The main purpose of a Catholic funeral is to properly send the soul of the deceased back to God. Worshipers pray that God employs his grace to allow the deceased soul to enter heaven, rather than spend time in purgatory, an intermediate spot. Catholics that die unprepared to enter God’s presence spend an indefinite time in purgatory. The scriptures recited at the funeral aim to remind Catholics of their duty to pray for souls in purgatory and of God’s ultimate power to forgive the evil actions of humans because of the work done on earth by Jesus.
Prayers for the Dead
According to Catholic religious doctrine, the dead need prayer. Catholics confess their sins, which are evil actions that offend God, to a priest to receive forgiveness. Once a person has their sins forgiven, they return to a state of grace, in which they can enter heaven upon death. The Catholic Church encourages followers to pray for God to grant grace to the departed. During the funeral ceremony, Catholics offer a prayer for the dead to help atone for sins remaining on the deceased's record.
As an official Catholic religious function, the funeral Mass must include readings from the Bible. The first readings are verses from the Old Testament of the Bible, the books that cover the stories of the Jews prior to the birth of Jesus. The readings instruct the assembled on how to remember the dead through prayer and inform the gathered that all will reunite again in heaven.
After a brief hymn, the next stage of the funeral Mass is the second reading from the Bible. This reading is a set of verses taken from the New Testament, the books of the Bible that cover the life of Jesus and his close followers. As with the verses taken from the Old Testament, these scriptures should emphasize the overall purpose of the funeral Mass, which is to focus on the Christian message of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Unlike a Protestant funeral, Catholic funerals do not feature a eulogy in which a minister recalls the life of the deceased. Instead, the Catholic funeral Mass includes a homily, a short speech emphasizing a particular point gleaned from the two prior sections read from the Bible. During the funeral homily, the priest may employ additional scriptures that emphasize the death and resurrection of Jesus.
- The Death of a Christian; Richard Rutherford and Tony Barr
- Order of Christian Funerals; Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship
- Understanding the Rites of the Catholic Church: The Funeral Mass
- Archdiocese of Atlanta: The Funeral Mass
- U.S. Catholic: Let's Bury the Eulogy
- The Vatican: Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1688
- Darren McCollester/Getty Images News/Getty Images