our faith in the resurrection of Christ, for resurrection is the hope and destiny of every Christian.
[Fr. Turner is pastor of St. John Francis Regis Parish, Diocese of Kansas City/St. Joseph.]
This article first appeared in THE CATHOLIC KEY in 1989, and was reprinted in THE CATHOLIC CEMETERIAN 31/3 (September 1990) ; 11-12