The Vigil (Wake Service), the Funeral Liturgy (Mass), and the Committal (Burial/Entombment) each have distinct purposes in the journey to healing and wholeness. The Vigil, the Funeral Liturgy and the Committal set us on a path to healing, wholeness and peace. We don’t have to face it alone, nor should we; our church will be there for us, and for that we are truly thankful.
“The Vigil for the deceased is the principal rite celebrated by the Christian community in the time following death and before the funeral liturgy.” (OCF, 56)
The Vigil (Wake Service) is truly a time to laugh, cry, remember and 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 set 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 (Wake). 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 and parish bereavement ministers are available to assist families in selecting Scripture readings and music for the wake service and funeral liturgies.
“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.” (OCF, 4)
The Funeral Liturgy (Mass) 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 normal 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 life 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, most 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.
“The final commendation is a final farewell by the members of the community, an act of respect for one of their members, whom they entrust to the tender and merciful embrace of God. This act also acknowledges the reality of separation and affirms that the community and the deceased, baptized into the one Body, share the same destiny, resurrection on the last day. On that day, the one Shepherd will call each by name and gather the faithful together in the new and eternal Jerusalem.” (OCF 146)
The last step – the last concrete act we can do for our loved ones in this world – is the Committal, 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 memorial to all who are interred there. It is a sacred place where Catholics come to express their grief and hope in the resurrection for their loved ones who have preceded them in death. It is blessed ground, fitting for 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. A priest, a deacon or a trained bereavement minister may represent the Church at this final moment.