Death and Dying Rites and Rituals

  • Numerous catholic rites and rituals surround death and dying.
  • Rosary beads are used to aid prayer.
  • Burial rather than cremation is the usual practice for older Italians.
  • The priest conducts the last rites in the presence of the family.
  • After death friends and relatives visit the mourning family at their home to pass on condolences.
  • Grief is openly expressed by all the family and mourners who traditionally wear dark colours.
  • Friends and relatives gather at the mourners’ home after the funeral.

Catholic rites and rituals play a very important role within Italian culture in the period surrounding someone’s death. There are a number of rituals which are necessary like the administration of the Last Rites which is one of the seven sacraments and the recital of the Rosary.

The Rosary is a prescribed mix of vocal prayer (Our Fathers and Hail Marys) and of silent prayer, reflecting on the important events of the life of Christ and Our Lady.

A priest shall be asked to conduct the Last Rites and this is often done just before the patient is expected to die and sometimes even just after death. The immediate family may ask to be present.

The family might prefer to dress the patient before the funeral or to give instructions and provide clothes for the patient to be dressed before the body is removed from hospital.

Many Italians commemorate their lost ones with a necrology notice in the obituary columns of Melbourne’s “Il Globo” or Sydney’s “La Fiamma” newspapers. Many photographic portraits of the deceased shine out from the pages of these newspapers.

When someone passes away, it is standard practice for friends and relatives to visit the mourning family in the family home, to pass on their condolences and to give flowers. This is called “il lutto”.

In addition, the Rosary is typically recited the night before the funeral at the funeral home. Grief is openly expressed by all the family and crying is common although wailing not so common.

A full Mass service is held the next day at the Catholic Church, followed by a burial at the cemetery. Cremation is not a usual practice for older Italians. Mourners who traditionally wear dark colours, in particular black, have an opportunity to throw a flower on the casket as a final goodbye.

Elaborate caskets are often regarded as fitting tributes. It is traditional practice for Italians to be buried in family mausoleums or crypts as is the custom in Italy.

After the funeral, family and friends will generally gather at the family’s home for coffee and something to eat. Close family members will cook and take the food to the family home. As the family is considered to be in mourning they are not expected to cook and enough food is prepared to last them for at least a week.

Thirty days after the funeral, it is usual to commemorate the passing of a loved one with a Mass specifically dedicated to them. Thereafter there is a Memorial Mass for the first anniversary.