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Funerals: The Christian’s Last Passover

The Christian funeral is a liturgical celebration of the Church. The ministry of the Church in this instance aims at expressing efficacious communion with the deceased, at the participation in that communion of the community gathered for the funeral, and at the proclamation of eternal life into the community.  (Catechism of the Catholic Church n.1680)


All the Sacraments, and principally those of Christian initiation, have as their goal the last Passover of the child of God which, through death, leads him into the life of the Kingdom. Then what he confessed in faith and hope will be fulfilled: “ I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church n. 1680)

Funerals at St Patrick’s Cathedral are arranged with and for Parishioners of the Cathedral Parish and done so by appointment. At St John the Evangelist East Melbourne funerals are arranged by appointment for Parishioners in both English and/or Vietnamese.

It is customary to make an offering to the Church on the occasion of a funeral. The customary donation for the use of St. Patrick’s Cathedral is $1500 and $500 at
St John the Evangelist Church East Melbourne. The stipend for funerals is $300 for both
St Patrick’s Cathedral and St John’s East Melbourne.

Please note that if you do not live within the Parish, we ask that you make contact with your own local Catholic Parish Church and have the funeral celebrated locally amidst the people who gather there regularly to celebrate their union with one another, the Church, Jesus and God. 

For further information about arranging Funerals at the Cathedral or at
Saint John’s East Melbourne, please contact the Parish Administration on 9662 2233.

Requirements of the Catholic Church
for the Celebration of Funerals:

1.    At the death of a Christian the Church prays on behalf of the deceased in the confidence that death is not the end and that we can be supported in coming to be with God by those who pray for us after our death.

The Mass, the memorial of Christ’s death and resurrection, is the principal celebration of the Christian Funeral, which is intended to bring hope and consolation to the living and to reinforce their belief in eternal life where they and the deceased will be reunited.

2.    In the Catholic Church the emphasis is on prayer and memorial rather than the recounting of all the details which made up a person’s life.


A.    The normal format is that there be the celebration of Mass at which Catholics can receive Holy Communion and which concludes with the Final Commendation and Farewell.

B.    Where Mass is not celebrated there is a Liturgy of the Word, Prayers and Intercession, and the Final Commendation.


The texts for the Mass are given among the Masses and Prefaces for the Dead in the Roman Missal.  The Readings are taken from those for Christian Burial in the Lectionary, Volume 3, pages 849-906, and the other prayers (at home, for reception of the body in the church, the prayers of the faithful and the final commendation, as well as the prayers at the cemetery, are found in the Order of Christian Funerals).


With primacy being given to the use of the organ and vocal singing, the primary Catholic emphasis is that the unchanging parts of the Mass be sung with the addition of some approved hymns.  The use of secular songs, tapes, or other favourite pieces are not permitted in the church, which is set aside as a sacred place for the worship of God.


Unlike many other Churches the Catholic Church has a fixed structure and set texts (from which some choices may be made for use at funerals).  The only free items of composition are the petitions of the Prayer of the Faithful, which should be brief proclamations of intentions for the Church, the society, the deceased and the mourners.


The Catholic Church permits only two such opportunities; the homily which is preached by the priest after the Gospel, and for one person to give some words of farewell after the Prayer after Communion and before the Final Commendation.  This should be a brief intervention of no more than four to five minutes and should be approved by the priest beforehand.  The structure of the Roman liturgy is always concise and does not admit of other interventions disproportionate to the liturgy itself.


Even with the most solemn form of Mass a Catholic funeral should not take more than one hour.


In organising a Catholic funeral, Catholics may be invited to proclaim the First and Second Readings and the petitions of the Prayer of the Faithful.  The Bishop may grant permission for a non-Catholic to do this.

Having had similar responsibilities in the Church in the days of David Ford and his predecessor, I am quite aware of the challenges which attend the making of these arrangements.  Perhaps a solution can be found if family members are involved in Readings and Offertory Procession, while a more public figure may do the words of farewell.

An alternative solution which allows greater flexibility and perhaps more possibilities for flexibility is that the custom of the Church allows an additional service of prayer and of the Word of God on the night before a funeral.  This is a more appropriate place for the reflection about the life of those who have died.


The casket is placed at the head of the aisle with the feet towards the altar and with the Paschal Candle standing nearby.  The normal customs of placing flowers or a bible or a funeral pall or, where appropriate, the national flag are quite acceptable.  It would be usual for badges and other insignia to be placed on a small table.  It is not recommended that football colours, cricket bats or other items be used in church.

I trust that these points will be helpful in clarifying the parameters under which the Church must operate and in helping us to avoid misunderstandings in cooperating with each other and in educating families of what is required on these memorable occasions.

4th August, 2009.

Most Reverend Denis J. Hart D.D.