The death of a loved one is a time of sorrow and profound grief. It is also a time when our Christian faith in the resurrection of Christ can offer great comfort and allow us to experience grace in the midst of sadness. The prayerful rituals of the Catholic Church at the time of a death are meant to bring hope and consolation to family members and friends even as they commend the soul of the deceased person to the loving mercy of God.
On my computer desktop I have a folder entitled “If I should die . . .” words taken from a prayer I learned as a little girl: “If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” In that folder are thoughts and wishes – preferences – for my funeral. I say preferences because funerals honor the dead, but are for the benefit of the living. So the wishes I have listed are subject to the needs of those I leave behind, and what is possible at that time. This file is easily accessible to my survivors, unlike a will, which is often read after the funeral has occurred. It’s also easy for me to change and/or update.
In fifteen years as a funeral coordinator at St. Aloysius Parish I have watched many families try to decide what their loved ones – and what they – want at a funeral service. I don’t recommend planning your whole service from beginning to end, but making decisions about a casket and burial, or cremation and the disposition of the ashes, can be a helpful start to the process. Naming a preferred place for your service/reception – a church, a funeral home/a favorite restaurant or outdoor site – can give your family a focus for the type of celebration you would like them to have. And if you have prepaid for some arrangements it’s important to let your family know. Also if you wish to be cremated it’s wise to put that wish in writing, because if you have multiple survivors you need to have a majority of them agree or you will not be cremated unless you have a written directive or you have made and paid for arrangements in advance.
Specifying how the funeral expenses will be paid can be helpful as well. The father of one of my friends forgot to set aside money from his estate for his surviving wife’s funeral. When she died, the children had to pay for her funeral out of their own funds until her estate could be settled. Not all of the children had easy access to money to cover their share of the expenses; so it became a source of tension at a time when they needed to come together to grieve, not be fighting over how to pay for their mother’s funeral. Picking out your casket and burial plot (pre-arrangements) can save your family from unnecessary expenses and/or arguments at what is a very emotional time.
If you read the obituaries in our local paper you will find a significant number that end with “at the request of the deceased no service will be held.” I’m sure the deceased usually has good intentions – trying to spare the family the grief and expense of a funeral – but the consequences can be unfair to those who are left behind. They are deprived of the comfort that a gathering of friends and family can have for them as they come to terms with the loss of a person they have loved. And friends have difficulty knowing when to express their sympathy and affection, and may not even know that the person has died. Leaving a loved one at a hospital, nursing home, or in a funeral home’s vehicle can be a difficult way to say goodbye to someone you have loved and who has loved you. I have actually had families come to me and say, “Mom said she didn’t want a service, but we feel like we have to do something!” I assure them that their mom understands, and wants them to do what they need to do.
These topics aren’t always easy to discuss – sometimes family members don’t want to hear it, or think you’re being morbid, or that you’re dying and you haven’t told them. Just remember: talking is good, but a written list of wishes will also be of great help. Your document needs to be easily accessible and your family needs to know where it is kept.
Even more important than decisions surrounding your funeral are the decisions that may need to be made for your care at the end of life – before you die. There are many online resources to guide you in making “end of life” decisions about your living will, advance directives, and organ donation. Some resources are listed below:
If you would like to discuss any questions or concerns about making funeral arrangements in advance call or email me, Sherry Fischer, at 509 313-7005 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The body of the deceased in a casket, present at a funeral is the most common form of service in the Catholic Church, although a funeral with cremated remains present is becoming more frequent. The body can be cremated after the funeral and then buried in a cemetery, at the discretion of the deceased and/or family.
Cremated remains can be present for a funeral mass, if desired by the deceased and/or family.
Scheduling and Fees
When may funerals take place at St. Aloysius? Most often, funerals take place on weekdays, usually in the morning or early afternoon. They may also be celebrated on Saturday mornings, if no wed- ding is scheduled. Funerals are scheduled in consultation with the parish funeral coordinator. As far as possible, the needs and wishes of the family are given first consideration, although the availability of the worship space and a priest must be taken into account.
What is the parish’s practice with regard to Vigil celebrations or Rosaries? Some families choose to have a vigil or rosary for the deceased the evening before the funeral liturgy. A vigil or a rosary may be celebrated at the funeral home or in the church.
Are there fees involved with a funeral at St Aloysius? The diocese has a suggested donation to the parish of $200. Non-parish families who request a particular priest will want to provide an appropriate stipend for the priest ($150). The fees for music are $150 each for the keyboardist and the cantor. Additional musicians would require an additional fee. These fees are ordinarily collected by the funeral home and paid by them to the parish. Any of these fees can be adjusted in cases of need.
Planning the Funeral Service
At St. Aloysius we encourage participation by the family and friends of the deceased. Some family members will meet with the parish funeral coordinator to plan the funeral. There are a variety of ways for people to participate: they can welcome people to the service at the doors of the church, serve as pall- bearers, place the funeral pall over the casket, and the crucifix and Book of the Gospels on the casket, at the beginning of the liturgy. Family members or friends also can proclaim the readings and the prayers of the faithful, present the gifts of bread and wine, serve as candle bearers and cross bearer and assist with distributing communion. A family member often gives a eulogy towards the end of the service. We encourage a eulogy given by a family member or friend at funeral services. The eulogy should be 5-10 minutes long (that’s about 500-1000 words). In the case of a funeral with cremated remains, a family member may carry the urn in procession to the sanctuary.
Are funerals celebrated for people who are not members of St. Aloysius Parish?
Yes. The custom of the Church is for the deceased to be buried from his or her own church. However, for a variety of reasons, people who are not parishioners desire to come to St. Al’s for funeral services, and we do our best to accommodate them.
A parish priest is the usual presider at a funeral service. St. Aloysius Parish welcomes other Jesuit priests and priests from other parishes to preside, preach and concelebrate funerals at our church.
Readings are chosen from the Bible by the family, in consultation with the funeral coordinator. Usually the first reading is from the Old Testament, the second reading (optional) is from the New Testament (Letters and Revelation) and the third reading is from the Gospels.
The music for the funeral is organized by the parish funeral coordinator in consultation with The parish music director. The funeral coordinator meets with the family to choose appropriate music for the service, and the music director provides the keyboard accompaniment and coordinates the cantor and any additional musicians. We have an extensive list of professional musicians who are familiar with Catholic liturgy, and can provide almost any additional instrument that a family wishes for the music during the service.
Many families wish to have a reception immediately after the service while everyone is still gathered. In that case, the burial is usually scheduled for about 2-3 hours after the end of the funeral mass, or in some cases it is scheduled for a later day and time. Burial also can take place immediately following the funeral mass. In the case of cremation after the funeral, the burial will need to be scheduled for a later date when the cremated remains are available for inurnment.
The parish has several spaces that can be used for funeral receptions: O’Malley Hall accommodates about 100 people; the Antonian room has seating for 30-40; and Room A will also seat 30-40. Both O’Malley Hall and the Antonian Room are handicapped accessible. The parish has a funeral meal ministry for parishioners which provides salads, sandwiches, and desserts, and coffee and tea, in our spaces, without charge. Other arrangements can be made with local catering companies. We do not allow alcoholic beverages to be served at funeral receptions in our spaces. There are also several other reception spaces available nearby; the parish funeral coordinator can provide contact information.
Frequently Asked Questions about Funeral Arrangements
Below are a list of things that families need to think about during the funeral arrangement process. We are happy to discuss these items with you to help make these decisions.
Have I made arrangements to donate my body to science?
Do I want to be cremated or buried in a casket? Or do I want a “green” burial? (burial in a shroud or biodegradable casket, in the ground, no concrete vault, no embalming)
Have I picked out and paid for a casket, urn, burial plot, vault or niche? Have I made any prepaid arrangements?
Do I want a public viewing (visitation) and/or a vigil service? Do I want a wake? A reception?
Where do I want to have my funeral service? A church, a funeral home, other location?
Do I want any particular songs or readings at my service?
Do I want to be buried, entombed, or inured – where? Or do I want my ashes scattered? If so, where? For the record: The Catholic Church has approved cremation, and it recommends that the body be present at the funeral and then cremated, and that cremated remains be placed in a cemetery, not kept by a loved one or scattered.
Do I have wishes for gifts in lieu of flowers (donations) and a list of institutions? Or do I have a favorite flower I would like at my funeral?
Have I made a fact sheet and a list of accomplishments for my obituary? Or have I written my own obituary?
Do I have a list of “those to be notified at the time of my death”? Maybe you don’t have preferences about all of these things, but just a few; it’s still good to list the things you do want to happen for your funeral. The most important question is “Have I discussed my wishes and preferences with my family members?”
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