PeppermintPatty attends a Catholic funeral mass via live stream

I just “returned” from attending the funeral mass of a friend. I’ve been to several Catholic services, but never before a Catholic funeral mass. I play bridge in a little local duplicate group. In the before times, we played in someone’s home, and usually had 2 or 3 tables. Now we mostly play on BBO with a concurrent zoom session (so we can chat) and because BBO doesn’t handle teams games with 3 tables very well, we are limited to 8 players at a time. Pat was a regular in the game, until cancer made it harder for her. She still played from time to time, when she was up to it, until near the end, however.

For a number of reasons I decided to attend the on-line version, and not attend the mass in person. I was disappointed that it was only a live-stream, and not a zoom, but I guess Catholic masses aren’t very interactive (except for communion, which I wasn’t going to do anyway) so the choice makes sense for them.

The service opened with a young woman welcoming us to the celebration of Pat’s life. Not knowing the proper terminology, I am going to refer to her as the cantor, since her role in the service was similar to that of a cantor in ours. Then the priest led a procession into the sanctuary, which included the casket and the immediate family. I was a little surprised that the pall bearers appeared to be professionals, and not family members. (I was a pall bearer once, and except for the emotional aspect, it’s very easy.)

As a Jew, I always find the word “celebration” uncomfortable at funerals. Sure, if you are doing a memorial service months later, after most of the mourners have mostly recovered, I suppose it’s okay. But when Jews go to funerals, we mourn, we don’t celebrate. We rip our clothes and sob and stand around looking glum. (Well, technically, we rip our clothes upon learning of the death, but it’s customary to wear a piece of ripped cloth at the service, as a symbol of that, and so everyone know who the principal mourners are.)

Jewish funerals also feature only a few prayers, and a lot of remembrances. Reform Judaism teaches that the dead live on in the memory of the living, so it’s important to remember our dead and tell stories about them. The focus of this mass was, not surprisingly, resurrection through Jesus Christ.

It was an abbreviated mass, with only one reading (from the NT) and no sermon. Everyone was masked, except those who were speaking, and the congregants appeared to be distanced, with a cluster here and a cluster there. The casket sat in the front of the center aisle throughout the service. It was a fairly simple wooden casket draped with a fabric cross.

The priest promised that we would hear remembrances of Pat, but there weren’t many of those. The priest spent several minutes talking about her piety, and her service to the church, fairly early in the service. Then there were some prayers on the theme of eternal life and resurrection, most led by the cantor.

Then the priest offered communion, beginning with the family, and asked that everyone else who wanted to partake line up on either side of the casket after the family. The priest offered communion to the family, and those on those to my right, and the cantor offered communion to those on my left. I noticed that all of the family lined up, but one did not partake of communion. Presumably, he’s not a Catholic. The officiants only offered the wafer to the congregation, although the priest drank some wine at the start, after blessing the offering, which I think he called the gift. (Or, I guess he actually transubstantiated it. I’m not sure how one describes that process.) This was the only portion of the service where the priest wore a mask, presumably so the congregants could take theirs off, briefly, to accept the wafer.

After communion, there was more discussion of eternal life in Jesus Christ, and some more prayers and hymns. While this took place, the priest drank the rest of the wine, rinsed the cup with water and drank that, and then wiped the cup out with a cloth. That struck me as odd, but then I remembered that the dregs of wine were literally the blood of Jesus Christ, so of course you can’t just pour it down the sink and wash the cup with soap and water after the service. (which I’m sure is what my congregation does with the kiddush cup and any wine left in it after the service.)

Eventually (about 40 minutes in), two of her daughters stood up, and and one spoke a little about her life, while the other offered support. While she said nice things about her mother’s life, I was disappointed that I didn’t learn anything interesting about Pat. I knew that she visited Canada every summer, and was gracious and welcoming to her friends, and I would have assumed she was a devoted mother and grandmother had I ever thought about it. Of course, it’s very hard to write a eulogy for your mom – my brother took on that task because none of us wanted to. But I missed having a random assortment of friends speak about different aspects of the deceased, which is the norm in a Jewish funeral, and common in other Christian memorial services I’ve attended.

Then a couple more prayers about eternal life, and the priest and cantor lit an incense holder on a chain, and the priest wafted incense over the casket from several directions. Google tells me the container is called a thurible, and the thurible reminded me a lot of the spice-holder that Jews use in the end-of-Sabbath service, and I wondered if there’s any historical connection between the two. And if not, what is the origin of that ritual.

Finally, the congregation receded to “Ode to Joy”. The recession was led by the priest, walking backwards, then the casket, then the family, and finally, everyone else.

I confess to morbidly wondering what was in the casket, as the notice said the family was cremating the body. Did the casket contain the ashes? A chilled body?

I’m sorry there was no “book” I could sign. The Temple has promised to give us a list of who was on my mom’s zoom service, after they get around to processing the recording.

Ashes to ashes…


So only some people get to wear ripped clothing at a Jewish funeral? Is it bad form if you wear ripped clothing and you aren’t immediate family? Just curious where the “line” is for who can and who can’t.

And sorry your friend passed!

If I had known you would see Patricia there I would have said to say “hello” for me.

I’m sorry for your loss, Miss Van Pelt.

Sounds like a great time! (I hate funerals, as I disclose my discomfort with terrible quips uncomfortable for all.)

If there is a notice in the local paper, you can leave a comment there. A family member of mine has an eternal (well, until the online newspaper dies) obit that people can comment on forever. Yes, it cost me some money, but I think it was well worth it.

Kind of weird there was a casket for cremated remains. At several of my family’s Catholic services involving cremations, the urn is at the front instead of a casket. “The Church” still wants the urn to be buried in a Catholic cemetery, I think.

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Judaism has rules for everything. The principal mourners are:

Parents, children, siblings, spouse

But funerals are a bad time to be judgey. And Reform Judaism is all about adopting the rituals that are meaningful to you. So yeah, anyone can wear anything.

For the Catholic funerals I’ve been to, the wakes were for the remembrance bit (stories about the life, maybe some videos, pictures/slide shows, etc.), and the Mass or service was standard readings, funeral-related homily, etc. with a few sweet anecdotes, and some general nice things to say, but nothing very involved. You’re not supposed to be doing long eulogies at Mass.

The wake is usually held the day before the funeral.

For my relatives who did cremation, they did have an open casket wake, so there was some embalming, etc., and procession, etc. The cremation happened later. The casket was closed during the Mass.

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Saving it for the wake makes sense. We did a Zoom “Shiva”, rather than a “Memorial Service” for my mom, because the Temple’s “service” is mostly a service, and the Temple’s “Shiva” is 4-6 prayers followed by open sharing. “Shiva” is a lot like a wake, except that it’s more about mourning and caring for the mourners than it is about remembering the dead.

more on shiva

So, traditionally, during shiva the mourners will cover their mirrors and sit on stools, rather than chairs that have backs, and generally remind themselves physically of their emotional discomfort. And the shiva is in the home of the mourners, who might disappear into a bedroom and not talk to anyone, or might sit in the living room and talk about how their friend’s kids are doing. But still, family and friends all gather and eat and talk at both. Yeah, I understand wakes often involve a lot of booze. I don’t know if it’s actually forbidden, but booze is not common at a shiva.

The notice didn’t include information about a wake. Maybe I’ll hear more later.

Why cremate if you are going to embalm the body and then bury the ashes? The great thing about cremation is that you don’t need to buy a casket, or pay for burial, and you can either put the ashes in any old container, or scatter them in a wide variety of places on your own schedule.


When my mother passed, we ended up having the funeral service without her remains. The timing of the service was dictated to fit with the schedules of her friends; her remains were actually in the crematorium at the time of the service. I didn’t think it appropriate to mention to folks that they were crying and bidding farewell to a “loaner” urn.

For Catholics, you’re not supposed to scatter the ashes, or keep them in an urn at home, but place them in a consecrated space intended for them, called a columbarium.

So, rather than dig up/buy the text from the conference of bishops, here is something from a funeral home, and this sounds correct:

Should Cremation occur before or after the funeral?

The Church clearly prefers and urges that the body be present during the Vigil and Funeral Mass, and that if cremation is to be used, it take place following the Rite of Final Commendation.

The cremated human remains would be interred during the Rite of Committal. However, the diocesan bishop may for a good reason permit the cremated remains to be present for the Funeral Litergy.

What should become of the cremated remains following the funeral?

Church teaching insists that cremated remains must be given the same respect as the body, including the manner in which they are carried and the attention given to their appropriate transport and placement.

The cremated remains of a body are to be buried or entombed, preferably in a Catholic cemetery, and using the rites provided by the Order of Christian Funerals. The following are not considered to be reverent dispositions that the Church requires: scattering cremated remains, dividing cremated remains and keeping cremated remains in the home.

The remains of a cremated body should be treated with the same respect given to the corporeal remains of a human body. This includes a worthy container to hold the cremated remains.

So generally, we do have the whole body there (if possible) for the funeral Mass, and cremation, if any, comes later. There’s no scattering of ashes.

My father’s funeral was the first religious (Episcopal) service I attended in person since the Before Time. At it, I learned that that diocese had shifted to administering wafers using fancy inverted pez-dispenser like devices, with only the officiant partaking in wine, in the pandemic-fueled interest of hygiene.

Yes, that’s why I asked “why cremate at all, if you still need to do all that stuff?”

When my father died, we called the service a “funeral” and the rabbi’s advice was to simply not mention that no casket was present.

Of course, in his case, most of the tearful farewells were over his barely-living body in the ICU, two years before his death. No one believed he would live. I asked one of the doctors, “if things go well, what might it look like” and he flat our refused to answer that. It was really his ICU nurse who saved his life, imo.

He recovered, and lived two good years after that, and then dropped dead suddenly and unexpectedly from a blood clot that probably was a side effect of his time in the ICU. But… most of those tearful goodbyes had already been said.

I just re-read it. It says “no wake”. I did stop by the house to drop off a cheese platter and express my condolences (hey, that’s how Jews do it) and her house was full of her family – children, grandchildren, and maybe some great-grand-kids. So I guess they effectively have a private, family-only wake. Probably a covid thing.

A columbarium niche still tends to be cheaper than a full cemetery plot. And you can fill a whole lotta people in a smaller space, and sometimes they’re inside a building, instead of outside where it might rain on people wanting to visit.

Stu & I both plan on cremation. I think my parents do, too – their church has a nice columbarium, and it’s easy to expand that space.

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Thanks, that makes sense.

It’s possible that this is a practice that’s been pushed out by non ecumenical services. The ones I’ve attended are a combination of wake and memorial service held at the funeral home. People stand up and talk about their life.
As much as there can be anything positive about a funeral, I like this part. People give really interesting insights into the deceased’s life.
When my uncles sister died, I’d always known her as a crusty old woman. I found out at her funeral that she was full on convertible sports car wild child when she was young. And that she’d had a great love who’d died decades ago. Thats a good celebration.

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I love the stories. I’ve also learned all sorts of fascinating things about people at their funerals. I’m just not feeling “celebratory”, i guess, since I’m pretty sure people are dead when they die, and that typically makes me sad.

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Physically, people are dead with they die. Socially (?), they live as long as people carry those memories on. We talk about Mrs. Hoffman’s mom and dad quite a bit around the house; what they’d think about things the kids are doing, things they used to do, things they did with the kids, etc. We don’t talk about my mom unless it’s in a derisive fashion.

The stuff you didn’t know and find out after they die usually gets discussed pre-funeral, but it can also depend on the family and friends and their level of comfort of talking about the deceased. I know some of Mrs. Hoffman’s family was swapping untold stories with friends and other family members. I’ve also been to other services and it’s very “show up, put on the brave face, move on with life, never discuss the deceased again.”