What is the most basic difference between a Catholic funeral and most of the Protestant world’s funerals? You might point to having the body taken to church (which to some people just seems odd at best) or any other number of things. But these are mostly symptoms of what is different, not what, at heart, is dissimilar.
It is most evident during this month when Catholics celebrate All Souls Day and place a special emphasis on praying for the poor souls; those in Purgatory awaiting their entrance into heaven, all month long.
For most of the Protestant world (and it is the same for atheists,) we have no real connection (prayer wise) with those who have died. For Protestants this is true because at death you have gone to your reward (one way or the other) and are no longer in need of prayer even if it were possible. For the Atheist this is true because after death there is simply nothing.
For Catholics, there is a more unified understanding of what it is to be the Body of Christ. There is only one Body of Christ. Christ is its head. That singular body cannot be divided up even by death. Somehow we are still mysteriously united and our prayers may still benefit each other. There is also the idea of being purified prior to entering before the face of God, which requires being purged of one’s sins. Whatever this is, we call Purgatory. The Protestant world does not have a teaching about this. So for them, even if prayer could flow back and forth, it is unnecessary because once you are in heaven for what do you need prayer? You’ve made it to the top.
So basically, (painting with a very broad paintbrush) at a non-Catholic funeral the idea is to encourage each other (either with the Word of God and/or the support of the community etc.,) and to remember the one who passed away. There is an additional element understood among Catholics for over two thousand years: that we can also pray from the deceased. We ask God that they be sped to heaven (which is the tragedy when someone says, “I’m sure they are already in heaven. You may be denying them some prayers they could use!) And if we can pray for them, we may also ask them to pray for us, that we remain close to Christ, follow in His ways, and be better prepared for entrance into heaven when we leave this life.
So get on it Catholic! Remember to pray for you deceased loved ones and for the poor souls this month inparticular. And hopefully in doing so, we will lead by example and others will pray for us when we need it!