What Does a Priest Do for a Funeral?

Catholic priests play a crucial role during funerals.
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During a Catholic funeral, great care is taken to ensure that the body and soul of the departed are treated with respect, and that certain rites are performed to ensure a successful transition to the next plane of existence. As a spiritual leader in the faith, a priest is a crucial element of the funerary process.

1 Vigil

The vigil, sometimes known as the wake, is akin to the visitation portion of most modern funeral services. During the vigil, family members and friends gather around the departed. While guests typically use this time to comfort one another and remember the life of the deceased, the primary purpose of the vigil is to pray for the person's soul. The priest is expected to lead the mourners in various prayers, including the rosary and responses of the liturgy.

2 Requiem Mass

During the requiem mass, the deceased is brought into the church and placed before the sanctuary. In preparation, the priest dons a black cope -- a long, loose cloak -- and as the body is brought into the church, the priest sprinkles the coffin with holy water and intones De Profundis, a psalm recited in Catholic prayers for the dead. He then conducts the funerary mass, asking for, among other things, pity on the soul of the departed and for her soul to be delivered. At the conclusion of the requiem mass, the priest stands at the foot of the coffin and grants absolution to the deceased.

3 Burial

If the interment ground or mausoleum is not in a Catholic cemetery, the priest blesses the burial site before the body is laid to rest. He then conducts a brief ceremony at the gravesite, intoning the Canticle of Luke and the Antiphon John. He asks for the soul to rest in peace and conducts a final prayer for mercy.

4 Informal Gathering

Following the requiem mass and burial, mourners commonly gather at the home of a friend or family member of the departed to partake in food and drink while remembering the person's life. The priest, especially if he's close to the family, sometimes attends these gatherings in order to provide additional prayer and spiritual comfort to those in need.

Heather Clark is a professional writer with a bachelor's degree in communications from Austin Peay State University, where she was a features writer for the "AllState" campus newspaper. In addition to being a contributor for various websites, she is also a full-time staff writer/photographer for the "Courier," the U.S. Army news publication for Fort Campbell, Ky.