The death of a loved one can be a traumatic experience for many of us. As a Catholic priest, I often meet with families who don’t practice their faith on a regular basis. They come to me because their loved one desired to be laid to rest in accordance with the traditions of the Church. They find themselves in my office looking for guidance on this process, but much of the time they’re also looking for something more: comfort and hope.
When I meet with individuals who are not actively living their faith, I share with them messages of scripture, of the resurrection and of God’s unending love for us all. I also remind them that mourning is a process. It’s not over in a day, a week or even a month.
That’s why the Catholic Funeral Rites are composed of three parts. They’re designed to help families come to terms with their loss and navigate through the storm of the grieving process. It begins with the Vigil (also referred to as the Wake) during which family and friends gathers to pray for the deceased and offer support for those who remain. During the Funeral Mass, the community of faithful celebrate the funeral liturgy, thanking God for the gift of eternal life and commending the departed to His merciful care.
During the Rite of Committal, the third and concluding part of the Funeral Rite that takes place at the cemetery, we say a last goodbye as we commit the body to its final resting place. The act of interring the remains of our loved one in the ground or in a vault makes the loss tangible. It helps us begin the process of finding closure, and it also provides us with a place in which to visit and pray in the future.
Though this is a difficult process, the Catholic Funeral Rites are essential to the healing process. They are a critical part of accepting a loss and moving forward to a life without a loved one, and they can’t and shouldn’t be rushed. During these challenging moments, though, the Lord is by our side. I find comfort in the following words from the Roman Missal, which I often share with families in mourning: “Indeed for your faithful, Lord, life is changed not ended.”
Fr. Greg Menegay, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Scottsdale.