What Is the Difference Between a Prayer Service and a Funeral Mass?

The main difference between a prayer service and a funeral mass is that a mass adheres to Roman Catholic funeral liturgy and is celebrated by a priest; a prayer service may be led by a deacon, funeral home director or pastoral associate, and does not include all parts of a regular liturgy. The Order of Christian Funerals stipulates that Catholics contemplate Jesus Christ's victory over death during the funeral mass, rather than focusing on the deceased.

The Catholic funeral liturgy is similar to a regular Catholic mass, although there are a few differences. Generally, the funeral mass begins with special prayers over the remains of the deceased. Sometimes friends or loved ones of the departed proclaim the first and second readings, and the priest generally focuses his homily on themes of resurrection, hope and the idea of heaven.

In some parishes, time is set aside after communion for a family member or friend to deliver a brief eulogy. At the end of the funeral mass, the priest blesses the deceased with a prayer commending his soul to the care of the angels. After a closing hymn, the community attends to the burial and the concluding Rite of Committal.

A prayer service, which is also known as a vigil, commonly takes place at a funeral home or a church on the evening before the funeral mass. The vigil leader begins by memorializing the life of the departed with prayers of thanksgiving. The family may request a special song or a significant reading as a meditation piece, or may invite those gathered to pray a Rosary. Typically, a prayer service takes less time than a full funeral mass. Unlike a funeral mass, the focus of the prayer service is on the lost loved one; therefore, Catholics eulogize the deceased during the vigil.