Complete Guide to Catholic Funerals

How Does A Catholic Funeral Work?

Contrary to modernist thinking and the rampant popularity of humanist funerals, Catholicism is still a huge idea and belief system across Europe with 1.3 billion followers globally


For centuries people have followed the same Catholic funeral rites, sung the same hymns and read the scriptures because in essence Catholics believe in moving on from this world to an after life which scientifically could be a possibility. 


The next abode being either Heaven, Hell or Purgatory,  the latter being subjective.

Yet we are not here to judge but to support your beliefs and allow you to understand fully the religious practices that occur when a person dies and a funeral sets out wishes for a Catholic funeral order of service and burial. 


Like Christians (Protestants) and splits (Anglicans) in their Church there are a variety of different sects of Catholicism across the Western and Eastern World, here we are interested in the main in Roman Catholics following an Irish Catholic funeral tradition.

What Is Catholicism?

To understand a funeral and therefore the celebration of someone’s life and their elevation into the After Life, it’s perhaps quite a good idea to first glimpse how Irish catholic funerals first came about. 


Despite the recent quarrels between Protestants and Catholics, both are of the same religion and Christianity.

Catholics follow doctrines as laid out by the Bible, lead by The Pope, sanctified by a continuance of Christ’s apostles and practising liturgy. 


These strict adherences show us that for almost two millennia people who follow this faith have had these ways and practices embedded in their society and family far longer than any changes democracy could have brought.

What Are The Stages Of A Catholic Funeral?

There are three main stages of a funeral in the Catholic church which have been observed for centuries, those aspects can be optional but it is good for families to follow these last rites and traditions, not only for the person who observes Roman Catholicism but for family and friends also.

  • The Reception of the Body or Prayer Vigil : Similar to Christians, Catholics observe a Wake scenario that is a little more formal.

    This event occurs the night before a funeral and isn't necessarily a form of 'watch' instead it can be combined with a short service and reading.

    While it can occur at a the home of the deceased or family, it usually sees the coffin or casket transported to the place of service the day before. A time announced when families and friends can arrive and take a first glimpse of coffin and deceased. Allowing people to get accustomed to what has actually happened. Death of a loved one.

    Essentially it is a vigil where prayers can be made, either silent or as a collective. A hymn may be sung and a reading made. Longer versions of the Reception of the Body at a Catholic funeral involve a pray of the Rosary. This a lengthy process which follows the twenty lessons of the liturgy in a certain order of service. Not all families observe this stage but it is popular but optional. Others may prefer quiet observance at home.
  • The Funeral Service : A funeral for a Catholic is not the shortest of congregation observances.

    There are two types, a service and then a service with a Funeral Mass, though the latter is not demanded.

    However due to it involving the Holy Communion and a representation of Christ's death and his resurrection and the belief of an after life it forms a large part of many funerals carried out. Respectable Evening dress attire is expected.
  • The Committal : If the deceased is to be interred within ceremonial grounds such as the Church graveyard, a congregation may follow the coffin or casket as it is carried and gather graveside for another ceremony.

    This is termed the Rite of Committal and will usher forth special prayers, scripture, the Lord's Prayer and a blessing. The gathered may also sing a hymn per Congregational etiquette if the occasions requires.

Can A Funeral Mass Occur At Any Time?

An aspect that may delay a funeral with a mass are the many religious days set in the Catholic calendar. There are strict guidelines that a Funeral Mass cannot be observed when certain periods of observations are being held because these are for the holy and not mankind.Periods in which Mass may not be observed in conjunction with a funeral are:
  • Easter: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday.
  • Sundays during Advent: The Fourth Sunday before and up to December 25th
  • Lent: The 40 days before Easter
  • The Easter Season - the duration of 50 days after Easter
  • Ash Wednesday can hold Mass but ashes not distributed within the confines of the church

What Is The Catholic Funeral Mass Order Of Service?

Reception At The Church


If the coffin or casket with the deceased did not arrive to the Church the night before then when the funeral procession arrives at the Church, the coffin is taken by pallbearers and is met by the presiding Priest; who sprinkles holy water over the deceased and leads the procession into the Church.


The coffin is then placed at the front of the hall, where family may place a white pall over the coffin and arrange any funeral flowers such as sprays. The pall may be complimented by a bible and cross. Situated close by will be a table for offerings, these might be displays of photos or Mass cards.

Catholic Funeral Readings


Not all funerals are like State occasions, they can be as long or as short as the family wishes. A Catholic funeral while containing many parts and rites will have at least one psalm and a reading from the Old or New Testament.


The Priest will also deliver a Homily that collects all the readings together and reads a signature passage from the Gospel.


A form of Eulogy is an option which families may wish to contribute information so as to form a depiction of the deceased’s character, personality and life. Family and friends can also stand and deliver bidding prayers in front of the congregation.

The Eucharist


This is a precise observance where family recreate the breaking of bread which they themselves can bring to the Altar with wine before the Eucharist Prayer is performed, thus turning bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. The  Doctrine of Concomitance.


The Holy Communion will then proceed where after a family member can offer the Eulogy or a shorter version if one was proffered at an earlier point in the Catholic Funeral Order of Service.

The Final Commendation


There is one last goodbye, at the service itself, this is termed the Leave Taking. Special prayers will be read, a hymn sung and the Priest will once again sprinkle Holy Water over the coffin or casket.

Are Alternatives To A Church Funeral Allowed?

Yes, the deceased may be cremated at a crematorium without such a lengthy service. However you may still wish to instil Catholic rites even if not wishing to display and manage all of them. A cremation service tends to be shorter and last around 20 minutes. Consider booking more than one slot to encompass your needs such as hymns, readings and prayer.

Are There Particular Catholic Funeral Rites?

Yes, Catholics observe two forms of Wake, the Reception at the Church the night before the funeral. The Funeral Service itself and then another service at Committal. Generally the second form is a gathering of family members, relatives and friends with song and alcohol. Religious readings, psalms and well known prayer form musts at Funeral Masses.

How Long Does A Catholic Funeral Last?

Like in Eastern Europe, Catholics tend to try and have a quick funeral within three days but this is not so strict in the Western hemisphere due to demand and population size. 


The funeral can occur anywhere between two days and two weeks. I have once stood for a Day of The Dead reading of names for three hours and more and that wasn’t a funeral. A Catholic funeral at a Crematorium can last twenty minutes, at a Church expect it to last up to 90 minutes just for the service and perhaps Committal included.

What Is The Cost Of A Catholic Funeral?

If the deceased had a funeral plan then to the next of kin the costs would be minimal. There may be a proportion of Disbursements to pay and any extras such as flowers, additional limousines and other services not already in the contract. 


Because a Catholic funeral is not as straight forward as a typical C of E funeral, with Reception of the Body the night before and additional service at Committal, they are above national average for a funeral.

Do Catholics Practice Wakes?

While the Reception of the Body on the eve of a funeral could be a form of wake, Catholics do tend to have a proper wake shortly after the funeral on the same day or a few days or weeks later. 


Most people feel exhausted after being so emotionally drained so to be able to talk amongst friends and family is a welcome release. This event may occur at a local establishment, a restaurant, hotel or a nearby family home.


Suggestions For Popular Catholic Funeral Hymns


Music is generally vital to a great many funeral services and it is certainly no stranger when it comes to catholic funeral songs popular with three generations over a period of centuries. 


Funeral Director can arrange for graveside Pipers and musicians for the Committal hymns. Or for the service itself with organ players, bands and musicians.


Civil service and non religious forms can cost less if you opt for the pre-recorded music, it doesn’t necessarily need to be live. There are several popular Catholic Funeral hymns for each aspect of the process that is observed, these include the Song of Farewell catholic funeral lyrics and;


Opening Hymns: Amazing Grace, Make me a Channel of your Peace, Abide with me


Offertory: Take our bread we ask you, Lord accept the gifts we offer, See us Lord about Thine Altar


Communion: Laudate Dominum – (Mozart), Like a Shepherd, Pie Jesu (Lloyd Webber), Panis Angelicus


Recessional: Jesus Remember Me, May songs of the angels welcome you, Nearer my God to Thee

Catholic Funeral Prayers And Readings

There are several periods during a catholic funeral where readings for Mothers, Fathers, Sons, Sisters, Brothers and Daughters can be chosen specifically for the moment and person, either modern days scriptures or traditional. 


From the bidding prayers on the eve of the funeral at the Reception of the Body to the actual funeral service itself and the Committal.


Responsorial Psalm: 

Ps 91 Be with me Lord, 

Ps 41 Like the deer that yearns for running stream, 

Ps 63 My Soul is Thirsting