Your mother is asking for her departure from this world to be accompanied by the rituals of the church.

Good news: it no longer involves descending into a catacomb, which was the normative way Christians were buried for the first five centuries. Unlike most earlier societies, Christians weren't buried in these underground vaults with valuable objects they might require in the afterlife—a disappointment to grave robbers. But at my dad's viewing before the casket was closed, his small grandson saw fit to tuck a Hot Wheels car in beside Grandpap. That sort of generous gesture is entirely okay.

Your mother is asking for her departure from this world to be accompanied by the rituals of the church. Christians share with Jews and other ancient religions a respect for the dead and how their bodies are treated posthumously. This included washing and dressing the bodies with care. What distinguishes the Christian response to death is that we rejoice and give thanks for those who have "gone before us marked with the sign of faith." So no need to hire a band of mourners, though it's natural to shed a tear at the loss of our dear ones.

As early as the seventh century, a believer near death was given the Eucharist along with a reading from Scripture. After death, the body was delivered to the church, psalms were prayed, followed by a procession to the place of burial. Catholics still follow a similar format. Calling the priest to administer "last rites" when a person is expected to die is proper, a ritual known as viaticum ("on the way with you"). Even if your mother is unconscious, it's possible to perform this rite. 

After death, the body may be brought for a church viewing, though this vigil service popularly known as a wake or rosary is often held at a funeral parlor. A priest may be present, or the vigil can be led by anyone. It typically includes a Liturgy of the Word: a song, prayer, Scripture reading, psalm, gospel, short reflection, and prayers of intercession, concluding with the Lord's Prayer. That's the standard vigil; however, many wakes involve little formal prayer, since many attendees aren't Catholic. While the church’s preference is that the body be present for the vigil and funeral Masses, some families choose cremation. "In all, pastors are encouraged to show pastoral sensitivity.” (Appendix #415 Order of Christian Funerals.) 

The final part of fulfilling your mother's request is the funeral and committal rituals. Her pastor will know what's required for these rites at the church and gravesite. These four moments of passage together–the dying time, vigil, funeral, and burial—are marked by simple rites acknowledging a life is ending, yet life continues.

Scripture: Genesis 23:1-9; 49:29—50:14, 24-26; Exodus 13:19; Deuteronomy 34:5-8; Joshua 24:29-33; 2 Samuel 21:13-14; 1 Kings 2:10; 11:43; Tobit 1:16-20; 2:3-8; Sirach 38:16; Mark 15:42-46; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42; 1 Corinthians 15:55

Books: Planning the Catholic Funeral, by Terence Curley (Liturgical Press, 2005)

Now and at the Hour of Our Death: Instructions for My Medical Treatment, Finances, and Funeral, by Victoria Tufano et. al. (Liturgy Training Publications, 2022)

Reprinted with permission from ©TrueQuest Communications.

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