How to Write a Catholic Obituary: Step-By-Step

Updated

Writing an obituary for your loved one may be emotionally challenging, but there are many free obituary templates online to assist you with the process. 

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If you’re writing the obituary for a Catholic loved one, there are extra considerations to be made regarding the naming of the services. While we will assist you with some of these guidelines, it’s always helpful to consult with your priest, helping you with the funeral.

Steps for Writing an Obituary for a Catholic Loved One

Typically, an obituary reads like a news story. The purpose of an obituary is to notify others about the death of an individual. At the same time, the obituary also relates facts about the person’s life and provides a list of family members who survive the deceased. 

While some modern obituaries may include a few phrases that offer an emotional tribute to the deceased, most of the time, those words are saved for private conversations or a short eulogy or tribute.

Here are some suggested steps on how to write an obituary.

Step 1: Set the date, time, and location for all of the services

One of the purposes of publishing an obituary is so that you can share the date, time, and location of the services with those who would like to attend. While you can certainly write the core of the obituary at any time, it can’t be published until you have talked with all parties involved with planning the services. 

For Catholics, there may be several services to plan: the Vigil (or wake), the Funeral Mass, and the Rite of Committal. This means you may need to coordinate with a funeral home, church, cemetery, the priest, and all the immediate family members to determine the schedule of events. 

Step 2: Consult a list of details that are usually included in an obituary

Some people become so overwhelmed with grief that they have a difficult time formulating coherent thoughts. We understand the brain fog that comes with grief, and for that reason, here is a list of facts you might want to make sure you include in the obituary before submitting it for publication.

  • Full name of the deceased, including their middle name or initial, maiden name, and nickname, if applicable  
  • Age at the time of death
  • Where the deceased was living at the time of death 
  • Day of the week and date of death (month, day, and year)
  • Place and cause of death, if you wish to include this information 
  • Birth date (month, day, and year) and place of birth
  • Names of parents
  • Marriage(s), including date (month and year), location(s), and name of spouse(s)
  • Education: high school, college, or other educational institution
  • Military service
  • Achievements, awards, and other forms of recognition
  • Church and organization memberships
  • Employment history
  • List of survivors
  • List of those who preceded your loved one in death

Can you provide all of these details off the top of your head? If not, you may need to go on a fact-finding mission before you can complete this writing task.

Step 3: Gather facts about your loved one

You may think that you know everything there is to know about your loved one, but do you know what rank your loved one achieved while serving in the military? Do you know the year the deceased got married or the degree your loved one earned in college? 

You’ll probably need to go on a fact-finding mission to uncover some of those details before writing your loved one’s obituary. Of course, the surviving spouse or partner would probably be the best resource, but you may also want to talk with the deceased’s surviving parents, siblings, and children. 

You may also need to look in your loved one’s personal papers to find copies of their diplomas or discharge papers. A resume or job profile may also be helpful, even though an obituary should not read like a curriculum vitae. 

Step 4: Consult with other close family members about what details to include

Writing an obituary isn’t always a cut-and-dried process. Divorces and estranged relationships may make it difficult to know who to include in the list of marriages or survivors. You may want to consult sources regarding obituary etiquette if you aren’t sure how to proceed. 

For example, do you include the name of your loved one’s ex-wife if the relationship was volatile even after the divorce was finalized? Do you list the name of the son who had been estranged from the family for decades? Do you list children as “step” or siblings as “half”?

There is no legal requirement to write an obituary, and the facts that you include are up to the discretion of the deceased’s family. Try to reach a consensus if you aren’t sure what details to include, but keep in mind that some familial relationships may be hurt or mended based on an obituary’s wording.

Step 5: Include details about the services

The Catholic Church has specific guidelines for end-of-life services. Check with the priest who is assisting you with the Mass to help you with the wording in the obituary.

Vigil or wake

Include the hours and location for the vigil, wake, or visitation. While most of the time, these services allow others to “drop in” to express condolences to the members of the family, they may often include a brief scripture reading, prayer, or homily, as well. 

Include the specific time that the service will occur, so devout Catholics can be given the opportunity to attend. Here’s an example: “Visitation will be from 6 to 8 p.m. at Roberts Funeral Home, with the Vigil for the Deceased (or Rosary) at 6:30 p.m.”

Funeral Mass

A Catholic funeral service is called a Mass. When giving the details for these services in the obituary, it is often written in this manner:

“A Funeral Mass will be celebrated…” or “A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated…” Some sources say that the term “Memorial Mass” is used when the body or cremated remains aren’t present at the service.

Rite of Committal

A service is also often held at the cemetery. When including these details in the obituary, they’re often worded in this way: “the Rite of Committal and burial will be…” 

Step 6: Proofread and edit the obituary before submitting it for publication

Take great care with proofing your loved one’s obituary before turning it over to the funeral home for publication. Have several family members and friends look at the document to double-check that the facts are correct and that no critical details were excluded.

If you have time, allow the obituary to sit for 24 hours before submitting it for publication. This will allow you and your family to percolate on the document and think about other details you might want to include. 

You may also want to think about removing some of the details from your loved one’s obituary. Unfortunately, some criminals use details found in an obituary for crimes related to fraud and identity theft. For example, do you really want the general public to know that your mom’s house is sitting empty? This fact may be uncovered if the obituary says that the individual died at home and was preceded in death by her husband. 

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Catholic Obituary Examples

Here are some fictitious obituary snippets to get you started on the process of writing your loved one’s obituary. Some newspapers may require that a specific format is followed and may edit the text, but others may publish what you submit word for word. 

John Powers, known to friends as “Jack,” passed away on October 12, 2020. He was 87 years old. 

A native of Springfield, Jack graduated from Springfield High School in 1951. He then earned a degree in Secondary Education from Iowa State University, which is where he met Susan (who would become his wife in 1957.) 


A Prayer Service will be held on Wednesday, February 12, at 6 p.m., at Rogers Funeral Home in Springfield. The family will receive guests following the Rosary. 

A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated on Thursday, February 13, at 10 a.m. at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church in Springfield. The Rite of Committal will follow at St. Matthew’s Church Cemetery.


Rose Marie was preceded in death by her husband, Jack. Her survivors include daughters Mary Smith of Springfield and Kathy Jones of Brookside. 

Seek Help During This Difficult Time

If the idea of writing your loved one’s obituary makes you nervous, ask for help. Many funeral homes offer obituary writing as a part of their services. You may also receive assistance from the funeral officiant or a member of the newspaper staff.

Cake’s blog also includes a ton of resources for families that are new to funeral planning. Whether you need assistance choosing a reading for the service or a poem for the funeral program, you can turn to us for help.


Sources:

  1. Diocesan Guidelines for Christian Funerals.” Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse. https://www.syracusediocese.org/offices/liturgy/diocesan-guidelines-for-christian-funerals/
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