ASK FATHER: Is a priest necessary for a burial?

From a reader…


When my Dad died in August we had his funeral mass. He requested cremation and he was cremated following the funeral mass.

With the process of interment in a national cemetery (he had served in the Air Force), we had to schedule a time with the cemetery when my out of town brother can be here. It is scheduled for the day after Thanksgiving.

My Mom (also Catholic) is not planning to have a priest for this. I think this is mostly related to shoddy treatment they received from their pastor. Is it necessary to have a priest there?

I know there would normally be graveside prayers.


The Praenotanda (explanatory section) of the Order of Christian Funerals says that “When no priest or deacon is available for the vigil and related rites, or the rite of committal, a layperson presides.”  In the older, traditional rite, clerics handle things.

There are prayers that are to be said at the graveside, which include the blessing of the grave itself if interment is not in a Catholic cemetery which has already been blessed. Though the rite is unclear (… and aren’t they all nowadays? …) it seems that this blessing, if it is to be considered a constitutive blessing, would need to be done by a priest or deacon.

Can the rites of committal be done by a layperson? Sure, if there isn’t a priest or deacon available. The Church is mindful of the reality that, around the world, many people only have access to a priest once a month, if that often. Sometimes they have to bury their dead without the consoling presence of a priest. Thankfully, in these United States, even with a declining number of priests at present, there is an abundance of priests compared to some part of the world.

Arguments and spats happen with priests.

Sometimes, the priest is at fault.

Some priests can be unpleasant. Some laypeople can be unpleasant too.

It would be a shame … no… it would be a really bad idea to deprive yourself and your late father of the priestly ministry of the Church because of an argument with some priest – even if he was totally to blame.  If the wounds of the argument are still too raw with that particular priest, contact another parish or ask the funeral director for advice.   Funeral directors often know retired priests or priests with non-parochial ministry who can be called on to help out in situations like this.  They are also among the world’s best diplomats.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. APX says:

    This is consoling. I had thought there needed to be a priest or deacon for Catholic burials. I had been upset for a number of years that there was no priest for the Rite of Commital at my aunt’s funeral. She was burried at a town about an hours drive from the city where we had the funeral and the priest from the town was supposed to look after the rites at the graveside, but for whatever reason he didn’t show up so the funeral director (also Catholic) had a copy of the rites for if presided by a layperson and took care of things. Later I was disturbed to learn that sometimes there is no priest available to even have a funeral Mass! Very sad.

  2. ppb says:

    I have been to several Catholic burials (OF) at the national cemetery in my state, and in every case a deacon conducted the commital service – in fact, the same deacon in several instances. The deceased persons I knew came from different parishes all over the state, so it was clearly not the deacon from the local parish of the deceased. I concluded that the national cemetery must have some sort of arrangement to have deacons from the local parish conduct burials if there isn’t another cleric to do it (I could be wrong about that, however). Keep in mind that for a national cemetery, burials will take place from all over the state and it may not be practicable for the parish priest to make the drive.

  3. FrankWalshingham says:

    Last Saturday I was at a ceremony conducted by a nun, where the cremains of a Catholic were entombed in a public cemetery. The nun used the standard ritual book, and did a lovely job. With the priest shortage, we will have to get used to it. Sister Rita from Shrine of the Little Flower did a great job.

  4. ah. a hug. and my deepest sympathy.

    A requiem Mass can be said by any priest at any time, if that is any consolation. These are tough times.

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