The Catholic Faith Video Series: Your Tough Questions Answered [Video #1]

Question: Could you please explain the most acceptable method of Funeral Mass and Christian burial when the deceased is cremated. Should the funeral mass be held prior to cremation?
Please watch video below for answer:


If you prefer to read, below is Fr. Mark’s Answer:

Before answering the question about cremation, I want to say something about Catholics and funerals.  As Catholics we have a rich tradition and rituals which help us when faced with the reality of death.  This is so important since we know that words simply cannot reach the mystery of death and the loss we feel.  A hug is often more meaningful than any words we share with someone grieving.  Rituals and symbols are better able to touch and heal our hearts.

An important Catholic principle when it comes to sacraments and liturgies in the church is “Lex Orandi Lex Credendi.”  Basically this means, the way we pray is the way we believe.  So, when celebrating the Sacraments or other public liturgies, we do not just do anything we like.  We are expressing what we believe in these rituals.  The Church provides us with a ritual that guides us to celebrate in a way that truly expresses our faith.

Here is the Catholic Funeral Ritual we use here in Canada.  It has the various rites connected to funerals.  For Vigil prayers during the visitation, for a Funeral Mass or Funeral Service, the prayers of Commendation and the Committal Prayers at the cemetery.

Important symbols at a Catholic funeral is the white pall on the casket, which symbolizes the white garment of our baptism.  Also, the Easter Candle that is a reminder of the death and Resurrection of Jesus.  It is truly a celebration because even in our sadness and loss, we look forward with hope to the new life of the Resurrection.  One of the prefaces at a Catholic funeral Mass expresses this faith when saying, “Indeed for your faithful, Lord, life is changed not ended,…”

For this reason, a eulogy is not normally read at a Catholic funeral liturgy.  For someone without faith, the person is dead and they can only remember their past life.  But, in our faith we are full of hope and look forward to sharing in the Resurrection.  We are focused on their future life embraced in the love and mercy of God.  A eulogy is most appropriate at the visitation or at a reception following the funeral Mass.  These times are more suited to the sharing of stories among families and friends.

In the prayers of Commendation at the end of the funeral, incense may be used.  The body or ashes are incensed to show our honour for the person who has died as our prayers rise up to God.

Now to the question about cremation.  Some history is needed here.  For many centuries cremation was not allowed for Catholics.  This was meant to highlight our belief in the resurrection of the body and to oppose particular groups who would promote cremation in order to deny the resurrection.  This remained the law of the church until 1966 when the Pope allowed funerals in the case of cremation.

At first, a funeral Mass with the body was required and cremation would take place after the funeral liturgy.  In 1997, this was changed to allow a funeral liturgy with cremated remains.  In this case, the urn with the ashes is placed on a stand in the sanctuary near the Easter candle.  The church also asks that there be reverent disposition of the ashes either buried or entombed.

Therefore, there are two options in the case of cremation.  A funeral Mass or Liturgy can be celebrated with the body and then the casket is taken immediately after the Liturgy for cremation.  Committal of the ashes then takes place some time afterwards normally with just the immediate family.

The second option is that cremation takes place first and the funeral liturgy is celebrated with the presence of the ashes in the church or funeral home chapel.  In this case, the ashes are brought to the cemetery immediately after the liturgy for their committal.

In whatever form that you choose, the Church is always concerned with expressing our faith in the resurrection and with showing reverence for the dignity of the body or ashes of the deceased.  This reflects our faith in the dignity of each human being in the eyes of God.

The Committal at the cemetery concludes with this Responsory Prayer:

Priest/Minister:  Eternal rest grant unto him/her, O Lord.

People:   And let perpetual light shine upon him/her.

Priest/Minister:  May he (she) rest in peace.

People:  Amen.

Priest/Minister:  May his (her) soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

If you have follow up questions to this answer or have other questions send them in to us.

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