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A funeral notice announces a "mass of Christian burial" (at a Roman Catholic church in the US) followed by a burial followed by a luncheon. As an outsider I have a few questions about what to expect:

  • Is the mass the same as a Sunday mass with extra stuff added, or is it different? What content is unique to a funeral mass?

  • What happens at the burial beyond putting the casket in the ground? (In movies you always see what looks like another religious service there, but I don't know if that's accurate.) If there is a service of some sort, how does it differ from the mass?

  • Where is the eulogy given (or does that vary)? Will visitors be asked to say something about the deceased at one of these services?

  • Is it practical to skip the mass1 and go to the rest, or would that be "weird"? If it's practical, approximately how long after the announced start time for the mass should one show up to proceed to the cemetery?

  • What are the cultural/social norms around interacting with the mourners? Are there specific things you should (or shouldn't) say or do, beyond what common sense suggests? For example, in Judaism we have a specific phrase of comfort that we say; is there anything like that?

  • Are you supposed to bring a dish to the luncheon?

1 Because participating in, or appearing to participate in, another religion's service can be problematic.

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This is no longer prompted by an immediate need (logistics precluded going), but I'd like to know for future situations. –  Monica Cellio Jun 17 '13 at 19:00
    
I've been to Catholic funerals as a Witness, and again as an atheist. For a small funeral, it's perfectly possible to sit at the back of the church: you're at some distance from the congregation, and if you remain seated, not standing and kneeling at the appropriate points, it's fairly obvious that you're observing, rather than participating. I don't know whether that would be distant enough for you. For a larger service, there's usually overflow into the carpark, where again you can perch on the edge of the wall or something, or simply stand at the back. –  TRiG Dec 9 '13 at 19:18
    
This works for me, anyway, but my requirements about not participating in "foreign religious observance" are probably less strict than yours. –  TRiG Dec 9 '13 at 19:19

1 Answer 1

up vote 13 down vote accepted
  1. Is the mass the same as a Sunday mass..

    Same basic format as Sunday mass, but read from a different part of the book.

  2. What happens at the burial...

    This is not part of the Mass and doesn't even necessarily need to coincide with the Mass for the Dead. It's pretty much the same as at any other secular(ish) event.

  3. Where is the eulogy given...

    A eulogy is not part of the Mass, the Mass is for the repose of the soul of the deceased, not to honor his or her life.

    However, eulogies are often given, after the priest has spoken his homily (about halfway through mass)

  4. Is it practical to skip the mass...

    That's entirely cultural and subjective. The only thing a non-catholic shouldn't do at Mass is receive the Eucharist. Beyond that, do what is comfortable. Chances are very good that over half of the people with you are cultural Catholics and wouldn't give a hoot if you sat through the whole Mass.

    One thing than is probably acceptable (at least in a traditional sense for those who are not fully accepted into the Catholic Church) would be to leave after the homily (or the eulogy). That way all you're hearing is the stuff you've probably heard before and all the stuff you're missing is the stuff you might feel uncomfortable either in participating in or visibly avoiding. So then you can mill around for half an hour or so and join the entourage to the cemetery when you see the casket being carried out of the church.

  5. What are the cultural/social norms around interacting with the mourners?

    It's always dependent on the circumstances, but generally Catholic funerals are pretty happy events, even if the death was fairly tragic. My brother, who died at 29, was an awful experience, but I got hugs from nearly everyone in the entire town and felt good to have the support of everyone who knew him

  6. Are you supposed to bring a dish to the luncheon?

    Probably not (unless it's a funeral of epic proportions) this is usually handled by the ladies of the Parish who seem to have the uncanny ability to materialize tons and tons of food out of nowhere.


more info on Funerals from the US Council of Catholic Bishops. Apparently, in extraordinary circumstances, non Catholic's can read at the Mass.

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Do you happen to have a link to the text of the funerary mass? Is there a homily? When or where would a eulogy be appropriate? (Thank you for the answer. You got my +1 already, but I think a little more information could make this even more useful.) –  Jon Ericson Jun 17 '13 at 19:27
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I'm reminded of something I heard while helping out with my son's Sunday School class yesterday: trials are a gift from God. I can't imagine what it would be like to lose a brother at that age. –  Jon Ericson Jun 17 '13 at 19:29
    
@JonEricson it's in the Roman Missal (one of the two big red gilded books used at Mass and isn't really accessible, kind of like buying the Art of Computer Programming) –  Peter Turner Jun 17 '13 at 19:52
    
@JonEricson it's been almost four years now and he's four years older than me. It's crazy to see pictures of him and he's looking younger and younger all the time. –  Peter Turner Jun 17 '13 at 19:55
    
Thank you for this answer, and I am very sorry to hear about your brother. Could you add something to #4 about the length of the mass (if that's reasonably consistent)? In this case I would actually want to skip it; the concern is about my own participation in a foreign religious observance, not about whether I would be welcome. –  Monica Cellio Jun 18 '13 at 2:50

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