According to the 2016 Census, 22.6% of the population identified as Catholic, making it the most widely practiced form of Christianity in Australia.
For the most part, Catholic Funerals are similar to Christian Funerals, although they do have some important differences. This guide looks more closely at Catholic Funerals and the traditions you should observe when planning one. It covers the following topics:
- The Last Rites
- The Vigil
- Catholic Funeral Mass (or Memorial Mass)
- Dates Funeral Masses are Not Permitted
- Organ Donation under Catholicism
- Catholic Views on Cremation
- Rite of Committal
- The Cost of a Catholic Funeral
- Finding Catholic Funeral Directors
For more general information, see our Guide to Christian Funerals in Australia.
1. The Last Rites
When death is near for a Catholic, a priest should be called to give the dying person their last rites.
The last rites are a set of sacraments administered in order to prepare a person’s soul for death. In particular, the sacraments may include the Penance, Anointing of the Sick and the Viaticum.
2. The Vigil
The Vigil is similar to a viewing or a wake. Family and friends gather at the funeral home, church or family home to pray for and pay their respects to the deceased.
The Vigil usually takes place the night before the Funeral Mass and includes a number of prayers led by a priest, deacon or lay person who is familiar with the traditions. It is the appropriate time to remember the deceased and normally includes time for eulogies and speeches.
3. Catholic Funeral Mass (or Memorial Mass)
The Catholic Funeral Mass (or Memorial Mass if no body is present) takes place at a Catholic church. The Mass begins at the entrance to the church where the remains are sprinkled with holy water and covered with a pall. When the procession and the coffin arrive at the front of the Church it is customary for certain objects to be placed on the coffin, such as an open Bible and crucifix.
Catholic Funeral Masses typically do not include eulogies or funeral speeches, although family members and close friends are still able to participate in the service by giving readings of selected scriptures. However, not all churches and Funeral Masses follow the traditional practice so strictly. Some churches may permit eulogies, special musical performances, more contemporary music and other non-traditional elements.
If there are any non-traditional aspects that are important to include in your Catholic funeral service, you should speak to your priest ahead of time.
4. Dates Catholic Funeral Masses are Not Permitted
Catholic Funeral Masses are not permitted to be held on the holy days, including:
- Holy Thursday
- Good Friday
- Holy Saturday
- Easter Sunday
- Easter Season
Some of these periods can last for up to 50 days, so in some cases it may be necessary to conduct a Catholic Funeral service without Mass. In this case, the funeral liturgy is performed outside of Mass followed by the Rite of Committal. A Catholic Memorial Mass may then be held for the deceased at a later date following the holy period.
5. Organ Donation in the Catholic Church
The Catholic Church permits and encourages organ donation. The Catechsim provides that:
“Organ donation after death is a noble and meritorious act and is to be encouraged as a expression of generous solidarity.”
However, it is not permissible to bring about death prematurely even if it would allow organs to be donated to preserve the life of another person.
There is no issue with embalming under Catholicism. Indeed, if the funeral service is delayed and the body of the deceased will be present at the vigil, the family may choose to embalm or partially embalm in order to better preserve and present their loved one.
7. Catholic Views on Cremation
In the past, the Catholic Church did not permit cremation. Most Christian positions against cremation stem from the belief that on the Day of Judgment, the bodies of who have ever lived will be raised up from the dead and reunited with their spirits. Accordingly, if a person’s body is cremated there is nothing left to be joined with its spirit.
Today, it is permissible for Catholics to be cremated. However, most Catholic priests prefer that where possible the deceased’s body is present for the Catholic Funeral Mass, and the cremated remains should be buried rather than scattered.
For a full discussion, see this article on the views for and against cremation and burial.
8. Rite of Committal
The Rite of Committal is the final chance for friends and family to farewell their loved one. It takes place at the Catholic cemetery and involves prayers which convey a message of hope that the deceased will join others who have passed before them in Heaven where they will wait to be joined by those still living.
As part of the Rite of Committal the priest will bless the grave in which the body will be buried. The ceremony is often concluded with all attendees reciting the Lord’s Prayer.
9. The Cost of a Catholic Funeral
As with all funerals, the cost of a Catholic funeral is highly variable depending on the preferences of the family. However, if a family wants to comply with all of the traditions of a Catholic funeral, they can generally expect to pay more than the average as the funeral will require more planning and services.
10. How to Find Catholic Funeral Directors
As the largest denomination of the most popular religion in Australia, most funeral directors will be able to assist you in arranging a Catholic Funeral Service.
Gathered Here lets you compare over 660+ Catholic funeral directors around Australia. To search funeral directors in your area:
- Go to www.gatheredhere.com.au
- Select burial or cremation
- Select the type of funeral you are organising
- Enter your suburb and click “Compare”
For more guidance on finding a Catholic funeral director in your area, you can refer to our city specific guides:
- Catholic Funerals, Sydney
- Catholic Funerals, Melbourne
- Catholic Funerals, Brisbane
- Catholic Funerals, Adelaide
- Catholic Funerals, Perth
If you have any questions about Catholic funerals in Australia feel free to email us at email@example.com or leave us a message in the comments section below.
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