I’ve heard it said many times the funerals are for the living. But that’s not true. Funerals are obviously for the deceased as well. Here are a few reasons from our faith teaching that funerals are for the benefit of the deceased.
Funerals honor the deceased’s practice of faith and belief in eternal life in Christ: A Catholic funeral honors the faith that soul has nurtured throughout a person’s life and honors the teachings of the faith regarding belief in a life in God, perpetual light, and the eternal salvation that we profess every time we pray the creed. When the deceased has practiced their faith through life, knowing that at their death their soul will be commend to the mercy of God brings comfort and peace. After their death, they deserve to have the living ensure their wishes are fulfilled, regardless of the faith beliefs of their living loved ones.
A funeral gathers the community for the intention of remembering and praying for the deceased: The mass is an act of mercy that the gathered community provides for the intention of the deceased. The readings, music, homily and prayers provide a ritual way of commending the deceased into eternity. it goes beyond our earthly home and the life that was lived here and reaches toward the deceased’s eternal life.
The funeral provides a final opportunity for the deceased to appear at the altar before burial or interment: For a faithful Catholic, the funeral mass is desirable because it is the final time that person is laid before the altar and prayers are said for them. Additionally, burying the deceased in a Catholic cemetery or interring their body in a Catholic mausoleum or their ashes in a columbarium gives reassurance that they will be remembered by their family and the Christian community, preventing them from being forgotten and ensuring they will be remembered in prayer and through masses for those buried in the cemetery. Through this disposition, their remains are shown respect and the Church teaching that they will rise to new life in Christ is observed.
An additional note about cremation and our faith: Reverence in the case of cremation is particularly concerning, as society begins to normalize practices such as keeping the urn containing the ashes within a personal home, distributing them between family members or scattering them outdoors, such as in the ocean, at a park or on the family’s land. Catholic teaching provides that cremated remains must yet be kept together and must have a final disposition at a Catholic cemetery or burial space in consecrated ground or in a designated, consecrated niche where a traditional marker memorializes them.