Catholic funerals consist of several distinct components that need to take place in order. The time frame of these components isn't as important as the fact that they're observed correctly. The actual internment into consecrated ground, or burial, typically takes place a few days to a week after death, depending on the family's choices, the church's availability and the funeral home's schedule. Some parts of the funeral are appropriate for the entire church community to attend, while others are just for close friends and family.
Families of the deceased should contact both the church and the funeral home as soon as possible after death. The family will need to provide proof to the church that the deceased is Catholic. The families, the church and the funeral home should collaborate to determine available dates and times for services, as the Funeral Mass cannot take place on certain holy days. This process should ideally take place in the the day of or first day or two following death.
Vigil for the Deceased
The vigil for the deceased is often called the wake. The wake is the part of the funeral where all of the deceased's friends and family can come say good bye. The wake can last anywhere from one to three days depending on the wishes of the deceased and the family. The wake, typically in a funeral home, church or the home of the deceased, is the appropriate time for eulogies, as they're not allowed at the mass or burial as they typically are in Christian funerals. Non-Catholics are usually allowed to attend the wake, but visitors should check with the church or the family first to make sure their presence is appropriate. A priest will perform certain Catholic traditions, such as the Prayer of Intercession, during the Vigil for the Deceased, usually at a specific time, so that non-members can plan accordingly.
Mass of Christian Burial
The Mass of Christian Burial or Requiem Mass takes place the day after the vigil has ended. The mass doesn't need to take place at a specific date or time but it should not be held the same day as the wake. Non-Catholic visitors can usually attend the mass as well. The body of the deceased must be present at the mass so the priest can perform certain ceremonies such as granting the body absolution. Mass is not a time for family and friends to speak.
Rite of Commital
Directly after mass, or at the soonest available time, the body will be taken to the cemetery for Rite of Committal, or the graveside service. This part of the funeral is only for close family, close friends and spiritual leaders. Some families have gatherings directly after the graveside service or in the following days, for friends and family. Many families accept food, cards, flowers and other gifts of remembrance in the weeks following.
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