Vigil for the Deceased:


Sometimes called the Wake, the vigil for the deceased is the official prayer of the church for the deceased, and the first of the three major rites celebrated by the Christian community.  The vigil for the deceased is never omitted.


The vigil is celebrated between the time of death and the funeral liturgy, often on the day before or the evening before the funeral Mass.  The vigil may take place in the home of the deceased, at the funeral home, or in the church.  A priest, deacon, or layperson may preside at this liturgy.


The vigil takes the form of the liturgy of the word.  It centers on readings from sacred Scripture, songs, psalms, and intercessory prayer.  A brief homily or reflection by the presider is also included.  The vigil service is the preferred time for family and friends to offer stories, reflections, and eulogies on the life of the deceased.  Devotional prayers, such as the rosary, may not replace the vigil service but may be included. It has been a longstanding custom that the Rosary is prayed at the vigil. It is the familyís choice. The family may provide someone to lead the rosary as part of the vigil service. In most cases the deacon of the parish will be the presider, in others, when he is not available, the priest or even a representative of a society or parish organization may lead it.


The Funeral Mass:

The funeral Mass is the central liturgical celebration (occasion of prayer) for the deceased. The Christian community reaffirms in sign and symbol, word and gesture, that through baptism we share in Christís death and resurrection, and look forward to the day when we will be raised up and united in the kingdom of light and peace.


The funeral Mass is normally celebrated the evening before, or on the day of the burial or committal.  A priest is the presider for a funeral Mass.


The funeral Mass begins at the entrance of the church.  The priest and the gathered assembly receive the body of the deceased.  The coffin is sprinkled with holy water and the pall is placed upon it by family or friends of the deceased to recall the deceasedís baptism.  The body is carried in procession toward the altar and placed near the paschal candle.  When the coffin is in place, other Christian symbols, such as the Book of Gospels or cross may be placed on the coffin.


Mass continues as the community celebrates the Liturgy of the Word.  The homily is based on the readings and focuses on the paschal mystery and Godís love.  The assembly prays for the deceased and the bereaved in the intercessions.  The Liturgy of the Eucharist is celebrated as usual.  In word and sacrament, we celebrate Christís death and resurrection and reaffirm our share in this mystery.


The final commendation immediately follows the prayer after Communion.   At this time the deceased is entrusted to Godís tender care.  While an extended time of remembrance is most appropriate for the vigil, if desired, one family member or friend may offer a brief prepared eulogy before the final commendation begins.  The song of farewell is the climax of the rite of final commendation.  This song, sung by the assembly, has a specific function: to affirm the hope and trust in the paschal mystery.  The body may be incensed during or following the song of farewell.  The prayer of commendation concludes the rite.


The procession is then formed and the body is carried to the place of burial or committal.


Music selections for funerals are made in conjunction with the ministers of music in the parish and follow the directives of the Roman Catholic Church regarding music in the liturgy.  Some requested music selections that do not fall within these norms may be appropriate during the period of the wake.


Burial or Committal

The burial or committal takes place as soon as possible after the funeral Mass.  The rite of committal takes place beside the open grave or place of interment.  If this is not possible, it may take place at a cemetery chapel.  A priest, deacon or lay person may preside at this service.


Though brief, the rite of committal assists the bereaved at this most difficult time.  This rite includes a short Scriptural verse, the prayer of committal, intercessions, Lordís Prayer and a blessing.  The lowering of the body into the grave or placement into the tomb or crematorium may take place following the prayer of committal or at the conclusion of this rite.  Those who wish may offer some gesture of leave-taking at this time.


Related Topics:


Why Do Catholics Believe in Purgatory?


Why Do Catholics Communicate with the Dead?



Why Do Catholics Pray for the Dead?


Why Do Catholics Have Gregorian Masses Said for the Dead?


Catholic Burial Tradition


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