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The Catholic Church has an abundance of rituals. These rituals are sometimes performed in a strictly traditional way, but for which there is also space for modernization. Around and during the funeral, sacraments play an important role. These are the sacred actions in which the faithful want to experience the closeness of God. People receive the Last Rites on their deathbed, also known as the last sacrament or the sacrament of the dying. Traditionally, this was primarily a ritual between a priest and the dying person, but today, family members and other loved ones are more frequently involved.
‘The Catholic Church has an abundance of rituals. The sacrament plays an important role’
The tradition of holding a wake with the dead until the funeral is less common in the Catholic community. If someone dies and is laid out at home, then it is sometimes still done. Usually, there is a wake the evening before the burial in the church or the assembly hall of a nursing or retirement home. The life of the deceased is commemorated, and prayers are recited for him or her and loved ones. Forgiveness is asked, texts read and songs sung. The presence of friends and acquaintances at the wake helps the loved ones to mentally prepare for the funeral.
The role of the priest
The priest plays an important role in the preparations for the burial or cremation. Prior to the cremation, there is usually a celebration of the Eucharist, masses sung or sermons and prayer in the parish church. If no priest is available, the last ceremonies are led by the funeral director in the funeral home. If the loved ones so desire, the sermon and prayer service will be held in the auditorium of the crematorium. A celebration of the Eucharist is usually held in the church.
‘The priest plays an important role in the preparations for the farewell’
On the day of the funeral, the immediate family say farewell to the deceased and accompany the coffin to the church. Upon entering the church, the priest comes to meet the procession and sprinkles the coffin with holy water. Burning candles are placed next to the coffin, and music is played. During the prayers, the good characteristics of the deceased are remembered, and prayers are recited for the loved ones. During the break, there is a collection for the costs of commemorative masses; prayer cards are sometimes given out. People can keep those in their prayer books as keepsakes, so that they will remember the deceased later in their prayers.
‘The funeral mass is a mix of fixed texts and personal preferences’
Traditionally, the funeral mass is formalized in what is called the requiem mass, which consists of fixed texts. Today, the priest often works with the family to find texts and songs that are recited and sung at various religious gatherings. A separate liturgy is often prepared for the funeral mass.
Incense and holy water
The funeral mass is concluded with the absolution, a ritual during which the priest sprinkles the coffin with holy water, and incense is burned while he recites prayers. This is the last prayer for forgiveness of the sins of the deceased. Then the priest and the altar boys leave the church. They are followed by the pallbearers with the coffin, and the family of the deceased and other loved ones follow in procession. The church bells ring, but the procession to the cemetary is otherwise silent.
‘The absolution is usually considered as a last tribute to the body of the deceased’
At the gravesite, the priest stands at the foot end of the grave and a member of the parish stands at the head end with a cross. In silence, incense is burned and the priest blesses the grave. The next of kin and loved ones stand around the grave while the pall bearers lower the coffin. The priest then prays the ‘Our Father’ and sprinkles a shovel-full of earth on the coffin with the words: ‘You are dust, and to dust you shall return.’ Those present can also sprinkle earth on the casket.
All Souls Day
On All Souls Day (November 2nd), Catholics commemorate the deceased. Family and friends go to the cemetary (for example, Herdenkingspark Westgaarde), clean the grave of their deceased loved one and decorate it with flowers or plants.
PC Uitvaart has a great deal of experience with handling Catholic funerals. If you would like to learn more, please contact us via the form below.