OCF 57-58: Structure of the Vigil, Introductory Rites

Stating the obvious:

57. The vigil in the form of the liturgy of the word consists of the introductory rites, the liturgy of the word, the prayer of intercession, and a concluding rite.

Let’s get into detail–a lot of detail–on those introductory rites:

58. The introductory rites gather the faithful together to form a community and to prepare all to listen to God’s word. The introductory rites of the vigil of the deceased include the greeting, an opening song, an invitation to prayer, a pause for silent prayer, and an opening prayer.

Let’s pause at this point. Note the two aims of the introductory rites: forming a (worshiping) community and preparation to hear the word. How does this matter? These purposes guide the use and adaptation of the vigil. For example, if the vigil takes place after a long period of visitation, most of the steps toward forming community have already happened. There would certainly be no need for “instruction” about it. The greeting would be brief and simple, and the opening song just what is necessary to begin the preparation for the word.

It probably goes without saying, but the song here should ideally be based on Scripture. Note also that it is not an “entrance” song, but an opening of the celebration of liturgy after the greeting, or call to order, if you will.

More detail here on how to pray the opening prayer than we’ve seen in other liturgical rites. Invite people to pray, then keep silence. Then offer the prayer.

In the vigil for the deceased with reception at the church, the rite of reception forms the introductory rites (nos. 82-86). In this case the family and others who have accompanied the body are greeted at the entrance of the church. The body is then sprinkled with holy water and, if it is the custom, the pall is placed on the coffin by family members, friends, or the minister. The entrance procession follows, during which a hymn or psalm is sung. At the conclusion of the procession a symbol of the Christian life may be placed on the coffin. Then the invitation to prayer, a pause for silent prayer, and an opening prayer conclude the introductory rites.

Note some changes in both terminology and the solemnity of the vigil when it is observed in a church building. Those who have accompanied the body are greeted–and this is the formal liturgical greeting, not just a hi-put-the-coffin-there conversation.

Remember that the rite assumes the body will be kept at the church if it received there for the vigil, so much of the ritual associated with the beginning of a funeral takes place at this time, and probably not repeated at the next liturgy.

The rite isn’t specific about who greets. The minister, certainly. If professionals or just some family have accompanied the body, probably some or the rest of the family could be stationed at the entrance, then proceed to seating during the entrance procession. And note that this is indeed an entrance, unlike a situation in which a vigil is held in the funeral home or house. The “entrance” is less about the minister (and others) who enter, but that it is a church that is being entered.

And of course, we have the invitation, silence, and spoken prayer–a careful ritual that should be respected.

Behold, an instruction about music:

The opening song or entrance song should be a profound expression of belief in eternal life and the resurrection of the dead, as well as a prayer of intercession for the dead.

Is there a difference between an opening song and an entrance song? Probably not in terms of the content of the text. As for the general belief in human resurrection, any number of New Testament passages suggest themselves: the canticles in Revelation, certain passages in 1 Corinthians 15 or Romans 6 or 8 or perhaps the letters to Thessalonika.

The focus on Christian resurrection and intercession for the dead suggest we might have a harder time in the Psalter. One song that successfully bridges the gap between the Psalter and Christian Scriptures and includes intercessory prayer is Jeremy Young’s “We Shall Rise Again.”

For a church, I would give consideration to a responsorial piece, or even a litany. I’ve never convinced anyone to use it, but the Litany of the Saints, with an Easter Vigil-like structure (additional invocations for the deceased) might suit.

What are your observations or suggestions?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
This entry was posted in Order of Christian Funerals, post-conciliar liturgy documents, Rites. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to OCF 57-58: Structure of the Vigil, Introductory Rites

  1. FrMichael says:

    My comments regarding music:

    You take what you can get. If the family goes out of there way to get a church music group there, I’ll pretty much use whatever they want to sing. I’m usually pleasantly surprised by their picks: themes of Resurrection are prominent.

    A cappella and chant just doesn’t work at Vigil.

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