If you are very sick or dying, you may have feelings of helplessness, confusion, anger, regret or fear. For the Christian, the love of Jesus Christ can help to make sense of your suffering, and give you hope and spiritual support even if you are feeling very weak.
The Bible describes Jesus reaching out to the sick with compassion and tenderness: holding them, comforting them, offering them forgiveness and healing.
No one is forgotten by God. For Catholics, the support of the Church is given in a special way through the priest and the sacraments.
Sacraments are rituals that can help you to find new meaning in your suffering. As you learn to accept sickness and pain with a deeper trust, and offer to it to God as a prayer for others.
The Sacrament of Penance
Many Catholics know the Sacrament of Penance as Confession, since it involves the disclosure or confession of sins to a priest, or as the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
The Sacrament of Penance is the most important way that a Catholic can make peace with God and receive his or her forgiveness and inner healing. It also helps you to come to terms with the past and to heal your relationships with others.
If you are near to death, the priest can also give you an Apostolic Pardon. This is a special blessing that includes the prayer: “May God open to you the gates of paradise and welcome you to everlasting joy.”
Anointing of the sick
This sacrament is offered to people who are dying, and to those who are seriously ill, facing a serious operation, or who are simply very frail due to old age.
The priest prays over you and anoints your forehead and hands with holy oil. It brings a special gift of the Holy Spirit that gives spiritual strength, helping you to bear the trials of sickness with more confidence and trust.
It unites the person with Jesus Christ in his suffering and helps them to pray with and for the whole Church. It brings forgiveness and prepares them for their final journey towards God. In some cases, if it is God’s will, it can bring health and healing.
Holy Communion and Viaticum
Catholics believe that at Mass bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. This gift is known as Holy Communion. If you are unable to get to Mass, a priest or Extraordinary Minister can bring you Communion at home.
But when you are dying, the spiritual food of Holy Communion takes on a special significance. It becomes “food for the journey” (Viaticum in Latin), a seed of eternal life and a foretaste of the Resurrection.
As Jesus said: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
Prayers for the dying and for the dead
Even after all the sacraments have been celebrated, there are still important prayers that can be said to support those who are dying.
And after death, even in their shock and grief, the family will want to pray for the person who has died and for each other. And, if possible call the priest to pray with them at home or in hospital.
Contacting your parish
If you are Catholic and you are sick or dying, or if you are supporting a Catholic who is very ill, it’s important to contact us. Do this sooner rather than later, and ask if Fr Kevin can visit you at home.
Don’t be shy or embarrassed or worry if you have been distant from the Church. The parish wants to support you. And don’t leave it until the last minute, because the priest may not always be available in an emergency.
If you’re not Catholic but would appreciate the support of the Church, or if you would like to know more about how the sacraments can help you, please contact your local Catholic parish. The priest will always be happy to talk and pray with you, and think about what spiritual support would be helpful for you.
It’s never too late
Priests see it as a privilege to visit the sick and to bring them the sacraments. They will welcome your approach at any stage in your illness.
One priest says: “I once got a call to visit a young woman in a hospice who had terminal cancer. She hadn’t seen a priest in many years. We had a beautiful conversation. She unburdened herself, made a good confession, and received the Apostolic Pardon.
“I anointed her and gave her Holy Communion as Viaticum. She died three days later. I am absolutely sure she is at peace with the Lord now, because she gave her life to him even at the last moment, and he gave her his forgiveness and the gift of hope.”
What to do after someone had died
Throughout the Church’s history, Christian burial has been an integral part of Catholic life. Catholic dogmas and doctrines relating to death and resurrection have been reflected in the liturgy, devotions and customs surrounding the death and burial of the faithful. Catholic belief in death as the entrance into eternity, hope in the resurrection, recognition of the value of prayer for the deceased, reverence for the body which remains, a sense of the mystery and sacredness which surround death — all of these should be reflected in the ministry and rites that are part of the Church’s pastoral response to death, the care of the body of the deceased and the consolation of the living.
Christian belief in the sacredness of human life, here and in the world to come, must be reflected in the Christian response to death. The private and liturgical prayers, the meditation and reflection, and the ceremonies and rites connected with the funeral and committal express our participation in the great Paschal Mystery and its promise of eternal union with almighty God. The events which surround death also call for a response from the Christian community.
The General Introduction of the Order of Christian Funerals teaches that “when a member of Christ’s Body dies, the faithful are called to a ministry of consolation to those who have suffered the loss of one whom they love. Christian consolation is rooted in that hope that comes from faith in the saving death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christian hope faces the reality of death and the anguish of grief but trusts confidently that the power of sin and death has been vanquished by the Risen Lord. The Church calls each member of Christ’s Body — priest, deacon, layperson — to participate in the ministry of consolation to care for the dying, to pray for the dead, to comfort those who mourn.” (OCF, 8)
When someone dies, a special journey begins. For the one who dies, the journey is the completion of their earthly pilgrimage and their movement to God who judges all with truth and love and has the power to grant life in its fullness. For those who remain, another kind of journey begins. It is a journey of separation and loss, a time of confrontation with death that challenges our confidence, even our faith. For the bereaved family and friends, this may be a long road. Even years later the challenge may remain.
A critical stage of this journey for the human community is the period that begins at the moment of death and ends with the burial or entombment of the deceased. In the Catholic tradition, no one makes this journey alone.
Important stations on the ritual journey of the Catholic community during this time between death and burial are:
THE VIGIL FOR THE DECEASED
The goal of the Church’s funeral rite is not only to commend the dead to God, but also to support her people in Christian hope. It has become customary, at some opportune time and place before burial, to have a gathering of the family and friends of the deceased. “The vigil for the deceased is the principal rite celebrated by the Christian community in the time following death and before the funeral liturgy.” (OCF, 56)
The vigil may be held in the parish church in the company of the body to allow full participation of the whole parish family in the ministry of consolation to those who have suffered the loss of a loved one. While this is currently not a practice in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, guidelines will be made available to those parish communities which want to exercise this option in the future.
THE FUNERAL MASS
“At the death of a Christian, whose life of faith was begun in the waters of baptism and strengthened at the Eucharistic table, the Church intercedes on behalf of the deceased because of its confident belief that death is not the end nor does it break the bonds forged in life.” (OCF, 4) The Mass, the memorial of Christ’s death and resurrection, is the principal celebration of the Christian funeral.
THE FUNERAL SERVICE
Sometimes it may be more comfortable for the remaining family members to attend a Funeral Service instead of attending a full Mass, especially if they are not Catholics or infrequently attend Church. The Liturgy is similar to the Mass with Scripture readings etc, but does not have the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
FINAL COMMENDATION, FAREWELL AND RITE OF COMMITTAL
“The final commendation is a final farewell by the members of the community, an act of respect for one of their members, whom they entrust to the tender and merciful embrace of God. This act also acknowledges the reality of separation and affirms that the community and the deceased, baptized into the one Body, share the same destiny, resurrection on the last day. On that day, the one Shepherd will call each by name and gather the faithful together in the new and eternal Jerusalem.” (OCF, 146)
These occasions and gestures enable the community to pay due attention to the reality of a person dear to us who has entered the shadow of death. At a time of great upheaval and emotional distress, the Church’s ancient rituals offer stability and focus. They shed a light on the path of our journey. They guide the mourners and the rest of the community to a response of faith, hope, and love.
Immediate Practicalities after death
If someone in your immediate family or circle of friends has died, we offer you our deepest sympathy on your loss, and wish to make the funeral arrangements as easy as possible for you. These words offer you the information you need to organise a funeral Mass or service at either St Peter in Chains or Ss John & Columba’s. If your loved one has died at home, then you need to contact your GP and the Parish Priest. Following confirmation of death, and the prayers of the dead have been said, you will need to then contact a funeral director, so that they can remove the deceased. In the case of sudden, death, it is normal practice for the police to attend, and there is no need to be alarmed.
Please advise us as soon as possible when a relative has died. We will then include them in the prayers at Mass and in the Parish Newsletter. We can also advise you of possible dates and times for the funeral and discuss whether you would like a full Funeral Mass or a shorter funeral service. The funeral service can take place either in the church or in the crematorium or cemetery. Cremations usually include a committal service, equivalent to what happens at the graveside for a burial.
There are several locally based funeral directors. Below is a list of some of them. We make no recommendation as to which one to use. We have listed companies who are either members of the National Association of Funeral Directors or of the Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors.
Choosing the right Funeral Director is important, some important questions to ask yourself are: Does the Funeral Director have any qualifications to carryout my loved ones funeral? Are they regulated by anyone? If there is a problem, who do I take my complaint to?
Once the funeral has been arranged you must receive a written estimate as per the Code of Practice of both the NAFD and SAIF. Once the funeral has been confirmed, you will receive a written confirmation.
The National Association of Funeral Directors demands high professional standards so, in order to be accepted into membership, funeral firms are assessed against strict criteria. Members of the NAFD are then required to abide by a stringent Code of Practice and are monitored regularly to ensure a high quality of service is maintained. These standards are set out in the NAFD Funeral Promise, which all members make to the families in their care.
Crosbie Matthew Funeral Directors Ltd (An Independent Family Business) [SAIF Member] Moray Way North, Dalgety Bay, KY11 9NH Tel 01383 822121
Dunfermline FuneralCare (Part of the Cooperative Society) [NAFD Member] 23 Dewar St, Dunfermline KY12 8AD Tel 01383 723556
Ewing Funeral Service (An Independent Family Business) [NAFD Member] 114 Main Street, Kelty KY4 0AE Tel 01383 831351
Inverkeithing FuneralCare (Part of the Cooperative Society) [NAFD Member] 65 High St, Inverkeithing KY11 1AF Tel 01383 415962
Rosyth FuneralCare (Part of the Cooperative Society) [NAFD Member] 99 Backmarch Rd, Rosyth, KY11 2RP Tel 01383 415590
Scot-Mid Co-operative Funerals [NAFD Member] 2 – 4 Bridge Street, Dunfermline KY12 8DA Tel 01383 669866
When you go to the funeral directors you will need to take the Form 14 certificate with you. This is normally obtained from the Registry Office. However, you can begin making funeral arrangements before you get the actual certificate.
The funeral director will contact us at the Parish House to make the final arrangements for the date and time of the Mass or service. They will also liaise with the cemetery or crematorium for the time of the service there.
As is the case in most Catholic parishes, we generally celebrate Funeral Masses at the morning weekday Mass and not at other times. In our parishes, this is at 10:00am. If there are exceptional circumstances then we ask the family to make an appointment to see and speak to the Parish Priest (the telephone is often not a helpful way to discuss arrangements in these emotional situations). If there are practical reasons for doing so, we will do whatever we can in order to hold the funeral at another time.
The main reasons for celebrating a funeral at the 10:00 Mass are:
1. A Funeral Mass is a public celebration of the Liturgy, not a private service
2. It allows the whole community to gather to pray for the safe and happy repose of the soul of the deceased
3. To provide support to the bereaved family, who might be too emotional to say the prayers and responses of the Mass or to sing the hymns
Please allow the funeral director to make the final arrangements. That is their job and is what you are paying them to do. If they need to liaise with us about any aspect, they will do so.
Once the funeral has been arranged with the funeral directors, please make an appointment to see the priest who will be conducting the Mass, or the priest/deacon who will be conducting the service. They will take you through the Mass/service, readings, hymns and other things you need to know. It is important that an approved version of the Bible is used, which is the New Jerusalem Bible. If you are having a Mass, we usually sing hymns and have an organist. Please be aware that the organist’s stipend and any church fees are always included in the Funeral Director’s bill. This is so that you do not have to concern yourself with such things on the day.
What to expect at a Funeral Mass
The most important aspect about Catholic funerals is that they express the Christian hope in eternal life and the resurrection of the body on the last day. Every component of the Catholic funeral rites should express these fundamental beliefs and hopes. Our funeral rites are not “a celebration of life,” as they are referred to sometimes, but a privileged opportunity to return to God the gift of the deceased, hoping to usher them into paradise with the aid of our prayers. Our love for the departed is expressed after death, above all else, in our prayer for them.
There is usually an entrance hymn, a reading from the Old Testament or from the New Testament or from both. The first reading is followed by a Psalm which is usually sung. There is a Gospel reading, prayers of intercession, a communion hymn and recessional hymn; but please discuss this with the priest who will be conducting the funeral. We can provide specimen readings etc. which are commonly used at funerals. We also have a list of hymns which are both appropriate and well-known for funerals, together with a copy of the prayers of intercession.
If a family member would like to pay a spoken tribute to the deceased (a eulogy) this usually takes place after Holy Communion has been received at Mass, or towards the end of a service.
At a Funeral Mass, in line with Church Teaching, the music should be of a religious nature and appropriate for the celebration of Mass. For a funeral service there is more flexibility in the choice of music.
The front benches will be left for family and friends of the deceased. Our weekday congregation is very supportive, and will automatically sit further back in the church or over to the sides, giving the family plenty of room.
Typical Order of Service for a Funeral Mass:
Reading(s) Old or New Testament or both
Prayers of Intercession (bidding prayers)
Offertory (Offertory procession optional) & Offertory Hymn
Our Father and Sign of Peace
Communion & Communion Hymn
Eulogy Prayers of Commendation, (sung) including incensing and blessing of the coffin
Jesus says: “Come to me, all who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).