What is a Catholic funeral? (Is it just the funeral Mass? The vigil? The committal?)
Catholic funeral rites are the liturgical rites in which the Church “commends the dead to God’s merciful love and pleads for the forgiveness of their sins.” Through the funeral rites, Christians “offer worship, praise, and thanksgiving to God for the gift of a life which has now been returned to God, the author of life and the hope of the just.” There are three principal components to a Catholic funeral:
Vigil for the deceased (sometimes referred to as the “wake”)
Funeral liturgy (which often includes the celebration of Mass)
Rite of committal. These are outlined in the Order of Christian Funerals.
Vigil: A wake or vigil precedes the funeral liturgy. The vigil may take place in the home of the deceased, in the funeral home, in the church (provided it takes place well before the funeral liturgy), or in some other suitable place. At the vigil, “the Christian community keeps watch with the family in prayer to the God of mercy and finds strength in God’s presence.” Its structure includes introductory rites, the liturgy of the Word, prayers of intercession, and a concluding rite.
Funeral liturgy is the central liturgical celebration for the deceased. As such, the Church encourages the celebration of a funeral Mass as part of the funeral liturgy. However, a funeral liturgy outside of Mass is also permitted in those cases where Mass cannot be celebrated.
The funeral Mass is offered for the deceased, usually at the parish church of the deceased. “The Mass, the memorial of Christ’s death and resurrection, is the principal celebration of the Christian funeral.” The Mass includes the reception of the body (if this has not already take place), the liturgy of the Word, the liturgy of the Eucharist, and the final commendation (unless the commendation will be celebrated at the place of committal).
The commendation is the prayer in which “the community calls upon God’s mercy, commends the deceased into God’s hands, and affirms its belief that those who have died in Christ will share in Christ’s victory over death.”
Rite of Committal concludes the liturgical rites of a Catholic funeral; the burial of the deceased generally follows the rite of committal. The committal ordinarily takes place where the body of the deceased is to be buried (or “committed”) to the ground, or where the remains are to be interred. The committal is “the final act of the community of faith in caring for the body of its deceased member.” The rite includes the final commendation (unless the commendation has already been celebrated at the funeral Mass).