Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

New guidelines for celebrating the Rites of Christian Burial

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Over this past year, the Presbyteral Council helped me develop guidelines designed to assist parishioners and parish staff in the preparation of Masses of Christian Burial. I am intentionally issuing these guidelines on All Souls' Day, Nov. 2, the day we set aside exclusively to pray for the dead. As such, it serves as a point of reference for all of our rites of Christian burial.

Since the earliest days of the church, Christians understood the obligation to pray for the dead as part of one’s baptismal faith. We believe that our baptism creates a bond among us as members of the Body of Christ, a bond which death itself cannot break. Just as in life we accompanied each other, so too, we do so in death. Death does not diminish our responsibility to support each other as fellow disciples, pilgrims who have accepted the call of Jesus: “Come follow me.” We take that responsibility for each other seriously when we gather for funerals, visit cemeteries or pray privately for all the dead.

Putting that belief into practice steers us away from reducing our Christian funeral rites to mere memorial services or celebrations of life. Admittedly, there are good reasons to recall the virtues of those who have died, to acknowledge their contributions to us and the world. But, these expressions are secondary. Homilies, thus, should focus on what we proclaim in our worship: “Life is changed, not ended.” So, too, it would be a missed opportunity if eulogies focus only on the deceased’s material accomplishments rather than the virtues that inspire holiness of life.

Our prayers for the dead matter. We are confident that just as our prayers assisted the deceased in life, so too do they in death. Such prayer can also be very comforting to us who remain, for it unites us on a certain level with those who have died in the firm and certain hope that one day we will be with our loved ones again.

It is also important to highlight that on All Souls' Day we pray for those who are in a state of purgation (not punishment). They are waiting, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it, “to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.”

Some years ago, a group of teenagers pressed me to explain purgatory. Many of their friends could not understand it and they did not know how to explain it. I knew I had to respond in a way that made sense to them. So, I turned to a girl sitting in the first row and simply said: “I can see that you are really someone special.” She blushed, as I had anticipated. Then, I said to the class:

“Look what just happened. We often blush when someone compliments us because deep within each of us are some dark doubts that we are lovable, special and good. Purgatory is about God looking into our eyes and telling us over and over again that we are lovable, special, loved by him. He does this until we really believe it and don’t blush. His attempts at convincing us that he loves us, that we are lovable, purifies us of the darkness and doubts that do not allow us to believe in his love, which hold us back from believing in his love and becoming all that God always intended us to be. We are purified when we are able to look into God’s face and not blush.”

That explanation seemed to make sense to these young people, perhaps because they know what happens when self-doubts creep into their hearts and hold them back from being all that God has created them to be.

That is where our prayer for the dead comes in. By praying for them we join our voices to God’s repeated insistence that they are loved. Take seriously your responsibility to pray for those who have died and who await the purification of all that makes them doubt God’s and your love. Think of your prayer for them as a way of letting them know again that you love them.

As you read the guidelines found online at, I invite you to reflect on how our Christian beliefs about death provide a point of reference for how we should celebrate our funerals. And know that these guidelines have been produced by pastors who will always be present to accompany you in your time of loss with a faith that consoles and unites us to one another.



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