What to do when death is near or has occured in a family.
“If pastoral and personal considerations allow, the period before death may be an appropriate time to plan the funeral rites with the family and even with the family member who is dying. Although planning the funeral before death should be approached with sensitivity and care, it can have the effect of helping the one who is dying and the family face the reality of death with Christian hope. It can also help relieve the family of numerous details after the death and may allow them to benefit more fully from the celebration of the funeral rites.” (Order of Christian Funerals - OOCF, #17)
Step 1 — Before Death
Contact the parish office so that we may answer any questions the family may have about death and burial in the Catholic Church and discuss your dying family member’s wishes, taking into full consideration what is best for them and their loved ones. What kind of a funeral and burial do they want?
Step 2 — At Death
We know that many families have very limited funds, if any, to provide for the funeral cost of a loved one. Since the arrangements for death and burial require significant choices it is important to talk with the parish office as soon as a loved one dies. We are here to assist you in making the neccessary choices for your loved ones burial in accordance with the church's teachings. The following are some things that are important for you to know:
After these considerations have been and all other major decisions have taken place, the funeral director or crematory director can confirm your plans. Unless an autopsy is expected, they will then send a car to convey the body from its place of death to the funeral home or crematory.
At the parish, you will receive help planning either a Mass of Christian Burial or a Memorial Mass. The parish representative will help you pick the readings and responses, and offer options for music. You may want to have a program prepared for use during the Mass or prayer service. The rectory staff can provide you with information on this, as well.
If you choose to use a funeral home, the director will help you plan for the vigil, funeral and viewings. You will have to choose a casket, an important consumer option with a considerable price range. If you want him to, the director can help you order flowers and provide transportation for your family for the funeral Mass and burial at the cemetery. You will also be asked to provide information for a death notice in the newspaper. Bring as much vital statistic information as you can such as your family member’s social security number, life insurance information, etc.
At the cemetery, the cemetarian will assist you in selecting a burial location. For ground burial, memorialization is available either with upright monuments at selected locations or in-ground bronze plaques. An outer container is also needed to hold the casket. If the body has been cremated, in ground burial or entombment in a mausoleum niche are available options. These consumer choices at the cemetery are significant long-term decisions. This is why the Church recommends planning ahead, so that choices can be made without the heavy sorrow so debilitating at the time of death.
Step 3 — The Vigil
- It is okay to have a loved ones mortal remains cremated. The church prefers that the cremation take place after the funeral rite / mass so that the body may be present. Nonetheless, in cases of financial hardship a simple cremation may take place and the cremated remains can be brought for the funeral rite / mass afterwards. There are several cremation only services available in the San Marcos area with minnimum cost ranging in the $700-800 range.
- If there is no cemetary plot, please note that many cemetaries allow for two to three cremated remains to be placed above the remains of another loved one. They will open up a grave for you and there is no church requirement for any additional items (i.e., chairs, canopy, etc.) at the gravside. Thus the cost should be minnimal.
- The minimum cost of a full service funeral on average is around $6,000 excluding the cost of the cemetary plot.
- If cremation is chosen, you must bury the cremated remains as soon as possible after you have received them from the crematory. While you wait to have the funeral rites / mass for your loved one please keep their remains in a place of honor with a candle burning beside them as a sign of respect. You are not to hold onto the remains for months or years, they must be buried.
- Cremated remains must not be divided up among family members or friends. The remains must all be kept together and buried in one location promptly after death. In addition to this one may not have their ashes or the ashes of a love one scattered over water or land. The remains must be kept in the urn as the are interred in land or water.
The vigil is held either at the funeral home, private residence or in the parish church. The Church provides a liturgy of the Word for the comfort of family and friends. It is also traditional to have a priest, deacon, nun, family member or friend lead the mourners in the Rosary. The vigil is a time to pray for the soul of the faithful departed and all the other souls of family members. It is a time to remember the life of the deceased and comfort the living.
“At the vigil, the Christian community keeps watch with the family in prayer to the God of mercy and finds strength in Christ’s presence. It is the first occasion among the funeral rites for the solemn reading of the word of God. In this time of loss, the family and community turn to God's word as the source of faith and hope, as light and life in the face of darkness and death.” (
Step 4 — The Funeral
The Mass of Christian Burial with the presence of the body or cremated remains of the deceased in the church provides the full meaning of the Eucharistic sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Here, the family is reminded that this loved one who was baptized in Christ, and nourished at the altar, still lives on, and shares in the hope of the Resurrection of the body. The Church asks that any eulogies for the deceased take place after the Mass is ended, before the final blessing.
The Memorial Mass for the Dead takes place without the presence of the body. A Memorial service of prayers is another option with the liturgy of the Word, although the Church most highly encourages the Eucharistic celebration to pray for the dead and comfort the mourners.
“At the funeral liturgy, 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 paschal mystery. Through the Holy Spirit, the community is joined together in faith as one Body in Christ to reaffirm in sign and symbol, word and gesture, that each believer through baptism shares in Christ’s death and resurrection and can look to the day when all the elect will be raised up and united in the kingdom of light and peace.” (
Step 5 — The Burial
The Church asks that the burial of the body take place after the Funeral, preferably in the sacred ground of a Catholic cemetery. Catholic cemeteries call to mind our faith in the Risen Christ as the faithful wait together in joyful hope for the resurrection of their bodies.
At the graveside, the priest or deacon leads a service of prayers, blessing the grave and praying for the soul of the deceased and all the other souls buried in the cemetery. Because the Church recognizes the great dignity of the human body, she asks that cremated remains never be scattered, but buried in the sacred ground of a cemetery. This is in keeping with the sanctity of the body and provides a place for the family to gather in prayer.
“The rite [of committal] marks the separation in this life of the mourners from the deceased, and through it the community assists them as they complete their care for the deceased and lay the body to rest. The act of committal is a stark and powerful expression of this separation. When carried out in the midst of the community of faith, the committal can help the mourners to face the end of one relationship with the deceased and to begin a new one based on prayerful remembrance, gratitude and the hope of resurrection and reunion.” (
Step 6 — Remembrance
The weeks and months following a death in the family are numbing and difficult. Prayer and participation in the life of the Church can provide comfort and a way of continuing the relationship with the deceased family member. Visits to the cemetery also provide comfort and an ongoing assurance of the Church's hope in the resurrection of the dead. Every day, family members experience the peace and comfort that comes from visiting the ground set aside and made sacred, the resting place of their loved ones.