Funeral Norms

From the beginning of the Church, Christian funeral rites and burial have been an important spiritual and pastoral practice. This page is designed to introduce you to the revised funeral norms for the Diocese of Bridgeport and related resources.

At the death of a Christian, whose life of faith was begun in the waters of Baptism and strengthened at the Eucharistic table, the Church intercedes on behalf of the deceased because of its confident belief that death is not the end, nor does it break the bonds forged in life. The Church also ministers to the sorrowing and consoles them in the funeral rites with the comforting Word of God and the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
—  Order of Christian Funerals,   no. 4

Tips to Remember

  • There should be direct communication with the parish and funeral home. Perhaps someone can be appointed within the family to be the point person.
  • The Church’s preference is that Catholics be buried in the consecrated ground of a Catholic cemetery, but other cemeteries may be chosen.
  • Cremation is allowed, so long as it isn’t chosen to deny hope in the resurrection of the body. The Church’s tradition recommends burial over cremation, and cremains must also be interred in the ground or a columbarium — not placed in the home or scattered.
  • If burial of the body is chosen, the funeral is often held within a few days.
  • If Mass is not chosen, a funeral Liturgy of the Word and final commendation of the deceased is celebrated and can be done in the church, a funeral home, in a chapel at the cemetery or even at the graveside.
  • The vigil for the dead is intended to be dedicated to prayer for the deceased.
  • It is customary to distribute some kind of remembrance card with a prayer, Scripture passage or holy image.
  • A vigil is often a fitting time for those wishing to speak a word in memory or in honor of the deceased.
  • Mass of Christian Burial offers a selection of readings, prayers, music and liturgical roles to be chosen and often performed by family members. 
  • A centuries-old custom is to celebrate a Mass for the deceased on the one-month anniversary of their death, called a Month’s Mind Mass.
  • It is customary to arrange for Mass intentions for the deceased, perhaps on their birthday, anniversary or death date.

Norms for the Order of Christian Funerals

Our Catholic faith understands death as the entrance into eternity, an event which calls the community into a response of prayerful support. The revised norms for funerals - now official in our diocese - outline the practices in the Diocese of Bridgeport.

Planning a Catholic Funeral

Use this guide to make informed choices in the planning and preparation of funerary rites for a loved one or yourself.

Planning and Understanding the Catholic Funeral

The Catholic funeral is not “a celebration of life”, but a beautiful rite expressing the Christian hope in eternal life and the resurrection of the body on the last day.

Symbols Used in a Funeral

Catholic funerals employ a number of Christian symbols. Learn what each one stands for here.

Suggested Music

Music and song choice should be supportive of the readings of the funeral as well as comforting to its participants.

Readings for Funerals

Gathered here are selections for First, Second, and Gospel readings for the Catholic Funeral rite.

Planning Words of Remembrance

It is a great honor to be invited speak at the Funeral Liturgy. Here is a helpful guide to follow when composing words of remembrance.


The increasing popularity of cremation as a means of final disposition has required some allowances and adjustments to be made to Catholic funeral practices.

Prayers for Death and Dying

There are prayers appropriate for every stage of passage into eternal life. Find them listed here in this resource.

For Catholics, a Final Celebration and Thanksgiving

The Mass for Christian Burial includes several options for readings, prayers, music, and participation. These decisions can be made with the help of the deceased’s parish church staff.

Mourning During the Pandemic

This document is intended for families who wish to gather in person or remotely to commemorate the life of someone they have lost. It provides a step-by-step guide for a prayer service families and loved ones can utilize.

The Last Things: A Conversation with Dr. Peter Kreeft

Saturday, October 19th 2019


Catholic Cemeteries

“At the Catholic Cemeteries of the Diocese of Bridgeport, we are committed to providing cemetery property for the sacred religious function of burial. We are also committed to preserving these resting places as a symbol of our Catholic belief. Some of our cemeteries offer community mausoleums for those who prefer above-ground burial.”

Dean Gestal, Director of Catholic Cemeteries

Find a Cemetery

Frequently Asked Questions For Catholic Funerals

Who can be buried from the Church?

Any baptized Catholic can be buried from the Church, those who have been most faithful in the practice and those who have been less faithful or separated from the Church, through illness, distance or special circumstances.  Non-Catholic members of a parishioner’s family may be buried from the Church unless it was contrary to their wishes and will during their life. Catechumens who are in the process of the Rite of Christian Initiation are also to be buried from the Church.  Children are honored with Christian burial if the parents intended for the child to be baptized but the child died prior to baptism.  Unless there was some indication of repentance prior to their death, funerals would only be denied to apostates, heretics and schismatics, and those who are such notorious sinners that providing the funeral rites would cause scandal.  

Can those who have died as a result of suicide be buried from the Church?

Yes, previous laws forbidding such have been changed.  There are prayers included in the Order of Christian Funerals(OCF) for this circumstance.

May someone who has not been able to attend Church for a few years because of living in a nursing home still be buried from a parish church?

Yes.  Absence from their parish due to such circumstances does not separate them from the community of the Church and a Funeral Liturgy.

Why does the Church not sacramentally anoint bodies after death?

One purpose of the Sacrament of the Sick and its anointing of the living person is to instill hope and healing before death.  After death, when healing can no longer take place, the Church has other prayers but does no anoint the dead body.  

The Church provides a number of rites or liturgies as parishes offer the ministry of consolation to families experiencing sickness and death.  First, for the sick, the Church has the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.  As soon as a person is seriously sick or injured, the parish should be called to request the anointing. This anointing can be received many times in one’s life and should not be limited to the last hour of life.  After death, the Church does not anoint the body but offers other special prayers commending the soul to the Merciful Lord. 

The Anointing of the Sick can be received many times by a Catholic. Pastors often remind their parishioners that the sick are to be anointed at the beginning of a serious illness as well as through the various stages of the illness as it progresses. The sacrament is not reserved to be celebrated only within the last hours of one’s life.  The Sacrament of the Sick is for the living and the hope of being reunited at the Altar of the Lord. Once a person dies, the priest may offer different prayers for the dead but does not anoint the body.

At the time of death, whom do we call to set things in motion?

If a person dies unexpectedly at home, the local police or ambulance department must be called first. If a person is under hospice care, the hospice nurse should be called first and they will then help you with the subsequent procedures.  Funeral directors specialize in serving the needs of families at the time of death and will also assist in the notification of the pertinent people or agencies. The local parish may be called directly by the family or left to the funeral director to make the contact.  After the parish is notified and has confirmed the day and time of the funeral, the family will most likely be asked to come to the parish in order to collect further information regarding the deceased and begin to plan the funeral rites. It also gives the parish the opportunity to offer their sympathy through their bereavement ministry. 

What are the funeral rites?

The Order of Christian Funerals (OCF) consists of a number of rituals, divided into three key times of prayer for families. 

The Vigil for the Deceased is the official prayer of the Church and should never be omitted. Taking the form of a Liturgy of the Word, the Vigil consists of scripture readings, a brief homily (or a reflection if led by a lay minister), intercessions and prayers.  Its focus is on the Word of God as the family experiences death and their subsequent grief. Music is also encouraged to be a part of this prayer, which can be led by various parish bereavement ministers besides the priest or deacon. The Vigil is also an appropriate place for family and friends to offer their own words or stories (eulogy). Additional non-biblical readings or poems may be included in addition to the readings from scripture. Favorite non-liturgical music may also be played.  While the Rosary is still a popular devotion, it is not a part of nor is it meant to replace the Vigil.  It may be prayed by the family at any time during the visitation hours. 

The center of the celebration is The Funeral Liturgy. “At the funeral liturgy the community gathers with the family and friends of the deceased to give praise and thanks to God for Christ’s victory over sin and death, to commend the deceased to God’s tender mercy and compassion, and to seek strength in the proclamation of the paschal mystery.” (OCF 129) The clear focus in the funeral liturgy is not to keep alive the memory of the deceased but rather God’s abiding presence and the wonders of his grace in the saving death and resurrection of Jesus, in which we participate through our baptism and lives of discipleship. Perhaps more than any other rite, this liturgy distinguishes our Roman Catholic tradition from other common funeral practices. 

The first form of the funeral liturgy is “The Funeral Mass.” It begins recalling our baptism, when we first shared Christ’s victory over sin and death, as the casket is blessed with holy water and clothed with a white garment (the pall) and then placed by the Easter Candle near the altar.  As we celebrate the Word of God as at every Mass, the homily follows. The homily “should dwell on God’s compassionate love and on the paschal mystery of the Lord, as proclaimed in the Scripture readings. The homilist should also help the members of the assembly to understand that the mystery of God’s love and the mystery of Jesus’ victorious death and resurrection were present in the life and death of the deceased” and in our present lives as well. (OCF 27) Hence the homily is never to be a eulogy. Mass continues in the usual way until after communion, when the prayers of Final Commendation and Farewell concludes the Mass, followed by the procession to the place of burial. 

The second form of the funeral liturgy is “The Funeral Liturgy outside Mass” and is celebrated when a priest is not available, when a Funeral Mass is prohibited on certain days or when it is judged it might be a more appropriate celebration due to various reasons. This ritual follows the same format of the Funeral Mass with the exception of the Eucharistic Prayer and reception of Holy Communion. It may be celebrated in a parish church, a funeral home or another chapel.

The Rite of Committal brings to conclusion the funeral rites at the grave, tomb or crematorium. These brief prayers may be led by a priest, deacon or a lay minister or by a member of the family. 

Are Catholics allowed to be cremated?

The Church allows cremation as long as it is not an intentional denial of the Church’s teaching regarding the Resurrection of the body.  Note, however, The Order of Christian Funerals is arranged such that cremation of the deceased takes place after the funeral liturgy and not before it. However, when this is not possible, the cremated remains are permitted to be present for the Funeral Liturgy, either the Mass or outside of Mass.

What Scripture readings are allowed?

There are at least fifty-five various readings of Scriptures that the Church has specifically chosen for funerals.  When you meet in your parish church to plan the funeral rites, they will be shared with you at that time or call in advance when planning ahead of time.  Non Scripture readings are not permitted. [LINK TO READINGS]

Who can read the readings at the Funeral Mass?

Non-Catholics are not allowed to read the scripture readings at Mass but may do so at the other rites in the OCF.  All readers must be well prepared for the proclamation and believe in what they are proclaiming, engaging the gathered assembly through their eye contact, tone, rhythm and pace of the reading. Readers and other ministers should have received a letter of authorization to serve by the Bishop.

What music is allowed?

“Music is integral to the Funeral rites. It allows the community to express convictions and feelings that word alone may fail to convey. It has the power to console and uplift the mourners and to strengthen the unity of the assembly in faith and love.  The texts of the songs chosen for a particular celebration should express the paschal mystery of the Lord’s suffering, death, and triumph over death and should be related to the readings from Scripture.” (OCF 30) Popular non-liturgical songs are not be used in the Funeral Liturgy.

Can we have a eulogy?

A eulogy is not allowed during the Funeral Liturgy.  Family or friends may be invited to share such a testimony at the Vigil or at the memorial luncheon or reception that often follows the funeral.  The OCF does allow for a family member or friend to “speak in remembrance of the deceased before the final commendation begins” (OCF 170), however those words should not be a eulogy.  

Are priests the only ones who can lead the Scripture service or the Cemetery service?

Deacons, religious and lay ministers are also designated to preside at the Vigil (Scripture) service and the cemetery Rite of Committal. These are not services that are restricted to a priest. Some parishes have lay bereavement ministers assigned to these significant rites of the Christian funeral. 

What do we do with the cremated remains after the funeral?

The cremated remains must always be treated with respect, the same respect we attribute to the body.  After the funeral they are to be interred or entombed, preferably in a Catholic cemetery, mausoleum or columbarium.   The Rite of Committal should accompany this action.  They should never be separated or scattered or disposed in any way other than a dignified interment or entombment.  

Can we plan our funeral arrangements months or years in advance?

Individuals are certainly encouraged to plan their funeral, just as they make arrangements for a will, and for the financial means to pay for their funeral.  This relieves some pressure from the family during the emotional grieving process immediately after death.  It also clarifies for the remaining family members or representative your wishes, e.g., the Funeral Mass, place of burial, music, readings, pall bearers, etc. Once these specifics for the funeral liturgy are known, the family then is left with arranging for the day of the funeral with the local parish church, funeral home and cemetery.

What is the difference between a Funeral Mass and a Memorial Mass?

A Funeral Mass has the body of the deceased or the cremated remains of the deceased present and has all the special prayers attributed to that Mass.  When the body or the cremated remains are not present it is called a Memorial Mass.  

Are Funeral Masses allowed in funeral homes?

Funeral Masses are not allowed in funeral homes. The Funeral Liturgy outside of Mass, as provided in the Order of Christian Funerals, is allowed in the funeral home.

Why can’t we schedule the funeral in the parish when we want it? 

Funerals are certainly important in the life of a family and also to the parish. Each parish is unique, however, in the capabilities of schedule, procedures and availability of ministers.  Many parishes have set times for funerals mindful that two funerals are possible in one day in addition to the celebration of other Masses and weddings. Parishes might also have some planned activities or events that would not be suitable in providing the best or most appropriate environment for a Funeral Mass to be celebrated at the same time.  

Are there some days were funerals are not allowed by the Church?

A Funeral Mass can be celebrated any day except on Holy Days of Obligation, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter and the Sundays of the Advent, Lent and Easter seasons. On these prohibited days, the funeral liturgy outside of Mass, without the distribution of communion, is permitted followed by the Rite of Committal.  In this circumstance, a Memorial Mass for the deceased may be celebrated later at the convenience of the family and local parish.  

Is there a fee to the church?

This fee is usally paid to the funeral home, which distributes it to the parish (and musicians, etc.). In the Diocese of Bridgeport, the fee may range between $200 and $300. The exact offering is determined by the local pastor. If the faithful, of their own free will, desire to give more to the parish, it can be accepted.

Due to tax considerations, a separate fee can be charged for the services of a musician and/or cantor. Those fees will be established by each pastor and the check will be made directly to the respective musicians.

Under no circumstances can the funeral rites be denied anyone because of financial considerations.

Can we include secular songs which the family chooses because they held special significance for the deceased? Do such songs have a proper place in the Funeral liturgy?

The introduction to the Order of Christian Funerals devotes four paragraphs to the question of Music in the Funeral liturgy (numbers 30-34). Number 30 is particularly relevant to your question.

"Music is integral to the Funeral rites. It allows the community to express convictions and feelings that word alone may fail to convey. It has the power to console and uplift the mourners and to strengthen the unity of the assembly in faith and love. The texts of the songs chosen for a particular celebration should express the paschal mystery of the Lord's suffering, death, and triumph over death and should be related to the readings from Scripture."

Thus, while Funeral music may express "convictions and feelings," its subject must always be the paschal mystery and it must be related to the readings from Scripture. 

Rather than adopting popular secular songs which are inappropriate to a liturgical setting, we should seek out good liturgical music on a paschal theme which can "support, console, and uplift participants and help to create in them a spirit of hope in Christ's victory over death and in the Christian's share in that victory." (Order of Christian Funerals, number 31)

Why are we encouraged to pray for the dead?

“At the death of a Christian, whose life of faith was begun in the waters of baptism and strengthened at the eucharistic table, the Church intercedes on behalf of the deceased because of its confident belief that death is not the end nor does it break the bonds forged in life.” (OCF 4) The dead need our prayers as we pray for God’s mercy and petition His forgiveness for all of their sins.  In addition, our prayers for the dead remind us that we are not separated from them as it strengthens our communion with all the saints. Such prayer is also beneficial to us as we prepare for our own passing from this life to the next.  We pray for the dead not only in our own personal prayers but also through Mass offerings.  There we join in the celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection and our desire and hope to share His victory with all those who have died in the same faith of Jesus Christ.  The Church has the annual celebration of All Souls Day every November 2 to commemorate all the faithful departed. Many parishes offer a special Mass on or around this day to especially remember those buried from the parish during the past year.  Masses for the deceased on the anniversary of their death, their birthday or other days are another way to offer our prayers for the dead.

Should we baptize infants who have died or are stillborn?

A living infant in danger of death is to be baptized without delay. When a priest or deacon is not available anyone may baptize with the consent of the parents. Catholic hospital personnel should be familiar with the rite found in Chapter V of the ritual Baptism for Children. Particular care needs to be given when a child is stillborn or dies shortly after birth. Parents will ask, often with sad persistence, that a priest or deacon baptize the child. In their loving concern, the parent’s underlying anxiety is really asking, “Is my unbaptized child with God?” Pastoral caregivers can confidently recall the words from the Catechism: “As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: ‘Let them come to me, do not hinder them’ allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without baptism.” (CCC 1261) The words of Pope John Paul II may be a source of solace to mothers feeling guilty over their aborted baby’s eternal fate: “You will come to understand that nothing is definitively lost and you will be able to ask forgiveness from your child who is now living with the Lord” (The Gospel of Life – 99). Baptism is a sacrament for the living. But we need to seek and find other rites that express the comfort of faith when infants die before baptism.

What other rites can be used with parents of deceased, stillborn or miscarried unbaptized infants?

Pastoral ministers will find many resources in the Order of Christian Funerals (OCF) Part II “Funeral Rites for Children.” Each prayer for a dead child also offers an alternative for a child who died before receiving baptism. Even if the child’s body is not present, the use of readings and prayer from the OCF can be very comforting to the family of a deceased infant. Hospital chaplains and parish priests testify to the effectiveness of the use of the “Order for Blessing of Parents after a Miscarriage” in the case of stillborn or miscarried babies. If the body of the child is present, often the ceremonies of naming and signing the child from the Rite of Baptism can be consoling when celebrated together with this blessing. (Books of Blessings IX p. 86) Effective pastoral presence and sympathetic words are at the heart of sound pastoral care. But we must recall that Catholics in grief seek and find in the Church’s liturgical rites an assurance of their child’s presence with God. We owe it to them to respond as fully as possible.

How should parishes and hospital ministers respond when parents of stillborns or infants who died without baptism request funeral rites?

Odd as it may seem, this is a request not always understood or honored by priests and other pastoral ministers. As a general principle, the Church encourages funeral rites for unbaptized infants and stillborn babies. In preparing funeral rites for situations such as these, we should keep in mind the following principles: 1. Part II of the OCF provides liturgical rites and texts for “Funeral Rites for Children” including the “Funeral Liturgy” with Mass in the presence of the body and “Funeral Liturgy outside of Mass” is also provided for in the OCF. 2. The OCF contains a section in Part I called “Related Rites and Prayers.” Here are found brief prayers and rites to be used in a home, hospital, or funeral home with family and friends after the death of a loved one. Note the instructions of OCF # 234 “These rites as they are presented in Part I are models and should be adapted by the minister to the circumstances of the funeral liturgy for a child.” This adaptation, using Scripture and prayers from the funeral liturgy for children, is most important pastorally. 3. It is important to note the variety of prayers in “Funeral Rites for Children.” The rites and prayers for baptized children are distinct from those for children who died before baptism. 4. The OCF encourages the use of those rites that will best meet the needs of the family and community. “The minister, in consultation with those concerned, chooses those rites that best correspond to the particular needs and customs of the mourners. In some instances, for example, the death of an infant, only the rite of committal and perhaps one of the forms of prayer with the family may be desirable.” (OCF #235) 5. The public, communal character of these liturgical rites is best respected when family, friends, and hospital staff or members of the parish community are invited to participate. This is done with pastoral sensitivity to the parents and immediate family but also bearing in mind the great support that a prayerful community can offer. The guidance offered here addresses a critical issue of pastoral care, namely, the variety of liturgical rites available when an infant dies. It is not then a question of simply tailoring the rites for children rather the larger issue is to select those rites and prayers which will meet the family’s needs.

What if funeral directors discourage liturgical rites for infants and stillborns?

Parents who desire an element of a Catholic funeral liturgy for their child have a right to a positive response. In the case of reluctant funeral directors, the local pastor, should support the request of parents and family for a funeral liturgy.

Where should the rites be celebrated for infants and stillborns?

Some rites can be celebrated in the hospital or in the family home – e.g. “Prayers after Death,” “Gathering in the Presence of the Body,” “Order for Blessing of Parents after a Miscarriage.” Other rites are better celebrated in a church, home or funeral home, e.g. the “Vigil for a Deceased Child” or the “Funeral Liturgy outside Mass” which includes the Final Commendation. The cemetery is the appropriate site for the Rite of Committal (With or without the Final Commendation). We should note the special rite for “Final Commendation for an Infant” (OCF # 337-342) as particularly suited to the committal of stillborns and infants who have died soon after birth.

In some cases the hospital will attend to the burial of a stillborn or an infant dying shortly after birth. What rites are suitable?

Where possible the “Rite of Final Commendation for an Infant” can be used (OCF # 337-342). It can be celebrated in the hospital with or without the presence of the child. Note that it is a model and may be adapted, e.g. with other readings from Scripture, or by asking the parents to name the child as part of the rite.

Is the celebration of Mass for deceased children(infants and stillborns) appropriate?

The Church offers the celebration of a Funeral Mass for baptized children but also for children who have died before baptism. In the case of unbaptized children certain ritual elements celebrating baptism, e.g. sprinkling with holy water, the use of the pall and incense are omitted. Special prayers are found in the ritual. Where the Funeral Liturgy in the presence of the body is not possible, a Funeral Mass for deceased children is appropriate after burial. Note that this no longer called “Mass of the Angels”: but a “Funeral Liturgy” in the liturgical books.