How the Family Feels

I don’t know how many funerals I have done since I was ordained a priest almost seventeen years ago.  Depending on the parish, I have done anywhere from ten to fifty funerals a year (including Masses and services without a Mass).  It would not be hard for it to become routine.  I don’t want it to be routine. 

There have been funerals where I didn’t know the deceased person at all or the family.  In some of those, someone in the family started coming back to church after the funeral.  Others I never saw again. 

There are also funerals where I knew the person as a member of the parish.  Some were a familiar face in the parish.  Sometimes I knew a family member but not the deceased themselves.

No matter what category the deceased person or their family fell in, one thing is certain.  They are all children of God.  Each deserves to be treated with dignity and compassion.  Funeral ministries may be repetitive as a base level, but funeral ministry should never become purely routine. 

God reminded me of this during the past week.  One of my aunts, my mother’s oldest sister, passed away.  I had visited her in the hospital last month to anoint her and offer all the prayers for the dying.  Yesterday I presided and preached at her funeral at the church where she had been a parishioner for many years, St. Catherine of Siena.  It is the church where I was baptized in 1970 and confirmed in 1981 (we had lived elsewhere in between).  After the funeral Mass, we laid her to her place of rest in same row at the church cemetery where my grandparents (her parents), my mother, and a grandson of this aunt who died at birth are buried.

Even the inclusion of my aunt’s name in the Prayers of the Faithful at Sunday Mass in the parish I serve was different.  This weekend we had six people included.  I had never met five of them. 

Does the family experience emotions at the death of a loved one?

Yes, and I know what this is like.  We all need to grieve and we each grieve differently (see my article, “Allowing Ourselves to Grieve”).  However we grieve, it is important and necessary that we allow ourselves to grieve.  It is natural and it can be healing.

Traditionally, there are calling hours before the funeral Mass.  “After” the Mass, there is a burial.  I put “after” in quotations because the burial is seen as part of the funeral by the Catholic Church.  You may have noticed that there is no final blessing at the end of the Mass in church when the burial immediately follows.  The final blessing comes at the end of the burial, the Mass and burial seen as one.  Then, the family often gathers for a luncheon (see my articles, “Why Do We Celebrate Funerals?” and a Sunday homily I offered in 2017 on our Catholic funeral customs.)

The experience of these funeral customs is different when the deceased is someone I know.  Even the planning for the funeral is different.  When I don’t know the deceased, an important part of meeting with the family is finding out about the person to personalize the funeral.  In this case, I knew my aunt.  The conversation was different.  Actually, a deacon who is a friend of her family did the official meeting but I did spend time on the phone with one of her daughters discussing the funeral.

It is becoming less common for families to have calling hours.  Sometimes it is because the family doesn’t think anyone will come because all the friends of the deceased have already died or might be unable to come because of their own health.  However, we shouldn’t think the calling hours are without purpose and can be readily omitted.  In the look at the funeral book for Catholic funerals, the first ritual you find in the book are vigil prayers for the calling hours.  The funeral book talks about the calling hours as an opportunity for others to offer comfort and sympathy.  This is the fourth Spiritual Work of Mercy, to comfort the sorrowful (see Isaiah 40:1). 

Generally, the calling hours are the day before the funeral.  Now, people are starting to have calling hours right before the funeral.  While this can be convenient, think of the person who has to work that day.  Offering the calling hours the night before gives them an opportunity to offer their sympathy to the family and a final goodbye to the deceased if they know them directly.

Offering the funeral service is part of the seventh Spiritual Work of Mercy, to pray for the living and the dead.  Here we can ask the question, “who is the funeral for.” 

I think people today often see the funeral as only for the loved ones still living.  Certainly, we gather to offer those who are living comfort and we pray for them to be comforted by God in the hope of the resurrection, knowing that Jesus died for our sins.  This is a very important part of our funeral customs.  However, it is not the only reason.  We pray for the deceased to be welcomed into Heaven.  Our prayers do not change how God will judge for their sins.  That is between them and God.  Our prayers can be of aid for their time in Purgatory.  Yes, the Catholic Church still believes in Purgatory (see my article, “Purgatory as a Gift That Gets Us in Shape for Heaven.”)

At the funeral service, we have Bible readings that speak of how the Christians are called to live and what God offers us for eternal life.  These words offer us hope in knowing that lived is changed in death, not ended.

Then we go to the cemetery to lay our loved one to rest in a dignified place (see Tobit 1:16-18).  This fulfills the seventh Corporal Work of Mercy, to bury the dead.  We don’t randomly discard the body.  While cremation is now allowed, our Catholic faith still holds that we don’t separate the ashes by dividing them among family members to wear as jewelry nor are we to scatter the ashes out of respect for the remains of our loved one.  It saddens me to hear that some people today refer to what is done with the deceased body after death as “disposal of the body.”  Disposal?  The body is not a piece of trash.  It is part of who our lived one is, body and soul (see my blog articles on new methods of “disposing of the body” “Respecting the Dead” and “More on Respecting the Dead”).

After my aunt’s burial, we gathered for a luncheon and shared fellowship along with food.  My aunt was a good cook.  I wish we would have been eating something she cooked rather than having celebrated her funeral yesterday.

Our Catholic funeral customs offer comfort for the mourners and prayers for the deceased.  It can also be a time of closure.  I don’t know what families and friends do when an obituary says there are no services.  How does one have any hope in that or find any closure?

Before concluding, throughout the article I have provided links to articles I have written about Catholic funeral customs and praying for the deceased.  You can find a complete list of all the articles I have written on funerals on my website at


Fr. Jeff


  1. Joe Champion on 03/12/2024 at 3:43 pm

    Thank you, Fr Jeff. Something I read twice and will probably read again.

  2. Carol Clendenin on 03/15/2024 at 3:07 am

    I am sorry about the loss of your Aunt Fr. Jeff. Thanks for the review on Catholic funeral practices and proper respect for the human body.

    • Fr. Jeff on 03/15/2024 at 4:02 am

      Thank you.


      Fr. Jeff

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