Diocesan News

Rosary vigil: Praying for the dead

Each part of funeral rite is important and has special meaning

Story by Reagan Scott

LINCOLN (SNR) — The practice of celebrating vigils is one that can be traced back to the time of Christ, who prayed in vigil in the Garden of Gethsemane before his crucifixion. According to Father Daniel Rayer, chairman of the diocesan liturgical commission, celebrating vigils is often associated with major events and feasts in the church, and this practice is important in the Catholic funeral rite as well.

The Catholic funeral rite is composed of three parts: the funeral vigil (wake), the funeral liturgy or funeral Mass, and the rite of committal (burial or interment). Each part is important and has special meaning.

According to the Order of Christian Funerals, no. 4, in addition to offering a way to intercede on behalf of the deceased, the Catholic funeral rite also allows the Church to minister to the sorrowing and console them in the funeral rites with “the comforting word of God and the sacrament of the Eucharist.”

As the first part of the funeral rite, the vigil is celebrated following the death of the individual, and before the liturgy. According to the Order of Christian Funerals no. 56, “At the vigil, the Christian community keeps watch with the family in prayer to the God of mercy and finds strength in God’s presence.”

In most instances, the vigil will take place in the funeral home, but can also be held in the family’s home or in a church. The vigil service can take two different forms using the Liturgy of the Word, or the Office of the Dead from the Liturgy of the Hours.

According to Father Rayer, the Liturgy of the Word rite follows the same format as the first part of the Mass and concludes with a closing prayer and blessing.

The Office for the Dead, on the other hand, includes an opening hymn, three psalms from the Book of Psalms, a scripture reading, homily, intercessions, praying of the Magnificat and Lord’s Prayer, followed by a concluding prayer and blessing.

No matter which form is used, Father Rayer said that the focus is on the proclamation of the word of God found in the Scriptures.

“The purpose of the sacred readings is to proclaim the paschal mystery of Christ by which Christ has conquered death and offered us the hope of eternal life,” he said.

Each funeral vigil also includes a prayer of intercession on behalf of the deceased. In this way, the lay faithful express their confidence in Christ in his victory over death.

For many, most funeral vigils would be incomplete without devotions such as the Rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet. These may be prayed before or after the vigil rite, or in the rite, such as a replacement of the intercessions. 

“It may surprise some that the rosary is not prescribed as part of the funeral vigil.” Father Rayer said. “However, praying the Rosary at a funeral vigil is a longstanding custom that has prevailed in many places.”

He noted that while praying the Rosary at the funeral vigil may be common in the Lincoln Diocese, it may not be used in this way in other parts of the country or world.

“The Rosary is a great intercessory prayer to invoke our Blessed Mother’s intercession on behalf of the deceased person,” Father Rayer said.

Finally, if family and friends would like to share eulogies for the deceased, they are encouraged to share them during the funeral vigil. Because they are not part of the funeral rite most funeral Masses don’t include eulogies, and the Lincoln Diocese has guidelines regarding the use of eulogies during the funeral Mass.

“The Mass is set aside for praying for the deceased,” Father Rayer said. “The vigil has more time set aside for remembering the person’s life, this is why it is recommended to have them at the end of whichever rite is celebrated at the vigil.”

While the funeral vigil contains structural elements, the rite has many parts that allow it to be celebrated in a way that the family desires.

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