Catholic funeral practices are often steeped in a history and tradition with which non-Catholics may be unfamiliar. People attending Catholic funerals are sometimes unclear about which ceremonies and practices they should participate in and which ones are reserved only for members of the church. The recitation of the rosary is one ritual that may be included in a Catholic funeral, and non-Catholics may or may not be present for it.
Catholic Funeral Rites
The three ceremonies usually included in a Catholic funeral are the vigil, the funeral mass and the committal. The vigil, also sometimes called a wake, is usually held the evening before the funeral mass, which takes place in a church on the day of burial. The rite of committal is performed when and where the remains of the deceased are interred. The church has guidelines about how each ceremony should be conducted, including specific prayers, readings and rituals that all have religious significance.
The Vigil Service
The vigil may take place at the home of the deceased, a funeral home or a church. Sometimes a priest conducts the ceremony, but more often a layperson takes this role. The vigil usually includes prayers, scripture readings and song, as well as eulogies by family members and friends. Secular music and readings are also permitted at the vigil. The vigil often includes a recitation of the Rosary, but this is not required. The recitation of the Rosary can also happen outside of the vigil service. (See Ref 1&2)
Recitation of the Rosary
Catholics recite the rosary using a set of prayer beads with a crucifix. The rosary includes a set of repeated prayers organized in five sets, or decades, each set meditating on an event in Christ's life. Catholics can pray the rosary alone or in a group, as is done at funeral rosaries. The church may provide a lay prayer group to lead the recitation of the rosary, or those present at the vigil may conduct the prayers themselves. In some cases, friends or family of the deceased may offer a scripture reading between each set of prayers.
Participation of Non-Catholics
If the rosary takes place at the time of a vigil service, it is likely that non-Catholics will be in attendance. If a rosary ceremony happens independent of the vigil, it is more common for mostly Catholics to attend. Anyone who wishes to pray the rosary may do so. If a non-Catholic wishes to prepare for the rosary ceremony beforehand, he or she can borrow or purchase a set of rosary beads and become familiar with the prayers. Those who do not wish to participate in the rosary can observe silently and respectfully, or offer their own silent meditation and prayers.
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