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Rev. Leo A. Walsh, S.T.D. Answers:
Must a Catholic have a wake or a funeral–my friend’s wife doesn’t want one for her dying Catholic husband?
While not speculating about the dynamics of their relationship, it is the right of every baptized Catholic in good standing to receive the funeral rites of the Church. These include the Vigil (Wake), the Mass of Christian Burial, and burial or internment of one’s remains in a Catholic cemetery.
It’s important to remember that the Rite of Christian Funerals is as much for the living as they are for the deceased. All of the symbols used in the funeral rites are the same as those used at Baptism. The sprinkling of the casket with holy water, preferably from the baptismal font, is a reminder of the deceased baptism and birth into eternal life. The white pall placed on the casket is a reminder of the white baptismal garment worn by all the newly baptized, symbolizing that our sins are always washed clean in the blood of the Lamb. The Easter Candle is the same candle from which his own baptismal candle was lit and symbolizes Christ the Light of the World, a light which no darkness can extinguish. And finally, the body of the deceased itself is a powerful symbol of hope in the resurrection of the dead. This is the body that was baptized, that received the Eucharist, that was anointed with Sacred Chrism at Confirmation and perhaps received the anointing of the sick. This is the body of the man to whom his wife was married for many years.
The loss of one’s spouse is a difficult reality to confront, but all the more reason to avail oneself of the rites of the Church. Grief shared is grief diminished. When the family, friends and parish community gather around the family of the deceased, it has an unequaled power to comfort those who mourn and to remind them and all the rest of us that the ties which bind here on earth are not severed by death. That those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith are praying for us and with us that we might join them in due time in full communion with our Lord in heaven at the resurrection of the dead.