What Happens at a Catholic Funeral Mass?

A funeral mass is a special Catholic service where the community of believers gathers to pray for someone who has died. People come together in prayer and support at this time, affirming that although they are sad, their sorrow can be channeled into love and reverence for the deceased person. The priest also prays for the faithful departed, interceding with God on their behalf.

A Catholic funeral mass begins with the ceremonial entrance of the clergy and the utterance of the Introductory Rites. These are followed by the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Afterward, a Conclusion Rite is sung. The ceremony is marked by ringing bells throughout.

The people in attendance pay respect to the memory of the deceased in varying ways. Whether by wearing nice clothes or mourning attire, these clothes serve as an outward sign of respect. Some wear black clothing because it symbolizes both suffering and death. A large part of the funeral is focused on prayer, both of the living to God and for the soul of the departed.

People attending a Catholic funeral mass are encouraged to participate in praying out loud during certain parts of the service (source). The final blessing, the “Ite, missa est,” signifies that those present should leave with an air of joy because their loved one has gone to eternal life. Funeral masses usually take place at a church or chapel.

The reason behind these three distinctions is that each type of mass has initially been celebrated according to different rituals since they evolved at different times in history. It is noted that some parishes have more than one mass available on certain days, but some offer just one of the three.

What is a funeral mass called?

Funeral masses are different from memorial masses because it is meant for the deceased, not for people to commemorate their lives. A person’s birthday or death day is sometimes celebrated with a memorial mass where special prayers are said, similar to praying at the graveside on All Soul’s Day.

Often these services are held in honor of someone who has died previously but whose body was never found. It has also become common for children who have died before their first holy communion to celebrate an “altar boy’s mass” after they die. The reason behind all of this confusion seems to be based on the fact that Catholics do not always know the specific terms used when referring to a mass.

What do you do at a funeral mass?

There are several parts in a Catholic funeral mass which will be discussed below:

The Introductory Rites

This section begins with the entrance procession of clergy and ministers into the church, followed by several songs or hymns that involve everyone attending. After this is the penitential rite where everyone prays for God’s mercy on their sins before saying “Kyrie Eleison” or Lord have mercy. Next is the “Gloria,” where people praise God together, then sing it if they so desire, recognizing Christ’s supremacy over all creation. Finally, there is another song based on Psalm 95 called the “Antiphon”.

The Liturgy of the Word

This is the central part of the mass in which the Homily, Bible readings, and a Profession of Faith are said. The Homily is a short talk that can last up to twenty minutes or less given by a priest during a funeral (“Homily”). It should reflect who the deceased was as a person and why they have died.

A Biblical reading from one of three sections called Psalms 118-119, 121-145, or 148-150 will be read, reflecting on God’s presence in times of distress. Next is another profession where everyone stands before saying “Lord I am not worthy to receive you, only say the word and I shall be healed”.

Following this is a song that incorporates psalms and prayers, then comes three more prayers that symbolize Christ’s Passion. The first prayer reflects on Jesus’ washing of the apostle’s feet at the Last Supper. The second one focuses on Jesus’ greed for us while he hung upon the cross. Finally, a prayer reflects on Jesus’ death and burial.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist

This is the central part of the mass where everyone renews their faith in Jesus and recognizes his sacrifice. Three different forms are used to celebrate this part: “Placeat,” “Prayer over the Gifts,” and “Preface.” The first one is where people request God to accept their love, asking “Lord, may your Holy Spirit come upon us and cleanse us of our sins,” then after saying the Our Father they say, “Blessed are you who comes in the name of the Lord”.

The second part involves reciting the prayers aloud. It begins with an invitation for all those present to join in before saying a prayer that mentions Jesus’ resurrection. Next is another invitation followed by a blessing over wine or water called the Eucharistic Prayer. Then there is another invitation for everyone to participate before partaking of Christ’s body and blood through eating and drinking.

The Concluding Rites

This section begins with the “Agnus Dei” (“Lamb of God”) which is a song where everyone sings together “Grant us peace, O Lord, in our days. In a fury remember mercy.” Next is another penitential prayer that asks for forgiveness before saying the final blessing and dismissal.

What is the difference between a funeral mass and a memorial mass??

A funeral mass is held after someone dies, usually within a week of their passing. A memorial mass is held the first Sunday or more afterward. It allows for friends and family of the deceased to gather together to remember them. This part includes many songs similar to those found in a funeral mass but without the homily.

What is included in a Catholic funeral mass?

Although each part has specific elements that are followed, here are several things that are done during this service:
The Funeral Liturgy begins with prayers accompanied by psalms sung by everyone. Next comes another penitential rite where people pray for God’s mercy on all of humanity’s sins before asking “Lord have mercy” three times (source).

The first reading is found in the Bible. Usually the same one read at other masses. The second reading is also from Scripture but can be chosen by the priest or family depending on who it represents. Then comes another psalm that was sung by everyone accompanied by prayer.

The Eucharistic Prayer

The Eucharistic Prayer includes several different prayers that are said together in unison before receiving communion. It begins with the preface dialogue, which follows with an invitation for all present to listen to what God has done for his people throughout time. There are four parts within this section:
1) “Father, you are holy indeed
2) “You willed it unto death
3) “Your body is broken
4) “We proclaim your Death” (source).

After the Eucharistic Prayer comes the Liturgy of Peace, where people ask that peace be bestowed upon everyone. Another invitation immediately follows this before concluding this section with the prayers of thanksgiving (“Liturgy of Peace,” source). Then there’s a second invitation for all to participate, followed by the bread blessing. Finally, it ends with one final prayer asking Mary and Joseph to pray for everybody present at the mass.

Catholic Funeral Bells

A very special part of Catholic funerals is bells ringing to symbolize being called back into God’s presence. During the funeral mass, three sets are rung:
1) twenty five minutes before,
2) fifteen minutes before, and
3) during the service.

The reason for this tradition dates back to ancient times when bells were often rung to announce death. “Bell-ringing is a way of celebrating the deceased’s life”.The most common bell used is a lenten one because it has a deeper tone than standard church bells.

In addition, they’re usually larger and have a handle on top so that people can use them for ringing purposes. It’s most frequently heard at 5 p.m. every day since most people have been inside all day and might not know if someone had died in their midst.

There are no specific rules on when the bells are rung, but generally, it’s done according to what makes the most sense for a particular parish. For example, they might ring the bell at 5 p.m., which is also when Mass has ended, since many people will still be there hanging around after Mass ends (source).

At the end of the mass, everyone receives communion taken from bread and wine consecrated during the Eucharistic Prayer or before. To conclude, several songs are sung before the priest closes up the service with one final blessing.


A Catholic funeral mass can last anywhere between 45 minutes to an hour depending on how long it takes for each part of this service to be fully completed. The funeral mass is a chance for people to remember the deceased and ask that their loved ones peacefully go into God’s presence.

Gene Botkin

Gene is the director of the Theosis Christian Project. He studied physics and military science before founding the Project. Gene is currently pursuing his doctorate in systems engineering at an engineering college in the Ozarks. The Theosis Christian Project is his attempt to expand Holy Orthodoxy in America.

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