This past week we remembered and prayed for the dead. This month we will continue to offer Masses for our deceased relatives and friends who might be in purgatory. This is an opportune time to think about our own funeral arrangements and not burden our loved ones with decisions and problems after we are gone.
A Catholic funeral consists of three parts: a wake service at the funeral home, a Mass of Christian burial in church, and prayers at the cemetery or mausoleum. The most important part is Mass, for the fruits of the Mass are infinitely more pleasing to God and effective in relieving any remaining temporal punishment due to sin. That is, it will help the deceased get out of purgatory much more quickly than a prayer service at a funeral home. Unfortunately, more and more often, the surviving family members are opting for a service at a funeral home; it’s quicker and easier. So if you want a full Catholic funeral, it would be wise to make specific arrangements well in advance.
Today the Catholic Church allows for cremation of the body, but prefers the cremation to take place after the funeral Mass in church. It also has some specific instructions on the disposition of the remains afterwards. The U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship says the following:
"Any catechesis on the subject of cremation should emphasize that the cremated remains of a body should be treated with the same respect given to the corporeal remains of a human body. This includes the use of a worthy vessel to contain the ashes, the manner in which they are carried, the care and attention to appropriate placement and transport, and the final disposition."
While cremated remains may be buried in a grave, entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium, or even buried at sea, the practice of scattering cremated remains on the sea, from the air, or on the ground, or keeping cremated remains in the home of a relative or friend of the deceased are not the reverent disposition that the Church requires. The cremated remains of the body may be properly buried at sea in the urn, coffin, or other container in which they have been carried to the place of committal. (“Cremation and Burial at Sea”) See www.usccb.org/liturgy/cremation.shtml.
- Fr. Carl