The Rite of Committal
Perhaps the simplest and most meaningful part of the Rite of Christian Burial is the Rite of Committal, that final ceremony at the graveside where the body is laid to rest. Here, the family and friends of the deceased gather to take their final leave, and the body is committed to the ground and to the hope of the resurrection. Here, the fundamental reality of death and the most basic truth of faith take their place side by side.
The Blessing of the Grave
The grave is a powerful sign of loss, but it is also sacred, consecrated by Christ, who himself lay in a tomb. Thus, a Christian cemetery, and in particular the Christian grave, is holy ground – ground blessed by the Church so that it might hold a precious relic – the body of a Christian made holy through baptism, nourished with the sacraments, and, we pray, awaiting the resurrection to life on the day of Christ's return. Thus, the grave, itself, is blessed, as the priest or deacon prays in these words:
Lord Jesus Christ,
by your own three days in the tomb,
you hallowed the graves of all who believe in you
and so made the grave a sign of hope
that promises resurrection
even as it claims our mortal bodies.
Grant that our brother may sleep here in peace
until you awaken him to glory
for you are the resurrection and the life.
Once the grave has been blessed, and so made a sacred place where the body of Christ's beloved may lie in peace, the rite of committal takes place. The priest or deacon offers a prayer, entrusting the body of the one who has died to the earth, and their soul to God. It might be similar to the following:
Because God has chosen to call our brother from this life to Himself,
we commit his body to the earth,
for we are dust and onto dust we shall return.
But the Lord Jesus will change our mortal bodies to be like His in glory,
for He is risen, the firstborn of the dead.
So let us commend our brother to the Lord,
that the Lord may embrace him in peace and raise up his body on the last day.
At this point, the body may be lowered into the grave, although in the United States it is often customary for the final disposition of the body to wait until after the committal service is completed. The placing of the body in the grave reminds us of the grain of wheat, buried in the ground, which then springs forth with new life. In this way, too, the body of the dead, like a seed, is placed in the ground, with the hope that it will rise forth again on the day of resurrection.
Following the committal, the mourners who are present join in prayer for the deceased. A series of petitions asks eternal rest for the one who has died, and peace of heart for those who remain. All present then join in the Lord's prayer, which is concluded with a prayer by the priest or deacon, and with a blessing. The blessing brings the whole funeral rite to its conclusion, and it stands as an assurance that, even in the midst of loss, God continues to pour out his blessings on His people. A funeral fills our hearts with sorrow, but for a Christian, it is not an empty sorrow, but a sorrow that is filled with hope. Our separation brings loss, but it neither our loss nor our separation is forever, as all are alive to God, and all who are one in Him, are one also in each other. At the end of the funeral, we know that God is still good, and that His blessing remains always with His faithful people.
Go to the Guide to Catholic Funerals
Office of Catholic Cemeteries