When a death occurs, what is done first?

When a loved one dies, it is a time of great stress and emotion. It may be difficult to make decisions or know what to do, especially if the death is sudden. Making a phone call to the parish, or asking a close friend or medical staff member to make that call, is an important first step. A priest, deacon, or lay bereavement minister can offer not only spiritual support, but also practical guidance about what steps need to be taken next.

Typical initial responsibilities of the immediate family include:

Praying

After the death of a loved one, family members often join with a priest to pray the Psalms and Scripture passages from the Office of the Dead in the Liturgy of Hours (the Church's official daily prayer), as an intercession for the one who has just died. When the death occurs in a hospital, especially a large one, the hospital chaplain may offer to lead these prayers.Praying. After the death of a loved one, family members often join with a priest to pray the Psalms and Scripture passages from the Office of the Dead in the Liturgy of Hours (the Church's official daily prayer), as an intercession for the one who has just died. When the death occurs in a hospital, especially a large one, the hospital chaplain may offer to lead these prayers.

Making decisions regarding organ donation

Organ donation is consistent with Church teaching on charity, as long as the body is handled respectfully (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2296). In many places, medical personnel may routinely ask the survivors for permission to use healthy organs. If possible, it is best to know in advance how to respond and abide by the wishes of the deceased.

Notifying immediate family members who are not already present:

Even before funeral arrangements are confirmed, someone should telephone those most closely affected by the death. Follow-up calls with details can be done later, either personally or through a trusted friend or relative.

Contacting a funeral director

The priest or church office can suggest a reputable funeral home, if the family does not already have a strong preference. Usually, the funeral home staff will pick up the body from the place of death and take it to their facility. If the death has occurred far from where the funeral will be held, a local funeral director can b

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How is the funeral ceremony planned?

Family members can expect to play an active role both in planning and participating in the funeral, with the priest or his representative guiding them through the necessary steps. A “standard” Catholic funeral, as outlined in the Order of Christian Funerals, actually consists of three separate ceremonies: the vigil Service, the Funeral Liturgy, and the Rite of Committal, with the Funeral Liturgy being the main liturgical service.

Decisions typically include:

Choosing a Funeral Mass or Funeral Liturgy

A priest can conduct the funeral liturgy either in the context of a Mass or outside of Mass, depending on family preference and the relationship of the deceased to the Church. If many of the mourners are non-Catholic, the family may choose to have a funeral liturgy without a Mass to help them feel more comfortable with the service, and to avoid any potential misunderstanding about Catholic Communion restrictions.

Finalizing the location

A Funeral Mass is customarily held in the parish church of the deceased or his/her family. The liturgy outside of a Mass may be conducted either at the funeral home or at the church.

Selecting Scripture readings and hymns

Ceremony planners are often given a planning booklet or help choose among various options. While this liturgical planning may at times seem an added burden to some survivors, such personalized touches can greatly enhance the beauty of the funeral ceremony, and give added comfort to those in attendance.

Inviting specific friends or relatives to serve as lectors, gift bearers, and Eucharistic ministers .

Some close survivors may feel too overcome by grief to be able to read clearly or assist with the service. In that case, someone who is a bit less emotionally involved may be asked instead. If no friends or family are able to assume these roles, other members of the parish may be contacted.

Asking someone to offer a remembrance speech:

Though this is optional and specific guidelines vary, the family may elect to have a representative speak briefly at the vigil service about the life of the deceased.

Selecting pallbearers

At larger funerals. Some mourners (usually six to ten) may be invited to carry the casket in and out of church. Non-Catholics as well as Catholics may be pallbearers at a Catholic funeral.

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What about related Ceremonies?

There are several variations and possible combinations of rites outlined in the Order of Christian Funerals. In addition, regional and ethnic customs exert additional influences.

In general, Catholic funeral traditions usually include:

The wake or visitation

Though not mandated by Catholic custom or theology, contemporary American bereavement practices often involve calling hours at a funeral home for one or two days prior to the funeral. This allows friends and extended family members to offer condolences to the immediate family. Some families prefer instead to receive visitors at their home, or arrange for calling hours at the church.

The vigil service

Prior to 1989, when the new Order of Christian Funerals was issued, families simply gathered the evening before a funeral and recited the Rosary together. That custom is still carried on today. Recognizing that non-Catholics may feel uncomfortable with the Rosary, a Scripture-based vigil service, either at the funeral home or church can be arranged. Personalized touches and informalities which would not be considered appropriate at a Funeral Mass can sometimes be included in the less formal vigil service.

The committal ceremony

This brief prayer service may be celebrated at the grave, tomb, or crematorium, or even at sea. There are several variations of this rite, depending on whether it immediately follows the funeral or is celebrated independently of the funeral.

The funeral meal

Friends and family rarely just disperse from the cemetery or church, but gather together following the services to share memories and enjoy a meal together. This may be at a restaurant, at the parish hall, at the home of the deceased, or at some other convenient location. Sometimes the atmosphere at the funeral dinner may become quite jovial, as family and friends celebrate life eternal in the midst of death.

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