How to Plan a Catholic Funeral: 15 Item Checklist

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Planning a funeral, whether it’s for a deceased loved one or for yourself in advance, is never easy. And the task can seem even more daunting when religious traditions and beliefs, like those of the Catholic Church, are involved. 

Luckily, you’re not alone in planning a Catholic funeral. According to Catholic tradition, every member of the Catholic Church is part of the Body of Christ. So when a member passes away, the whole community gets involved in carrying out the traditional funeral rites. 

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If you’re in charge of planning a funeral for a loved one who was a member of the Catholic Church, you might be intimidated by the rites and traditions involved. But with the help of your local church, your funeral director, and the checklist we’ll provide below, you can create a Catholic funeral that’s both personal and traditional. 

Checklist for Planning a Catholic Funeral Service

If you’re planning a Catholic funeral for someone else, like a family member or friend, there are some essential items to keep in mind. 

You might be relieved to know that many parts of a Catholic funeral are standard for every service. So the decisions you need to make may be more limited than they would be with another type of funeral service. 

But the traditional nature of a Catholic funeral also means it’s important to pay attention to detail. Make sure you check off every item on this list as you plan a Catholic for a departed friend or family member. 

1. Look for a will or end-of-life plans 

If your loved one left behind a will or end-of-life documents, that’s the perfect place to start. They might have listed their specific preferences with regard to their funeral, and they might have even chosen a casket, headstone, or burial plot. Some people even pay for funeral and burial services for themselves ahead of time or set aside a funeral fund.

It’s important to check your loved one’s documents and contact their lawyer to check for a will, first and foremost. Otherwise, you could end up making decisions about the funeral that you have to change later on according to your loved one’s last wishes. Or worse, you might not discover their last wishes until after the funeral and burial have already taken place. 

2. Contact the funeral director 

Just like any other funeral service, one of your first steps should be speaking with a funeral director. If your loved one has passed away, you’re probably already working with a funeral home. And even if you’re having a traditional Catholic funeral, the funeral home will continue to be involved throughout the process.

Think of your funeral director as your guide throughout the entire funeral and final disposition (burial or cremation) process, from start to finish. They have experience in planning and arranging funerals of all types, including religious ceremonies, so they’re one of your most important resources. 

Your funeral director can help with all of the following: 

  • Taking care of your loved one’s remains before the funeral takes place
  • Choosing burial or cremation
  • Whether to embalm the body or not 
  • Whether to have an open- or closed-casket wake 
  • Choosing a cemetery and headstone if you choose burial
  • Transporting your loved one’s remains and casket to the church
  • Working with the church and cemetery to confirm the date and time of the wake, funeral service, and burial or cremation 
  • Arranging small details like flowers and funeral programs 

If you haven’t chosen a funeral home, you can ask your loved one’s church which one they prefer to work with or pick one based on recommendations from family and friends. 

3. Contact the church

In addition to working with a funeral director, you’ll also work together with the pastoral staff at your loved one’s church. You should contact the church early on to find out who you need to speak to. 

You’ll also provide this information to your funeral director so that the two can communicate about details like transportation, times, and dates. 

If you’re not a member of the church yourself, you might feel hesitant to reach out. But keep in mind that planning and conducting funerals is one of the essential duties of the local Catholic church. They do this kind of thing on a regular basis, and they’ll be happy you contacted them if the person was a member of the parish. 

4. Create a budget

Practicalities around cost are an unfortunate reality of planning any funeral service. So before you start making decisions, it’s important to know how much you and other family members are willing and able to spend. 

If you’re having a hard time finding the funds for a funeral director and a burial plot, the church may also be able to help. The Catholic Church doesn’t charge for funeral services for parishioners, although some people choose to make a donation. 

5. Decide on cremation or burial

If the person didn’t express a preference for burial or cremation, you’ll have to make that decision on their behalf. Luckily, the Catholic Church makes that decision a bit easier by strongly recommending burial over cremation. 

If your loved one preferred cremation, or if there’s another reason to cremate their remains, however, let the clergy know. They’ll help you decide whether or not it’s appropriate to cremate according to your loved one’s faith. 

Whether you go with burial or cremation, the church will hold the same Liturgy or Mass beforehand. 

6. Choose pre-funeral services 

There are several options for Catholic services before the actual funeral takes place. 

  • The Vigil for the Deceased is a Catholic prayer service that often takes place after death and before the funeral. It features scripture readings, as well as eulogies or words of remembrance, and it usually lasts around 20 minutes.  
  • The Rosary is the recitation of the Rosary for about 20 minutes. It may be led by a church leader or by a family member. 
  • The wake, viewing, or visitation is the time designated for attendees to view the body and say a final goodbye. 

You can choose one of these or all of them, and they typically take place the evening before the funeral Mass or on the morning of the service. 

7. Decide on the funeral service

There are two types of Catholic funeral ceremonies, and you’ll have to choose one. 

  • The Funeral Mass or Mass of Christian Burial is the most common and usually the preferred option for Catholic funerals. 

A Holy Mass is considered the highest form of prayer in Catholicism, and a Funeral Mass features a special Liturgy. 

The service must take place in a Catholic Church, and it includes selected readings from scripture. A Funeral Mass usually lasts around one hour. 

  • The Funeral Liturgy outside Mass. You can, in some cases, conduct the Funeral Liturgy outside of the Holy Mass. You can celebrate the Liturgy in any church or chapel, and it lasts about half as long as a Funeral Mass. 

The Liturgy follows a similar format as the Funeral Mass, but it doesn’t include some prayers that are specific to a Mass. 

8. Choosing readings and music

A Catholic Funeral Mass features a number of readings and hymns. By meeting with the Deacon or Priest, you can choose the readings and music you would prefer for the funeral. Your loved one might have had favorite pieces of scripture, or they might have listed their preferences in their end-of-life plans. 

9. Plan the Rite of Committal and reception

If you or your loved one chose burial, the Priest will accompany your family to the cemetery following the funeral. There, the Priest will recite traditional prayers to bless the burial and commit the person’s soul to God. 

You’ll need to plan your funeral reception for after the funeral and the Rite of Committal.  

10. Write an obituary

Finally, if you want to share the word about your loved one’s funeral service, as well as the services taking place beforehand, you can do so by writing an obituary. This will share with the community when and where your loved one’s service is taking place, so members of the parish can attend. 

The church may also have its own newspaper or method of communication that allows you to post a more private obituary or notice. 

ยป MORE: Taking steps after a loved one's death is a final act of kindness. Here's your complete checklist.

 

Checklist for Pre-Planning a Catholic Funeral Service

If you’re a member of the Catholic Church yourself, you might be thinking about your own funeral. Many people pre-plan their own funerals, including religious ceremonies. 

Doing so can ensure the service goes the way you would want it to, even after you’re gone. And it can help relieve a great deal of stress for your family and friends, who would otherwise have to plan the funeral themselves. 

If you want to pre-plan your own Catholic funeral, check off the items on the list below. 

1. Name a point person 

You might be able to pre-plan your own funeral, but unfortunately, someone else will still need to carry out those plans. Choose one or two people you trust to follow your instructions when the time comes. 

They can get help from family and friends through the process, but just one or two people should be in charge overall, in case decisions need to be made. 

You can also name this person executor of your estate to ensure that they have the right to make decisions on your behalf. 

2. Decide on the details of the Catholic service 

If you’re planning your own Catholic funeral, you have the opportunity to decide the following: 

  • What kind of service you want: a full Catholic Funeral Mass or a Funeral Liturgy 
  • Which readings and hymns you want at the funeral
  • Which pre-funeral services you want to take place: the reading of the Rosary, a Vigil for the Deceased, and/or a wake

3. Decide on the details of body preparation and burial 

In addition to the details of your Catholic service, you can also decide how you’d like your body treated after your death. You should decide: 

  • Whether or not you want to be embalmed 
  • Whether you want to be cremated or buried 
  • Whether you want an open-casket wake
  • Where you want to be buried, or what you want to be done with your ashes 
  • What kind of headstone you want 
  • How you’d like your clothes, hair, and makeup styled for viewing and/or burial
  • What kind of casket you prefer 

4. Write your plans down

Planning your own funeral won’t do much good if no one ever sees your plans. Make sure you record your plans for a Catholic funeral clearly in your end-of-life documents and tell someone in your family how to access those plans. Make a copy of your plans, and give them to your “point person,” as described above. 

You can also make a copy of your plans and give them to your church’s Deacon for future use, as well as to your lawyer. Let your family members know that these individuals also possess copies of your funeral wishes. 

Make sure that if you update your plans at any point, you give the new version to anyone who has the prior version of your plans. 

5. Start saving for your funeral costs 

Planning your own funeral can take a great deal of stress off the shoulders of family and friends after your death. But if they have to pay for all of the things on your list, the process can still become overwhelming. 

You can help with that problem by setting aside a funeral fund. One way to do so is to set up a trust that can be accessed after your death by a specific person. You can also pre-pay for certain aspects of your funeral and burial, although it’s not always recommended. 

Attending a Catholic Funeral

If you’re planning a Catholic funeral for someone else, you’ll need to attend the service, too. And if you’ve never been to a Catholic funeral Mass before, you might not know exactly what to expect. 

Luckily, you’ll be able to follow the lead of the Deacon or Priest throughout the service, and you won’t be called upon to take charge. The church and your funeral director will walk you through what you’ll need to do before, during, and after the service, so it’s a good idea to take note of those things. 

And finally, all of the stress of planning and attending a Catholic funeral can take valuable time away from your own mourning period. So during the wake, funeral service, and burial, try to let go of those thoughts and take the time to say goodbye to the person you loved. 


Sources:

  1. “Planning for Catholic funerals at St. Boniface Church.” St. Boniface Church. http://st-boniface.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Funeral_Guidelines_St_Boniface_REVISED_Feb_2014.pdf
  2. “A guide to Catholic funerals.” St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church. https://www.smmcc.org/199

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