A traditional Catholic funeral Mass includes many blessings directed at the body or remains, such as anointing with holy water and incense. Prayers and songs focus on the body or ashes that represent the deceased. A memorial Mass, on the other hand, has alternate readings and blessings. It provides a way for mourners to honour the deceased when the body is not recovered or the family is unable to travel to the burial area.
The Catholic Church’s preferred option is the Funeral Mass or Mass of Christian Burial. The Church feels that the presence of the deceased’s remains helps mourners to focus on the full meaning of the ceremony, which includes the hope that the deceased person will one day share in the Resurrection of the dead.
The Memorial Mass is the option used when the remains of the deceased person will not be present during the ceremony. This occurs for a variety of pastoral reasons and also where there are problems scheduling a Funeral Mass.
There are certain differences between the two ceremonies. These differences relate directly to the presence/absence of the remains of the deceased person. Any prayers (such as words about the body or words anticipating a burial) and ritual gestures (such as blessing with holy water) that presume the presence of human remains are omitted from the Memorial Mass. Yet the intention of the two ceremonies is the same, to mark the death of a member of the Catholic Church.