Office for the Dead: Reception Of The Body In Church

A few weeks ago, a commentator asked about the Office for the Dead. A discussion on this was included in our examination of the funeral rites almost ten years ago.

In any parish I served, I would recommend the celebration of the Hours there, with the body, and not at the funeral home. Or at least a serious consideration of the possibility. That’s a good discussion point, if nothing else, made easy if provision can be made for keeping the body overnight.

If you want a longer commentary on the meaning behind the reception of the body, look here. The praenotanda is worthwhile reading every so often to tether us to tradition and the meanings behind the liturgy.

Reception is usually blended in with the start of Mass. If it is done prior to Mass, be it an hour or two for viewing or the night before for a Word service or Vespers, it need not be repeated. And shouldn’t be.

Another point to which to attend: when the Reception is part of the Liturgy of the Hours, OCF 82-86 supercedes the introductory verse (Cf. OCF 374 and 386: God, come to my assistance …) and the hymn for the Office (Cf. OCF 375 and 387).

The Reception ritual is quite simple:

  • Greeting
  • Sprinkling with Holy Water
  • Placing of the Pall (optional)
  • Entrance Procession (with song, psalm, or responsory)
  • Placing of Christian Symbols (optional; Bible or cross)
  • Invitation to Prayer
  • Opening Prayer

A few comments here:

I think it is possible to have some kind of movement/procession from outside to in if the funeral home staff is willing. But if there is a minimum amount of time between the arrival of the body, and the formal start of worship, it seems a gathering of mourners around the place of the casket is the proper location for this Reception. A church’s layout determines how this is best done. My sense is the adaptation is easy for any seating layout.

If you attend funerals, you know the drill here: the casket is sprinkled, the pall is placed, and often, a family member places a rosary, cross, or bible. For a cleric, the Book of Gospels is appropriate.

You may notice the spacing of these placements: the ritual presents a break between them. Why? The water and the white pall are associated with baptism, and these functions are traditionally located at the entrance of a church, or nearby (such as at an exterior baptistry or a font in a narthex or at the rear of seating).

I’ve often seen these elements mixed up in order and sometimes joined together with the procession preceding or following all of them. No real harm is done by this, and it strikes many ministers as expedient to keep water, pall, and cross together. If a parish can be consistent on this ritual, with the given spacings, I think the subtle symbolism might eventually sink in.

Hymns are considered proper to the Liturgy of the Hours as our reform2 friends inform us. The funeral rites suggest a song (which I would interpret structurally as an antiphon-plus-verses format), a psalm, or a responsory. I wouldn’t see a strophic hymn as excluded–there are hymn settings of paraphrased psalms available in any genre. The responsory form (a brief call-and-response, usually threefold) would seem to fit if there is little or no procession. The funeral rites have many suggestions for psalms, both in the Mass and for the Hours and other celebrations. No lack of possibilities there.

One interesting recommendation in the rites is to utilize one of the texts of the Song of Farewell for this procession. It would form an interesting set of bookends for the church experience. Worth considering.

My very brief ten-year-old commentary on the Vigil at church is here if you want to catch up a bit. Otherwise, any comments on the beginning of the Office for the Dead at a church?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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