For a Catholic Funeral Mass, does the deceased’s body need to be present?

A friend of mine went to a funeral service, not a Mass, for a Catholic friend of hers. The funeral was held at a funeral home, not at a church. While she was there, some Catholics told her that they could not have a funeral Mass because the woman had been cremated. They stated that the deceased body must be present to have a funeral Mass. I have never heard of this before. Is this true? If so, why? If not, does anyone know where the misconception comes from?


That was true. It used to be that the Body had to be present for a Funeral Mass. A Memoral Mass was celebrated when the Body was not present. However I now understand that the Church will allow a Funeral Mass with the Cremains present in the Church. It may be dependent on the local Bishop?

This does sound confusing. Since the cremains would be similar to one who died in a fire, it seems like the only time celebrating a memorial Mass only, would be appropriate if the body were lost completely. There is also the practice of celebrating a memorial Mass in addition to a funeral Mass.

Could this date back from when cremating was considered “forbidden?” I have heard now that it is still discouraged, but not forbidden. Upon rereading the OP it seems that not even a memorial Mass was celebrated. That seems like it might be a misunderstanding of Church teaching. Even if the “body” was not present, a memorial Mass would still have been appropriate.

What is the difference between a Memorial Mass vs a Funeral Mass?

I think they are:

  • Memorial Mass - says months/year later, they will have mass to remember and pray for him/her.
  • Funeral Mass - this person just died.

Why does a body need to be present for a Funeral Mass? What if the body can not be recovered due to fire, explosion, etc.?

My aunt died last year in Chicago, and she had 2 Masses - one in Chicago (the funeral Mass) prior to her cremation, then one in California after her cremation for the relatives who could not make it out to Chicago. This was the memorial Mass.

May perpetual light shine upon and may God have mercy on her soul. May she rest in peace. Amen.

Simply the difference is in the wording of the prayers. Just like the Church has two different Masses for infants. One for an infant who has been Baptized before death and one who was not Baptized. The wording of the prayers reflects the Church teaching on Baptized and non-Baptized infants.

Many times a Funderal Mass will take place where the person died with the Body present. The body will then be cremated and the remains transported (this makes the transportation eaiser) to the final resting place in another state, or even country. Where a Memorial Mass is celebrated bor family and friends there and then the final prayers at the grave side are said.

A Funeral Mass has specific prayers and Rites of Blessing the Body, etc. If the Body is not there it cannot be blessed. If a person is lost in a fire and no part of their body can be recovered or identified, then only a Memorial Mass can ebe celebrated. Memorial Masses are usually celebrated after the Funeral Mass. I believe there can only be one Funeral Mass. When the person died does not matter when celebrating a Funeral or Memorial Mass, other factors deternine this. Lets say for instance a person dies in a manner where the recovery of the body cannot take place until several months have passed. Memorial Masses may be celebrated any time after the death is confirmed. The Funeral Mass can take place after the Body is recovered several months later.

Thank you everyone for the posts. These have been very helpful.

While very helpful, the above does not answer our question. .
Our son was murdered last week in the USA, and due to severe health problems preventing us from flying such a huge distance we were unable to travel from our home in Spain.

He did not have a traditional Catholic Funeral Mass - there was a service at the Funeral Home, and a Catholic priest presided, after which he was cremated.

We would dearly love to have a formal Catholic Mass said for him, but which Mass would it be?

Many thanks in advance

I’m so sorry for your loss.

I’m so sorry for your loss. Your family will be in my prayers.

Thank you.

I, too, am sorry for your loss. May your son rest in peace.

Are his cremated remains going to be returned to you? If so you will probably be able to have a Funeral Mass before they are buried or entombed in a columbarium.

If they are not returned to you, there is nothing preventing you from having a Memorial Mass celebrated for him where you live. We often do this for people who have lived in our parish for a long time but then die and are buried elsewhere. Because not everyone can attend the funeral in another town, we will often have a Memorial Mass at the same time as the Funeral Mass is being celebrated or, if family members will be returning to our parish, we wait until they return. Our pastor offered a Memorial Mass for my dad when I returned from my hometown where he was buried.

Oh my gosh. I am so sorry for your loss. I will keep you in my prayers.

Thank you for your kind thoughts and suggestions.

I believe this question came into play after the World Trade Center attack. Many families did not have a body to bury. I attended what I thought was a funeral of a FDNY who died (I didn’t personally know him.). The family had no body to bury, just a few representations of him such as a firefighter helmet. Looking back, it was probably a memorial Mass.

Here is a very morbid question. what if there is a very small piece of the body to bury? I’ve heard stories of a 9/11 family who literally had one finger of their loved one returned to them. Could they have a funeral Mass with just that small body part?

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