Funeral Rites of the Roman Catholic Church

In the Funeral Rites of the Roman Catholic Church, we celebrate the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

We believe that Christians who have been baptized into the death and resur-rection of Christ will pass with Him from death to life.

We offer prayers and petitions for the deceased and their families. In this way, we pray for God’s consoling hope for ourselves and others.

We acknowledge the pain and grief as-sociated with the death of a loved one and as Christ’s presence on earth, the Church seeks to aid all who mourn.

The norm that the Church offers us is that there are three rites for a deceased Christian. Taken together, the three moments are one prayer, like a procession that moves from the deathbed to the cemetery.

1. The Vigil for the Deceased

2. The Funeral Mass

3. The Committal

In all three instances, the involvement of the family in the planning process is important. For example, the family has the opportunity to choose readings from Sacred Scripture and music for the various parts of the celebration.

Vigil for the Deceased 

The Christian community keeps watch with the family in prayer to the God of mercy and finds strength in Christ’s presence. The Vigil centers around readings from Sacred Scripture. It also includes prayer, reflection on God’s Word, music and song, and silent meditation. The Vigil is normally celebrated the evening before the Funeral Mass, either at the funeral home, the church, or another appropriate location. 

The recitation of the Rosary at the time of a funeral is an old Catholic custom. This prayer is not a part of the Funeral Rites of the Catholic Church. It should not, therefore, replace the vigil service so that all people who are present—Catholics, Protestants, and even those who are not Christian—may participate and feel that it is their prayer, too. The Rosary, on the other hand, is foreign to all those who are not Catholic, and to many Catholics as well. If they wish, the family may lead the recitation of the Rosary at some other time. 

Due to various circumstances, it may be decided that the Vigil service is not appropriate or workable. The Funeral Rites may begin instead with the Funeral Mass. 

The Funeral Mass

The Funeral Mass is the central liturgical celebration of the Christian community for the deceased. At this Mass the community gathers with the family and friends of the deceased to give praise and thanks to God for Christ’s victory over sin and death, to commend the deceased to God’s tender mercy and compassion, and to seek strength in the proclamation of the mystery of Christ’s dying and rising. 

Normally the body is greeted at the entrance of the church. The coffin, bare of flowers and /or decorations, is sprinkled with holy water to recall the Sacrament of our Baptism. The funeral pall, a large white cloth that reminds us of our baptismal garment and life in Christ, is then placed on the coffin by the family members or friends. The priest, family, and body of the deceased then move to the altar. 

All present are encouraged to participate in songs and responses. All Catholics, who are able, are encouraged to receive Communion at the Funeral Mass. 

Cremation is becoming more and more a common occurrence in our society. The Church clearly prefers and urges that the body of the deceased be present for the funeral rites but there is no longer a prohibition against cremation. Many families do choose this option for very good reasons. The cremated remains should be buried in a grave, mausoleum or columbarium. 

On occasion a Memorial Mass (without the body present) or a Memorial Service (non-Eucharist prayer service) may be more appropriate. The parish priest can help you in making these decisions. 

 The Committal

The Rite of Committal, usually taking place at the graveside, is the final act of the faith community. It is a very brief ritual that acknowledges the reality of separation and commends the deceased to God’s love. The deceased passes with the farewell prayers of the community of believers into the welcoming company of those who need faith no longer but see God face to face. In some cases, because of weather and distance, this service may be prayed in the Church at the conclusion of the Funeral Mass. 

Further Guidelines  

It is our hope at Saint Michael Parish that families will contact the parish office immediately upon the death of a loved one. Usually families will be put in touch with one of the priests or a staff person. That person can help put you in touch with a funeral home that is familiar with our faith traditions and customs. The priest or staff person will be happy to meet with you to explain the various options available to you in planning the funeral service. Our goal is to plan a tasteful and appropriate ceremony. 

Music is an integral part of any liturgical celebration. Because the funeral rites are prayers of the Christian community, the music should come from our worship tradition. Other non-liturgical music might be more appropriate at a reception following the Funeral Mass. 

 Funerals offer an extraordinary opportunity for families and friends to gather and share memories. Frequently a reception (luncheon or punch and cookies) provides a wonderful occasion to renew acquaintances and celebrate a life well-lived. The Altar Society is happy to provide this service and simply asks to be reimbursed for the cost of the food. 

The customary time we celebrate a Funeral Mass or Memorial Mass is noon on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. 

Our Calvary Cemetery is located in Tumwater. For information, contact the Cemetery Director at (360) 292-7138. 

You may wish to establish a living memorial in the name of your loved one. Friends are often at a loss as to the appropriate way to express their love. Your or the loved one’s favorite charity or the charity of the donor’s choice might be a way to let the deceased be remembered. 

We as a parish family are here to assist you. Please do not hesitate to call upon us. We support you in prayer and assure you that as a community gathered around the Table of the Lord, we pray, “Lord, remember those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith.” Those you have loved will not be forgotten. 


1208 11th Ave. SE
Olympia, WA 98501

1835 Overhulse Rd. NW
Olympia, WA 98502

(360) 754-4667