death of a loved one is a time of sorrow and profound grief.
It is also a time when our Christian faith in the Resurrection of Christ
can offer great comfort and allow us to experience grace in the midst of
sadness. The prayerful rituals of the Catholic Church at the time
of death are meant to bring hope and consolation to family members and
friends even as they commend the soul of the deceased person to the
loving mercy of God.
St. James Cathedral parish offers the following list of questions and
answers in the hope that it will help family members better understand
the way the Cathedral celebrates funerals and assist them as they
prepare to celebrate the funeral of their loved one in the most fitting
What is a Catholic funeral Mass?
The funeral Mass is the normal way the Catholic Church
commemorates a person’s death. At the funeral Mass, family,
friends, and parishioners gather to pray for the deceased and for the
deceased person’s family and friends using scripture readings, prayers,
and special rites. Because the Eucharist is the memorial of Christ’s own
saving death and resurrection, it is the most appropriate way to
celebrate at the time of death.
Are Catholic funerals always celebrated at
No. In some instances it can be quite appropriate to
celebrate a funeral outside the Mass. This is commonly done, for
example, when all or most of the family members of the deceased are not
Catholic. Another example would be the funeral of a non-Catholic person
who was married to a Catholic and had no other church affiliation.
In both cases, a Liturgy of the Word without the celebration of the
Eucharist is appropriate.
Who presides at funeral celebrations?
Normally, the pastor of the Cathedral presides at the
funeral Mass. There are exceptions, however; for instance, if the
family of the deceased has a priest who is a relative or a very close
friend, he might be asked to preside. Also, a deacon may preside
at a funeral outside of the Mass.
Where are funerals celebrated at the
Funerals are usually celebrated in the Cathedral
although small funerals are often celebrated in the Cathedral Chapel.
Does the casket need to be present at the
If at all possible, the remains of the deceased should
be present during the funeral Mass in order for the Church’s full rites
for the dead to be celebrated.
Does the Church permit cremation?
The Church does permit cremation although it does not
accord it the same value as burial of the body. And even in the
case when cremation is going to take place, the Church has a strong and
clear preference for bringing the body of the deceased to the Church for
the funeral and delaying the cremation until afterwards. The
reason for this is set forth in the Church’s Order for Christian
Funerals: “The Christian faithful are unequivocally confronted by
the mystery of life and death when they are faced with the presence of
the body of one who has died… The body was once washed in the
waters of baptism, anointed with the oil of salvation, and fed with the
Bread of life. The presence of the body brings forcefully to mind
the Church’s conviction that the human body is a temple of the Holy
Spirit, destined for future glory at the resurrection of the dead.”
If cremation takes place, are the cremated
remains brought to the Church?
Yes, the cremated remains, enclosed in a worthy
container or urn, are brought to the Church for the funeral. After
the funeral, they are buried in the ground or entombed in a mausoleum or
columbarium. The Church does not allow the practice of scattering
cremated remains on the sea, from the air, or on the ground, or of
keeping cremated remains in the home of a relative or friend of the
deceased. Such practices do not properly honor the dignity of the human
What is a “memorial Mass”?
A “memorial Mass” is a funeral celebrated in those
exceptional cases when it is not possible for the remains of the
deceased, whether in a casket or an urn, to be present.
When may funerals take place at the Cathedral?
Most often, funerals take place on weekdays, usually
in mid-morning or in early afternoon. They may also be celebrated
on a Saturday morning if no wedding is scheduled. Funeral Masses may not
be celebrated on Sunday.
How are funerals at the Cathedral scheduled?
Funerals are scheduled in consultation with the
Pastor and funeral coordinator. As far as possible, the needs
and wishes of the family are given first consideration, although the
availability of the pastor and of the Cathedral or Chapel must also be
taken into account.
Does the family of the deceased participate in
Members of the family are encouraged to participate
actively in the funeral. There are a number of ways for them to be
involved. Some family members usually meet with the funeral
coordinator to plan the funeral. Then, prior to the service, family
members are present in the church to welcome friends to the
celebration. They can also choose the pallbearers or even serve as
pallbearers. They almost always place the funeral pall (a reminder
of the white garment received at baptism) over the casket at the
beginning of the liturgy. Family members can also proclaim the readings
from the scriptures and present the gifts of bread and wine for the
celebration of the Eucharist. In the case of a funeral when the
cremated remains are present, a family member usually carries the urn in
Are funerals celebrated for people who
are not Cathedral parishioners?
The long custom of the Catholic Church is for the
deceased to be buried from his or her own parish church. Because
of this, as a general rule, people whose funerals are celebrated at the
Cathedral are parishioners or people who have had a long relationship
with the Cathedral parish. Even if not officially registered, the
person should have been involved in some way with the Cathedral
Are there policies regarding music for the
Yes. The music for the funeral is provided by
Cathedral musicians. Once the funeral has been scheduled, the
Cathedral organist will contact a designated member of the family to
choose appropriate musical selections.
Are eulogies ever permitted at funerals?
The priest or deacon who presides at the funeral will
give a homily during the service. And while the homily differs
from a eulogy, most homilists make the effort to speak in a personal way
about the deceased and to relate the scripture readings to the life of
the deceased. For this reason, and because many eulogies tend to
be highly personal in nature and not in keeping with the prayerful
nature of the funeral liturgy, the Church discourages the traditional
funeral eulogy or suggests that, if one is to take place, it be given at
the reception or even at the cemetery.
However, if circumstances indicate that a eulogy is appropriate, it is
offered by a family member or friend at the end of the funeral service
and should be no more than 500 words in length. The Cathedral also
requires that the text of the eulogy be shared with the funeral
coordinator at least 24 hours before the funeral. This is done in
order to ensure the appropriateness of the remarks and to assist the
presider who will not want to make statements in his homily that will
later be repeated in the eulogy.
does the burial take place?
When the body has been brought to the church, the
burial usually takes place immediately after the funeral or, sometimes,
after the reception. If cremation is to follow the funeral, the burial
of the remains takes place some time later. The priest who
presided at the funeral or the funeral coordinator leads the graveside
service with family members and friends in attendance.
What is the Cathedral’s practice with regard
to Vigil celebrations and Rosaries?
In some cases, families choose to have a vigil for the
deceased during the time following death and before the funeral liturgy.
The vigil may be celebrated in the home of the deceased or in the
funeral home. It may also be celebrated in the church, although
scheduling problems in the Cathedral frequently make this difficult if
not impossible. Some families, because of the deceased member’s
devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, choose to recite the rosary at this
time. None of these vigil celebrations require the presence of a
priest or deacon and can be led by family members. The funeral
coordinator will be happy to furnish appropriate materials
Does the Cathedral have space for a reception?
Yes. Reception space is usually available at the
Cathedral, whether in the Pastoral Outreach Center (which accommodates
about 100) or the Cathedral Hall (which accommodates about 300). When
the weather is favorable, it is also possible to have the reception
outside in the Archbishop Murphy Courtyard. Your funeral
coordinator can provide detailed information about reception
facilities and how receptions are handled.
Are there fees involved with a Cathedral
There is no fee for the funeral Mass. Some
families choose to make a memorial offering to the Cathedral in honor of
the deceased. There are fixed fees for music at the funeral although
these fees are waived in cases of need.
For more information, contact
Suzanne Lee, Family