How Long Are the Masses of Christian Burials?

The Catholic archbishop of Washington awaits the arrival of the deceased's body from the vigil site.
... Alex Wong/Getty Images News/Getty Images

A funeral can elicit a range of emotions, from sorrow to spiritual motivation. In many Protestant denominations, the preacher delivers a eulogy about the good that the deceased brought the world. In contrast, churches that have funeral masses usually follow an official program that leaves little room for personalization. Catholics and Orthodox Christians celebrate a form of funeral Mass to send off the deceased soul to the spiritual world. The length of this ceremonial burial depends on whether one attends all functions. Consisting of three separate portions, the Christian burial can occur over multiple days and in varying locales.

1 Vigil Prayer

The first part of the standard Christian funeral is the vigil prayer service, also known as a wake. The vigil is an opportunity for the family and friends of the deceased to sit with the body in reflection. According to the Order of Christian Funerals, this portion of the burial process must occur prior to the actual Mass and burial. In most cases, the family holds the vigil at home. Others have the vigil in a funeral parlor or in the church.

2 Funeral Mass

The Mass is a public event, held in a church, for the entire Christian community. Priests must follow a set procedure. In most regards, the funeral Mass is similar in form and length to the regular Sunday Mass. The usual pattern is to schedule the Mass on a weekday following the vigil. The OCF prohibits masses on Sundays or holidays, as these days remained reserved for other religious observances. Most masses take place in the home church of the deceased, with either a priest or a deacon presiding.

3 Burial

Following the Mass, and usually on the same day, the attendees depart the church for the burial site. Here, the priest commits the body of the deceased into the holy ground. Consisting of three parts, this portion of the Christian burial is short in length. Once everyone is present, the priest will bless the grave through a prayer consisting of nine lines. Next is the committal prayer, in which the priest, through seven lines of prayer, turns the deceased soul over to God. At this point, the gravediggers lower the body into the ground. Last, the assembled state a series of petitions for God to grant mercy to the deceased, ending the ceremony.

4 Time Length

Ultimately, the length of a Christian burial Mass depends on whether one attends all functions of the burial process. A person present for the vigil, funeral Mass and committal will spend at least two days involved in the Christian burial process. The actual funeral Mass, which takes place after the vigil, has an average duration of an hour, because it has a form similar to the regular Sunday Mass. The committal and burial have fewer steps than the Mass, and thus, are shorter in length. A family could schedule all three events in the Christian burial process on separate days, thus increasing the overall duration.

David Kenneth has a Ph.D. in history. His work has been published in "The Journal of Southern History," "The Georgia Historical Quarterly," "The Southern Historian," "The Journal of Mississippi History" and "The Oxford University Companion to American Law." Kenneth has been working as a writer since 1999.