Preparing for a Funeral: Celebrating a Vigil for the Deceased

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What is a Vigil for the Deceased?

A Vigil for the Deceased is usually celebrated the evening before the funeral, although it can be celebrated at any time after death and before the day of the funeral. It usually takes the form of a Liturgy of the Word, that is, it is based around the proclamation of the scriptures rather than the celebration of Mass.

“The vigil may be celebrated in the home of the deceased, in the funeral home, parlour, or chapel of rest, or in some other suitable place. It may also be celebrated in the church… Adaptations of the vigil will often be suggested by the place in which the celebration occurs. A celebration in the home of the deceased, for example, may be simplified and shortened.” (Order of Christian Funerals, no. 55)

As the eucharist is not celebrated, it is possible for a lay person (ie a competent and suitably prepared minister who is not a priest) to lead the vigil.

The typical order of a vigil is as follows:

Introductory Rites
Greeting
Opening Song
Invitation to Prayer
Opening Prayer

Liturgy of the Word
First Reading
Responsorial Psalm
Gospel
Homily

Prayer of Intercession
Litany
The Lord’s Prayer
Concluding Prayer

Concluding Rite
Blessing

Why Would We Want to Have a Vigil?

Celebrating a vigil can allow some of the grieving process to occur before the funeral, thus making it less traumatic.

A vigil may be reserved for close family and friends, allowing them more time to come to terms with their loss before a larger funeral.

For those wishing to view the body before the funeral, the vigil can allow this to occur at the funeral home in a prayerful manner.

The vigil has greater scope for allowing people to share their memories of the deceased. Words of Remembrance can be spoken after the Concluding Prayer, and other means of remembrance, such as photo slide shows, playing of favourite songs and the like, are best used here than during a funeral. The funeral liturgy has a more formal, defined structure that does not provide scope for such anecdotes, storytelling, or eulogising.