Rituals Supporting Death
Our Baptismal Journey
Within the context of our Christian faith, death is part of a movement from mortal life to eternal life. This death is transformed by the sacrament of baptism for in baptism we participate in the death of Christ so as to put on his resurrection. For in his death, Christ overturned the power of death and crossed over into the new life of the Kingdom of God. For the baptized Christian, death has no power; death has lost its sting. 1 Corinthians 15:55
A Ritual Process
The Church’s Order of Christian Funerals (OCF) celebrates a ritual process often conducted over a period of days to assist the bereaved in the task of transforming the bonds of the earthly relationship with the one who has died and formally bidding farewell to their corporal presence. There is a profound movement in these rites of Passover.
The Ritual Movement
Each of the ritual gatherings has its own focus and task in supporting and strengthening the bereaved during this time of leave-taking.
The Prayer Vigil
Typically held the night prior to the celebration of the Mass of the Resurrection, the family of the deceased, beloved friends and members of the faith community gather together in a spirit of Vigil. As the assembly keeps watch, the saving and consoling Word of God is proclaimed. It is a time for retelling the story of the deceased and of remembering and celebrating the life that has been lived. Through symbolic actions, prayers, scriptural word, song, eulogy and story, family members and friends recall the life and gift of the one who has passed-over through death into eternal life.
The Mass of the Resurrection
The celebration of the Mass of the Resurrection is the central liturgical action of the Christian Community at the time of death. This liturgical event calls those who mourn to transform their sorrow by focusing on that which has been taken to that which is now given, namely new life in Christ as shared in his resurrection. As the Vigil focused on the life story and accomplishments of the one who has died, this liturgy focuses on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, without whom there would be no hope in the midst of death’s despair.
The Mass of the Resurrection begins with the reception of the mortal remains of the deceased accompanied by those who mourn at the entrance of the church. When receiving a casket which contains the bodily remains, the casket is clothed in the baptismal garment, (Funeral Pall), and sprinkled with Holy Water.
When receiving an urn which contains the cremated remains, the urn is sprinkled with Holy Water. These actions recall the reception of the deceased into the life of the church and the new relationship with God first established on the day of baptism.
The procession to the altar prepares the gathered community to hear the Word of God proclaimed. In the story of Christ’s life, death and resurrection, the promise of eternal life is realized and the power of death begins to lose its hold.
Within the context of the Mass of the Resurrection, the celebration of the Eucharist follows, whereby the community experiences the transformative power of Christ’s risen glory as bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of He who has conquered all sin and death. Fed by this Eucharistic presence of Christ in the reception of communion, new life is nourished deep within and the truth that life is changed, not ended, is realized.
At the conclusion of this primary liturgy of the funeral rites, the community bids farewell to the earthly life of their beloved dead. Central to this conclusion is the Song of the Angels, the Incensing of the Body and the Prayer of Final Commendation. As the community celebrates the acceptance of the soul of the deceased into heaven, all is made ready for burial/entombment.
The Liturgy of the Word
In the event that the primary Liturgy does not include the Mass of the Resurrection, then a Liturgy of the Word, (a ritual with no Eucharist) may be celebrated in the church proper or in a funeral home. If celebrated in the church then all the rites associated with the welcoming of the mortal remains as in the Mass of the Resurrection, take place. If celebrated in a funeral home, then the Liturgy begins immediately with the Liturgy of the Word. Whether celebrated in the church or in the funeral home, once the Liturgy of the Word is completed, the ritual immediately concludes with the Song of the Angels, the Incensing of the Body and the Prayer of Final Commendation.
Rite of Committal and Burial/Entombment
Gathered at the grave or columbarium niche, the mourners, supported by family, friends and the faith community, take leave of the mortal remains of their beloved dead. As the earthly body is returned to the elements of the earth, the temporal journey is now made complete and Passover from this mortal life to eternal life is fully realized. Faith in the profound belief that life has changed, not ended, is the hope and consolation as they who mourn turn toward a new tomorrow.
click: Catholics and Cremation
click: Care of Cremated Remains