In the United States, Catholics follow the Order of Christian Funerals, a set of guidelines that was implemented and made mandatory for Latin rite parishes on November 2, 1989 (All Souls Day). There are three key components of the Catholic funeral: a vigil for the deceased, usually held the day or night before the funeral; the funeral mass, or a funeral liturgy outside of the mass; and the Rite of Committal, which usually occurs at the gravesite. Each stage of a Catholic funeral has specific and optional readings and prayers from various sections of the Bible, some of which are used more than others.
During each Liturgy, there is a reading from the Old Testament, which is paired with a Psalm. The Old Testament reading is often read by a family member or friend of the deceased. Readings from the Book of Wisdom are popular, including Wisdom 3:1-6, 9 which begins, "The souls of the just are in the hand of God and no torment shall touch them," as well as Wisdom 4:7-15, which includes the line, "The just, though they die early, shall be at rest." Another popular Old Testament reading is Ecclesiastes 3:1-11. A well-known funeral passage, this reading states, "There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every thing under the heavens. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant. A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to tear down, and a time to build."
Book of Psalms
The passage from the Book of Psalms can also be read by a family member or friend, or a cantor can sing it with congregational responses. Psalm 23 is one of the most common funeral Psalms across Christian religions. (Reference 7) It starts, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul." Psalm 103 reads, "The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever." Other favored Psalms include 25, 27 and 116.
New Testament readings usually exclude the Gospels and generally focus on the letters of St. Paul or St. John or readings from the Book of Revelation. They can be read by a friend or family member of the deceased. John 3:14-16 says, "We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death." In Revelation 21:1-5a, 6b-7, the scripture reads, "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more." Paul 5:5-11 states, "Hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us."
The gospels -- Matthew, Mark, Luke and John -- are always read by the priest or a deacon. While all other readings are conducted sitting, the Gospel is always read with the congregation standing. Typical funeral gospel readings tell stories of Jesus' proclamation that to follow him is the path to heaven. This includes John 14:1-6, which reads, "Jesus said to his disciples: Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me." Also popular is Matthew 25:31-46, which states, "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory."
- St. Jude Catholic Parish: Christian Funerals at St. Jude Church
- Father Gilles: Roman Catholic Funeral Readings
- St. James Catholic Church: Funeral Music, Readings & Prayers of the Faithful
- St. James Catholic Church: Funeral Readings First Reading
- St. James Catholic Church: Funeral Readings Second Reading
- St. James Catholic Church: Funeral Readings Gospel
- Prayer and Prayers: Psalms 1-75
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