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Liturgy: The Order of Christian Funerals – A ministry of consolation

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In life, the death of loved ones is an inevitable part of the journey. As members of those baptized in Christ, our belief in the mystery of death and resurrection in Christ is at the center of all of that we do as Church. The consoling actions and prayer rituals offered to mourners at the time of the death of a loved one are part of a journey we walk together as church.

The “Order of Christian Funerals” (OCF) is the ritual book of the Catholic Church that contains the recommended and required prayer rituals for use at the death of a Christian.

“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.” (OCF No. 8)

“Members of the community should console the mourners with words of faith and support and with acts of kindness, for example, assisting them with some of the routine tasks of daily living.” (OCF No. 11)

To fulfill the vision laid out by the leadership of the Church in this ritual book (1989), a Ministry of Consolation or Bereavement Ministry Team needs to be a part of every parish community.

“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. The Church also ministers to the sorrowing and consoles them in the funeral rites with the comforting word of God and the sacrament of the eucharist.” (OCF No. 4)

The OCF outlines the tasks of a parish Ministry of Consolation: (1) to pray for the dead, and (2) to comfort those who mourn, and offers three different movements of ritual prayer:

Vigil and Related Rites and Prayers

These are models of prayer for a minister to lead with the family in the period soon after death.

These rituals follow a common pattern of reading, response, spoken prayer, shared silence and blessing.

“The presence of the minister and the calming effect of familiar prayer can comfort the mourners as they begin to face their loss.” (OCF No. 102)

> Prayers after Death

> Gathering in the Presence of the Body

> Transfer of the Body to the Church or to the Place of Committal

> Funeral Vigil

“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 No. 54) “The vigil may be celebrated in the home of the deceased, in the funeral home, parlor or chapel of rest, or in some other suitable place. It may also be celebrated in the church, but at a time well before the funeral liturgy.” (OCF No. 55)

Funeral Liturgy

> Funeral Mass

> Funeral Liturgy Outside Mass

The Funeral Mass is familiar to many of us. Essential to this liturgy, whether a Mass or Outside Mass, is the song of the assembly. Whenever we pray as a community, our song is integral to our ritual prayer. Song is a human need and a fundamental expression of the depth of the spiritual life we share. Song carries our stories and beliefs in ways that other human expressions cannot.

Rite of Committal

“The rite of committal, the conclusion of the funeral rites, is the final act of the community of faith in caring for the body of its deceased member. … Whenever possible, the rite of committal is to be celebrated at the site of committal, that is, beside the open grave or place of committal, rather than a cemetery chapel.” (OCF No. 204)

Although the Order of Christian Funerals ends with this rite, the Ministry of Consolation continues, taking a different form and likely requiring different ministers.  

“By their presence and prayer (at the rite of committal), members of the community signify their intention to continue to support the mourners in the time following the funeral.” (OCF No. 204)

The level to which members of the community maintain an on-going presence to the mourners will depend on their own capabilities and training. No one should ever assume a role of grief counselor unless specifically trained and requested.

The OCF also has these same prayer rituals specific to the loss of a child, recognizing the special needs of these circumstances.

The ADLA Office for Worship will soon be offering a training program for Ministry of Consolation (Bereavement Ministry) Parish Teams. Contact us at 213-637-7262 or at OFWmailbox@la-archdiocese.org. Check our website for further information laliturgy.org.