Prayer and Worship Office
Music Selection Guidelines for Funerals

It has been the Church’s custom in the funeral rites not only to commend the dead to God but also to support the Christian hope of the people and give witness to its faith in the future resurrection of the baptized with Christ.
(Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship, Order of Christian Funerals, “Decree,” 
August 15, 1969, p. xi)


The mystery of death and resurrection is at the very heart of the belief of the Christian person. Hope in eternal life, the value of prayer for the dead, reverence for the remains of the body and the sense of mystery which envelopes death are the ingredients reflected in the rituals of Christian burial. The whole liturgy of Christian burial signifies the community’s pivotal beliefs in life, death and eternal life. The prayers, reflections and rituals unite the faithful with the Paschal Mystery and the hope of life eternal. This document serves to guide clergy, parish life directors, pastoral care ministers, music directors, liturgy teams and funeral directors in the pastoral care of the bereaved.  

These guidelines are also offered to assist the family and friends of the deceased in selecting music for the funeral liturgies so that they can honor the Christian life of one who has died, be comforted through sung prayer and be immersed in the hope of the


“This judgment is basic and primary and should be made in conversation with competent musicians. Only artistically sound music will be effective in the long run. It is not the style but rather the quality of the music that allows one to determine appropriateness.
USCCB, Music in Catholic Worship #25) Therefore, does the music express and interpret the text correctly and manifest the meaning more clearly?


The funeral liturgy celebrates not only the human life of a person but also his or her life in the world to come. The lyrics of songs chosen for the funeral liturgy express the Christian concept of life, rather than one which is purely secular. “The texts must always be in conformity with Catholic doctrine, indeed they should be drawn chiefly from Holy Scripture, and from liturgical sources.” ( Vatican Council II, Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, #121)  

Perhaps the best criterion is to ask can you pray the words of the text? Is the form of the text respected? “The nature of the liturgy itself will help to determine what kind of music is called for, what parts are to be preferred for singing and who is to sing them.” (ibid., #30)  

Special musical concern must be given to the roles of the assembly, the cantor, the choir and the instrumentalist (Music, #33.) The purpose of the choir or cantor is to support the people’s singing. During this time of loss, in the midst of a grieving community, the role of the cantor is especially important. He or she serves to guide and engage the sung prayer of the people. The presence of a choir can serve to further deepen their prayer. Music chosen should be within the performance ability of all involved. While the majority of the music in the liturgy is sung by the community, at certain points, e.g. the Preparation of the Gifts, a solo or instrumental piece may be appropriate.


“The pastoral judgment governs the use and function of every element of celebration. . . . Does music in the celebration enable these people to express their faith, in this place, in this age, in this culture?” (ibid., #39). Ideally this judgment is made in conversation with family members and pastoral and music ministers.  

Choose music that will be effective for the assembly and suitable for use in a religious, liturgical service whose primary concern is the worship of God. Therefore, the role of music in the celebration of the Eucharist and the sacraments is threefold: music must fulfill a role of service, invite and involve congregational participation and be an integral part of the liturgy.

A worship aid/program helps the assembly fulfill their role of active participation in the liturgy. All music that the assembly is expected to sing should be printed in the program. Alternatively, hymnal/music book reference numbers would be listed to facilitate full participation of the assembly. Your parish music director or the Office of Prayer and Worship (518-453-6645) can assist you in obtaining the proper reprint permissions.



The body of the deceased may be waked in a home (USCCB, Order of Christian Funerals, #55), funeral home (ibid., #69-81), or a church (ibid., #82-97).

The rite consists of prayers, hymns, psalms, readings, homily and intercessions (ibid., #51-68).

If the deceased is to be waked in the church, the rites begin with the Vigil for the Deceased and Reception at the Church (ibid., #82-97).  

Secular music selections may be included as part of the reflection on the life of the deceased whether the wake takes place in a home, funeral home or a church.  


The rite consists of prayers, readings, psalms, hymns, homily, intercessions, the celebration of the Eucharist and Communion, song of farewell and final commendation (ibid., #154-176).  

FUNERAL LITURGY OUTSIDE OF MASS (when the Funeral takes place in either a  church or funeral home)
The rite consists of prayers, readings, psalms, hymns, homily and prayers of intercession, song of farewell and final commendation (ibid., #177-106).  

RITE OF COMMITTAL (at graveside)
The rite consists of prayers, scripture verse and words of committal. (ibid., #204-223).  

RITE OF COMMITTAL WITH FINAL COMMENDATION (at graveside when body has been transported from distant location) The rite consists of prayers, scripture verse, signs of farewell and song of farewell (ibid., #224-233).  

Unique prayers and texts are offered for the death of a child. (ibid., p.232-250). A “C” indicates music selections appropriate for a child’s funeral.  

The contributions of those who have served in the military or as civic leaders are commendable and greatly appreciated. However, the same principles that guide the celebration of the life of other Christians would be applied when preparing for the funeral of a deceased member of the armed forces, veteran or civic leader. Flags or other insignia are to be removed from the coffin when it is brought into the church and replaced by the pall. At the end of the service they may be placed on the coffin before it is removed from the church. An “M” indicates selections appropriate for military and civic leaders.

Suggested Music Selections