One thing you will not find in the Church’s liturgy is the rosary during a wake. There can be a lot of misunderstanding about this. The rosary is ritual, to be sure. But it is not part of the funeral rites.
A few pastors I know take this position to extremes, but I don’t see the need for denying people a devotional expression of prayer, especially if they are accustomed to it.
A few more pastors make a minimalist approach. They authorize the omission of the Vigil liturgy in favor of devotion. This, too, is wrong.
The purpose of this series is to gain insight as to what the Church expects from the observance of liturgy between death and committal. Your own observations about what is done well and not so well will help to make the discussion connect with real parish experiences. Let’s get to today’s numbered section, two paragraphs, the first in the overall sub-part titled, “Vigil and Related Rites and Prayers”:
51. The rites provided here may be celebrated between the time of death and the funeral liturgy, or, should there be no funeral liturgy, before the rite of committal. Two forms of the vigil are presented here: “Vigil for the Deceased,” and “Vigil for the Deceased with Reception at the Church,” for convenient use in accord with the circumstances.
The first of these rites is given in OCF 69-81; the second in sections 82-97. The former is used when the Vigil takes place in a funeral home or domicile. It’s not unheard of for a wake to take place in a parish church, along with a Vigil liturgy. The presiding minister uses the second of these rites in such an instance; it includes a recognition of the space in which this liturgy may be celebrated.
“Related Rites and Prayers” includes three brief rites that may be used on occasions of prayer with the family: “Prayer after Death,” “Gathering in the Presence of the Body,” and “Transfer of the Body to the Church or to the Place of Committal.” These rites are examples or models of what can be done and should be adapted to the circumstances.
OCF 98 through 127 cover these three options.
When I was active in rural ministry, my practice was to ensure the mourners prayed. Often we bookmarked visitation time by family and friends with a rosary to start (mainly for family members) and a Vigil with a word service toward the end (when more non-Catholic townsfolk were likely to be present).
Sometimes the occasion of death is an uncomfortable one for all concerned. Family emotions are frayed. Visitors can feel awkward. Prayer helps unite those present in both an orientation toward God and give a substrate in which anyone present can help–in prayer.
The Church is wise to provide patterns for prayer with the family. A priest or pastoral minister will find much variation in a family’s religious sensibilities. These rituals for home, hospital, hospice, or funeral home need to be flexible to ensure the family does pray, or at the very least, is aware that others are praying for them and for the one who has died.