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Deacon-structing Funerals – Part 2 | The Vigil

Deacon Pedro

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Last time I shared with you some of my personal thoughts about funerals. I received this message from Deacon John Donaghy who serves as a deacon in the Diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán in Honduras.
Deacon John suggested that a great place to get caskets is the New Melleray Abbey in Iowa. He then wrote:
“Here in rural Honduras, I get asked to preside at funerals when the pastor is away, busy, or has another commitment at the same time. I sometimes get the phone call on the evening before the funeral or that very morning. Here, the custom is to bury within 24 hours (because there’s no embalming). Often I don’t know the person who died, unless I have visited them and brought them Communion. I try to get to the village church before the funeral to talk with the persons who serve in that community. At the very least, I ask the names of the family members to include them in the prayers and to offer them a word of consolation. Also, since the people walk to the cemetery, which is sometimes more than thirty minutes away, I don’t always get to the cemetery. I try sometimes to make the effort to go to the cemetery for the prayers there, which I find moving.”
Thank you, Hermano Juanito. I know the difficulties of making a funeral meaningful and personal for those who attend. It is such a beautiful liturgy, which is why I suggested that the music is so important.
As it turns out, last weekend, I was a deacon at a funeral in my parish. This one was particularly meaningful to me because it was for a parishioner that we all knew. We know his wife and kids. The eldest daughter is one of our altar servers, and the older son is very involved in our youth ministry. Many people in attendance were simply parishioners who wanted to support the family during this time. The music was done by our best musicians, and the selections were not your typical ones.

It was a beautiful and meaningful celebration.

The Order of Christian Funerals states that “at the funerals of its children the Church confidently celebrates Christ’s paschal mystery. Its intention is that those who by baptism were made one with the dead and risen Christ may with him pass from death to life.” Taking into account diversity around the world, the Church then offers three options for the rite of funerals. One of the options envisions three stations: at the home of the deceased, at the church, and at the cemetery.
This is how I want to organize these blog posts.
This week, I’d like to start with what happens before the funeral.
I am sure many of you can relate – and I speak from personal experience – that when a loved one dies we are often thrown into a whirlwind: sometimes shock and most definitely, grief. We are not thinking straight and, to add to all that, many decisions have to be made quickly. This is why it’s always good to think about what we want ahead of time. Funeral homes and cemeteries (like many Catholic ones) that have pre-planning options offer a great deal of peace of mind.
I can guarantee, however, that the last thing you’ll be thinking of when someone dies, is the Vigil or the Visitation.

You will most certainly not be thinking of the Vigil Prayers.

The "Vigil and Related Rites and Prayers" are the prayers that are celebrated between the time of death and the funeral liturgy, or before the rite of committal if there is no funeral liturgy.
The Order of Funerals offers many models and options for the “Vigil for the Deceased”. There are also options for prayers with the family: "Prayer after Death", "Gathering in the Presence of the Body" and even "Transfer of the Body to the Church or Place of Committal".
Most funeral homes will gently guide you through all these arrangements – likely not giving you many options or choices when it comes to the Vigil. It is very comforting to have a priest or deacon who is close (physically as well as emotionally) to walk with us through these times.

As soon as a person dies, there are ritual prayers that can be said.

The Order of Funerals offers several options for Prayers after Death. It is a simple rite consisting of a greeting, prayer, reading, Lord’s Prayer and other prayers, and a blessing. It can take place anywhere and very commonly takes place at the hospital.
There is also a small rite for Gathering in the Presence of the Body. This can be very meaningful for the family when they gather together for the first time with their deceased loved one. The rite is very similar to the Prayers after Death. The main difference is that in the presence of the body, we add a sprinkling with Holy Water and can add a beautiful moment called “Placing of Christian Symbols”. Quite often this is a personal Bible or a cross, and it is placed in silence on the coffin.

The Vigil

The prayer that most of us will be familiar with is the Vigil for the Deceased (it is the principal rite celebrated in the time following the death and before the funeral), which usually takes place at the funeral home, during the Visitation, the evening before the funeral.
It is a short liturgy that includes introductory rites, a liturgy of the word, prayers of intercession, and a blessing. It can also include some part of the Office for the Dead (from the Liturgy of Hours).
The celebration of the funeral liturgy is entrusted to parish priests. When no priest is available (as in the case of Deacon John in Honduras), deacons can preside. When no priest or deacon is available for the Vigil or the Rite of Committal, a lay person may preside.
There is an option for the Vigil for the Deceased to lead right into the Reception at the Church for the funeral. In this case, the reception of the body, which normally takes place at the beginning of a funeral liturgy, would take place before the Vigil Prayers, at the door of the church. The Vigil then continues in the church.
My parish offers a Bereavement Ministry which ensures that we have readers for the Vigil. But it is appropriate to also have other ministers, cantors, and acolytes. The presiding minister should vest. If it takes place in a church, the priest or deacon wears an alb or surplice with a stole.
I may not need to add that it is just as important that the family be involved in the planning of the Vigil as they are involved in the planning of the funeral. That means helping choose the readings, the prayers of the faithful, and even the music. The family and loved ones can also be involved as readers or musicians. Music should not be left out. It is appropriate to sing an opening song and the Psalm. The litany, the Lord’s Prayer, and also a closing song can also be sung. (I would advise, however, if there is music, that you have musicians and not try to lead everyone in song by yourself with no instruments.)
One of the first times I presided over a Funeral Vigil, the family felt that these prayers were not enough. It turns out that their mother, who had died, often prayed the Rosary with her children. It was very moving to see the five grown children gathered around their mother’s body, praying the Rosary after we finished the Vigil Liturgy. It shows that while the rite is prescribed, it is flexible and it benefits from feedback from the family.  You may not be able to change the exact wording of some of the prayers, but you certainly can choose scriptural readings that have special meaning, compose your own intercessions, and add (as this family did) other prayers or songs that hold special meaning.
There is no concluding rite during a funeral liturgy, so the conclusion: “Eternal rest grant unto him/her; and let perpetual light shine upon him/her; May he/she rest in peace” and “may his/her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God, rest in peace” is said at the end of the Vigil.
Come back next week and we’ll take a look at the Funeral Liturgy.

Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching:

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