OCF 59-61: Vigil, Liturgy of the Word

Let’s cover the Liturgy of the Word at the funeral vigil in one post. First a description of what’s included:

59. The proclamation of the word of God is the high point and central focus of the vigil. The liturgy of the word usually includes a first reading, responsorial psalm, gospel reading, and homily. A reader proclaims the first reading. The responsorial psalm should be sung, whenever possible. If an assisting deacon is present, he proclaims the gospel reading. Otherwise the presiding minister proclaims the gospel reading.

This tells us a few important things. The vigil is modelled on the Liturgy of the Word at Mass. It’s not a “thrown-together prayer service.” The pattern from the Eucharist is repeated here, and for good reason. Tradition, predictability, and minimal distraction as to what’s happening next. The ministries of liturgical leadership are also respected, and the vigil presumes a psalmist, possibly a deacon, and certainly a well-prepared presider (which might be a lay person).

This next section, like OCF 56, gives the spiritual, pastoral, and liturgical background for the Liturgy of the Word. Any student of the liturgy, especially clergy, should be aware of such passages in these introductions and know them. Know how to apply them, how to adapt in consideration of them, and how to catechize from their content. First, I’ll mark off the four “purposes” of the Scripture proclaimed at the vigil:

60. The purpose of the readings at the vigil is

– to proclaim the paschal mystery,
– teach remembrance of the dead,
– convey the hope of being gathered together in God’s kingdom,
– and encourage the witness of Christian life.

Above all, the readings tell of God’s designs for a world in which suffering and death will relinquish their hold on all whom God has called his own. The responsorial psalm enables the community to respond in faith to the reading and to express its grief and its praise of God. In the selection of the readings the needs of the mourners and the circumstances of the death should be kept in mind.

61. A homily based on the readings is given at the vigil to help those present find strength and hope in God’s saving word.


Consider that those four purposes are given in order of priority. Christ is at the top of the list, through his paschal mystery.

Note also that the Scriptures are to “teach” remembrance of the dead. I would presume that there’s an understanding that our deceased loved one will be remembered personally, but that this remembrance is to be lensed through the Christian experience and what we believe about death. So it’s not just about mourning, or “feeling” someone’s presence/spirit.

Heaven is a hope; the afterlife is not primarily about fear.

And interesting that the occasion of death is seen as a possible transformative experience for those left behind. We live as Christians, and others see our witness, even when we are racked with grief.

I might have a quibble with the isolating of the psalm as only a response to the reading and as an expression of worship of God. While the psalm does indeed do these things, it is also part of the proclamation of the paschal mystery, remembrance of the dead, the search for hope, and so forth.

And a homilist does consider the “needs of the mourners and the circumstances of the death.” It happens indirectly through the selection of readings and is always lensed through the proclamation of Christ and the Scriptures.



About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Order of Christian Funerals, post-conciliar liturgy documents, Rites. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to OCF 59-61: Vigil, Liturgy of the Word

  1. FrMichael says:

    The vigil is an interesting topic. In no particular order:

    -It is the liturgy most likely to be conducted by a layperson instead of a cleric.

    -Inevitably people think of the Rosary as the “Vigil.” Some of us more energetic priests conduct both the liturgy and Rosary. This hybridization seems to work well.

    -It is the first independent liturgical training ground for seminarians and deacons working in a parish setting.

    -The majority of the congregation is often unchurched, Christmas-and-Easter types, or non-Catholic.

    -The paragraph from the Introduction gives a fine overview, particularly the four-fold guidance on the readings (and, by extension, the preaching).

    -Liturgists who don’t participate in these liturgies now and then are missing something big in how the funeral liturgies unfold in the life of a grieving family.

    Last comment: in recent years I am finding that more people attend the Vigil than the Mass. Perhaps it is a function of working schedules, but I’m guessing it is more a function of an increased unchurched population feeling uncomfortable at the peculiarly Catholic Mass over the seemingly less sectarian Vigil.

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