My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Grace and peace to you all.
Because some of you have been requesting of your priest to have wakes or viewings of the deceased or visitations to the grieving family held in your parish church, I am responding to all of you here with my teaching on the matter.
The gatherings of family and friends before the funeral are not to take place within your parish church, but rather at the funeral home. Of course, I can still remember, at the age of ten back in 1957 in Buffalo, being one of two altar boys who accompanied the priest, right before the funeral, to the house of the deceased for prayers, where the body was laid out (yes, that’s how we referred to it!) in the living room where the couch usually stood. I never could figure out where they hid that thing to make room for the coffin, and the bouquets, and some folding chairs, and the stands with red seven-day votive candles, and then, frequently, the three- dimensional lighted portrait of our Lord with eyes that met your gaze wherever in the room you stood to admire it – or so thought the ten- year old altar boy. (Those were the days!)
It is important for you to understand that the wake itself is a social gathering associated with death, a time for family and friends of the deceased to gather together in grief to remember the one they loved or were acquainted with in various settings.
This is a time of sharing and thereby a time of bringing comfort through consolation to the family members of the deceased. This time is a chance for friends and loved ones to offer personal words, both privately and publicly (that is, eulogies offered by family members and friends), about the deceased including joyful, noteworthy as well as humorous accounts from among their experiences in life with the deceased. The wake also serves as a time for the family to prepare emotionally for the funeral that follows.
Individual prayers or prayers within a brief service of worship might or might not be a part of the wake experience. But as it usually happens at wakes, the discussions between the mourners/comforters themselves and with the grieving family escalate in volume, with a welcomed joviality that relieves some of the grief that many present are feeling. In fact, the gathering can become quite noisy. I truly believe these conditions are appropriate and necessary and even therapeutic for those attending the wake. It’s for that reason, then, that the appropriate venue or setting for this action is the funeral home. Your parish church is not available for this purpose.
Your parish church is the Church’s liturgical environment within which we require silence and reverence for prayer and meditation, especially before Mass and various services of worship. Our liturgical environment is a holy space, and everyone who avails himself of the opportunity to be within that sacred area is expected to observe its sanctity by the silence and reverence for prayer and meditation I described above.
When you are in your parish church you are in the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament contained within the tabernacle at the high altar. (Removing the Blessed Sacrament is not an option.) Therefore, the distraction of conversation, amusements, or social diversions which naturally, and necessarily, occur during the wake make your parish church an inappropriate setting for that pre-funeral occasion.
There is one final point I need to make on the matter: The structure of the Order of our Polish National Catholic Church funeral rite is an instructive guide for us. The ceremonies of the day indicate the rites begin in the funeral home after which the body is transferred to the church for the funeral Mass, and then to the cemetery for the final committal. That the ceremonies of the day continue after the body is transferred from the funeral home to the parish church is a clear sign that our ritual does not at all envision any type of viewing in the church.
I hope this clarifies for you the reasons for utilizing the services of the funeral home for the purpose of the wake you may need to plan.
God bless you all in your discipleship and your faithful adherence to the teachings of your Bishop.