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Rituale Romanum (Roman Ritual)

Rituale Romanum

Liturgy for the Faithful Departed - General Rules

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1. The sacred ceremonies and usages which holy Mother Church is wont to follow in the burial of her children, coming down to us as they do from very ancient tradition and the enactments of the popes, must be observed and adhered to with all diligence by the pastors; for they are the bearers of true religious mysteries and signs of Christian piety, as well as most salutary intercessory prayers for the faithful departed.

2. Whenever priests perform this office let them do so with proper demeanor and devotion, so that the people may view these sacred rites for what they really are--introduced for the spiritual welfare of the departed and likewise for the edification of the living, and not as emolument for the clergy.

3. Nobody should be interred, especially in case of sudden demise, until a suitable time has elapsed, so as to preclude all doubt about death having really set in.

4. Except for a weighty reason, the bodies of the faithful, before they are interred, must be brought from where they lie in state into the church, where the obsequies are to be held according to the full ritual of burial, as prescribed by the approved liturgical books.

5. The church to which the corpse should be taken for the funeral is, by ordinary right, the deceased's own parish church, unless he had chosen another for a valid reason or some extraordinary privilege determines otherwise. If the deceased had membership in more than one parish, the church for the funeral is to be reckoned as the one in whose confines he died.

6. Whenever there is a question about the right of some other church, the right to the funeral of the proper parish church must always prevail.

7. As established of old, whenever possible the practice must be retained of celebrating Mass for the deceased with the body present, before it is laid to rest.

8. The funeral Mass for the departed can be celebrated even on a feast of higher rank or on a Sunday, as long as it does not interfere with the parochial or conventual Mass or the Divine Office, nor in any way impede some solemn celebration as prescribed by the rubrics of the missal.[1]

9. It is utterly forbidden on the occasion of final obsequies or interment or on the anniversary of the dead to exact more than the diocesan tax stipulates.

10. Since it is an ancient custom of the Church to carry lighted candles in funeral processions and during the exequies, let pastors and other priests take heed lest this practice be omitted, and at the same time be on their guard against anything that savors of avarice, as well as any other unseemliness in this connection.

11. The poor who at death are destitute or leave behind very little, so that they cannot be buried with the usual outlay, should be given a decent funeral and burial wholly gratis, with obsequies as prescribed by the liturgical rules and by diocesan statutes. If necessary, let the priests who have the care of the aforesaid provide out of their own pockets for the candles usually used, or let some pious confraternity do so if such exists, as local usage warrants.

12. A deceased priest or any cleric should, if possible, be clothed in his accustomed apparel, including the cassock, and over this the sacerdotal or clerical vestment proper to his rank; and everyone should wear the tonsure and biretta.

13. A priest especially, in addition to the cassock, should be vested in amice, alb, cincture, maniple, stole, and purple chasuble.

14. A deacon should be vested in amice, alb, cincture, maniple, stole (worn over the left shoulder and fastened below the right armpit), and purple dalmatic.

15. A subdeacon should be vested in amice, alb, cincture, maniple, and purple tunic.

16. All other clerics in lesser orders ought to be vested in surplice worn over the cassock.

17. Clerics should not act as pallbearers for a layman, no matter what his rank or dignity may have been.

18. The bodies of the dead are to be placed in church with the feet toward the main altar; or if the exequies are held in an oratory or chapel they are placed with the feet toward its altar. The same applies to entombment, insofar as place and location permit. The bodies of priests, however, are placed with head toward the altar.

19. Neither altar antependia nor other altar ornaments may be used to decorate the bier or catafalque.

20. The bodies of the faithful are to be interred in a cemetery properly blessed. Each parish ought to have its own cemetery, unless one in common for several parishes has been lawfully designated by the Ordinary.

21. Wherever it is possible, the graves of priests and other clerics should be separate from those of the laity, and located in some more prominent part of the cemetery. Moreover, if it can be arranged conveniently, there should be one for priests and another for the lesser ministers of the Church.

22. The bodies of the dead should not be interred in a church, except in the cases of resident bishops, abbots, or prelates nullius who are to be given burial in their own church, or likewise the Roman pontiff, royal personages, or cardinals.

23. No corpse should be deposited below the altar. Bodies which are entombed near the altar must be at a distance of at least one meter (40 in.); otherwise it is not allowed to celebrate Mass at the altar until the corpse has been removed.

24. For the rest, no Christian who has died in communion with the faithful should be buried outside a church or a cemetery properly blessed. In some instances where necessity compels a temporary departure from this rule, care should be taken as soon as possible that the remains be transferred to consecrated ground, if this is at all feasible. Until this occurs, a cross should be erected at the head of the grave in every case, to show that the one here interred has fallen asleep in Christ.

25. Furthermore, it is not allowed to exhume a body which has been given permanent ecclesiastical interment in any place, except with the Ordinary's permission.

Denial of Christian Burial

1. A pastor ought to know precisely who are to be excluded from Christian burial according to Church law, lest any such ever be admitted thereto contrary to the decrees of the sacred canons.

2. Persons who depart this life without baptism are not to be allowed Christian burial. Yet catechumens who die without baptism through no fault of their own are to be treated the same as the baptized.

3. The following are to be denied Christian burial, unless before death they manifested some sign of repentance:

(a) persons reckoned as notorious apostates from the Christian faith, and persons who were notorious for belonging to a heretical or schismatical sect, or to the Masonic sect, or to other societies of the same kind;

(b) persons excommunicated or interdicted after a declaratory or condemnatory sentence;

(c) those who committed suicide with full deliberation;

(d) those who died in a duel or from a wound received in a duel;

(e) those who ordered their body to be cremated;

(f) other public and overt sinners.

If any doubt exists in regard to the cases mentioned above, the Ordinary should be consulted if time permits; and if a doubt still remains, the body should be given ecclesiastical burial, yet so that all scandal is precluded.

4. Those who are deprived of ecclesiastical burial must also be denied the funeral Mass and even the Mass of anniversary, as well as other public obsequies.


1. This rule in the Ritual, not yet officially revised, must be reviewed in the light of the new rubrics of the Roman Missal, nos. 406- 408.

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