The Catholic religion is rich with traditions and rituals. One of the best-known Catholic ceremonies is the Catholic funeral Mass, which has several specific elements to it. The Mass is one specific aspect of a Catholic funeral, symbolizing the resurrection of Christ.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- How Do You Have a Catholic Funeral Service Without a Mass?
- How Long Is a Catholic Funeral Service Without Mass?
People of all faiths are welcome to participate in and witness a funeral Mass. The only limitation is communion, as they can't consume the consecrated bread and wine (or wafers and grape juice, depending on your church). Since that’s a significant part of the funeral Mass, you might wonder: “Can you even have a Catholic funeral without including Mass?”
The short answer is yes. Read on to see what that looks like.
Tip: We know that planning or attending a funeral is hard no matter what religion you practice. For help with this—and all the other challenges you might be facing after a loss—check out our post-loss checklist.
How Do You Have a Catholic Funeral Service Without a Mass?
Catholic funeral services are incredibly intricate. Over the centuries, they have evolved into highly detailed rituals. Here, we break down what you can expect at a Catholic funeral that doesn’t feature a Mass.
At the vigil (which is also often called a wake), family and friends gather together to remember the deceased. A vigil can be held in a family home, at a Catholic church, or in another location. It can take place anytime after death and before the funeral Mass and burial. Some wakes last for days, while others only last a few hours.
Traditional Catholic funerals will not include a eulogy, so the vigil gives people an opportunity to share fond memories of the deceased in community with each other. People often pray at vigils. The prayers may be led by a priest or deacon, but a knowledgeable layperson can also lead prayers if there are no priests available.
Informal Catholic funeral service
The church funeral is typically when a funeral Mass would take place. But even if you don’t have the full Mass, you can still have a less formal service that includes the traditional funeral prayers (also known as the funeral liturgy). Catholic funeral songs might also get played during an informal service.
If the deceased was Catholic, you may be able to hold the service in their regular church, even without a Mass. But that will vary from church to church, and is worth checking out if you are planning to have a service as part of a loved one’s funeral or your own funeral.
The Catholic religion is very particular about how a Catholic funeral should be done, and who should get one. Changing up the ceremony may not be an option. That means you may have to find a different venue to have a more informal funeral service.
COVID-19 Tip: If you can't hold a funeral in person, you might be able to have a remote Catholic funeral using a service like GatheringUs. You'll need to discuss the specifics with your church to make sure a virtual funeral is an option and how to go about it.
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Finally, once the wake has concluded and the funeral service is done, it is time for burial. But before we talk about what the burial looks like, there are some things you should know. Some religions don’t allow for bodies to be embalmed after death. Catholics, however, do approve of it. Many wakes include the visitation of the body, so embalming is considered necessary.
Cremation was frowned upon in Catholicism for a long time. It wasn’t until 1963 that Pope Paul VI proclaimed that Catholics may be cremated. Even then, there are rules. Ashes should be interred in a cemetery or kept in an urn in a columbarium. They cannot be scattered, or kept in an urn at home.
Also, much of the Catholic tradition indicates that the body needs to be present at the funeral Mass. If the deceased wished to be cremated, that might be one reason to skip the Mass. Otherwise, there would be a lengthy delay between the funeral service and the burial.
When the burial takes place, it begins with a committal service. This service, called the Catholic Rite of Commital, can take place graveside, or in a mausoleum or columbarium. An ordained priest or deacon will bless the site.
Once the site has been blessed, the body or cremains will be interred. Then the priest or deacon will lead mourners in prayer. The final prayer is usually the Catholic version of the Lord’s Prayer.
How Long Is a Catholic Funeral Service Without Mass?
The funeral Mass is a major part of a Catholic funeral service. A funeral service without a Mass would generally only take thirty minutes, whereas one with a full Mass would take about sixty minutes.
Having a Catholic Funeral Service With No Mass
The Catholic funeral Mass is a deeply significant ritual. Over the centuries, it has become cemented into its own unique ritual. But things that have been steeped in tradition still have some flexibility. You can have a Catholic funeral without actually having a funeral Mass.
Pairing a more standard memorial service with a Catholic vigil and burial and skipping the funeral Mass can achieve that goal.
- “Catholic Funerals: A Guide to Catholic Funeral Etiquette, Rites, and Traditions.” Funeralguide.co.uk, Funeral Guide, 25 September 2019, www.funeralguide.co.uk/help-resources/arranging-a-funeral/religious-funerals/catholic-funerals#.