The Bethany Mass

The Bethany Mass has proved a much appreciated way of helping families remember those who have died, especially in the past year.

Typically, the Mass is held on a weekday evening during the month of November (the traditional time in the Catholic tradition to remember and pray for the dead). A personal letter of invitation goes out to each family that has suffered a bereavement in the preceeding year, and a general letter to the whole school community, parents and staff.

The tone of the Mass is welcoming and simple with care taken to ensure it does not feel like a second funeral for families.

It is called the Bethany Mass because the gospel is the raising of Lazarus at Bethany.

Suggestions for preparing the Bethany Mass

1. Send out personal letters of invitation to each school family that has suffered a bereavement in the past year - obviously,it is very important to get this right (the name of the person who has died, their relationship to the family, etc. - Heads of Year can be of great help here)

2. Once you have established an annual Bethany Mass in your school, it may be good to collect the names of those who attend so a more personal invitation can be sent to them each following year.

3. A general invitation, explaining what the Bethany Mass is about, is sent to the whole school community incuding parents and families, teaching and support staff, governors, etc.

4. Invite those attending, if they wish to do so, to bring a photograph of the family member who has died. These can be placed on the altar (or on a table in front of the altar, together with the November Lists) before Mass begins. Again, it is important to be sensitive here - placing the photographs more formally during the liturgy may be too emotional for some. Doing it before Mass, as they arrive, makes it less stressful. Have a couple of pupils on hand to spot who has brought photographs and invite, and accompany them, to place the pictures on the altar as soon as they arrive.

5. Make sure there are staff and pupils on hand to welcome people, give them a service sheet, and show them to their places. This is especially important at the Bethany Mass.

6. It is good to prepare the words the priest speaks by way of introduction well. Or to get the Head or another appropriate adult to speak them (this probably isn't a role for a pupil). These words set the tone of the Mass and will serve to reassure those who may need reassuring. A suggested text is given below.

7. Choose readings and the texts of the Mass carefully. Some can sound quite brutal.

8. The gospel is the story of the raising of Lazarus at Bethany (John 11). You may wish to consider having some pupils do a dramatic reading of this gospel (see dramatised version below).

9. Make sure the Mass is unhuried and includes quiet moments (don't succumb to the temptation to fill every space with music). At a Mass as directly personal as this, people need time to reflect and be with their own thoughts. Try to build opportunities for this into the liturgy without being too directive about it (eg. Have the offertory procession and presentation of the gifts in silence).

10. During the bidding prayers, have some pupils light candles placed before the altar (maybe purple candles) - one for each prayer.

11. At the end of Mass, invite people to stay briefly for coffee or rereshments; but be aware that some may just want to slip away unnoticed.

12. You may wish to give each person a prayer card (praying for those who have died) to take away with them.

Mass Texts

Mass Texts

The new English Roman Missal offers nine sets of prayers for Masses for the dead (beginning on page 1456). Some of these prayers are better phrased and more suited to the Bethany Mass. It is permissible to choose any combination of prayers.

The Prefaces for the dead begin on page 656 (Preface Nos. 78-82). Prefaces I (No. 78) or III (No.80) for the Dead are probably the best for this occasion.


Readings for Masses for the dead are in Volume III of the Lectionary (the brown volume). Perhaps the most suitable readings for the Bethany Mass would be:
Wisdom 3:1-9 (The souls of the virtuous are in the hands of God)
or Wisdom 4:7-15 (Grace and mercy await the chosen of the Lord)
or Isaiah 25:6-9 (The Lord is the one in whom we hoped . . . we rejoice that he has saved us)
or Revelation 21:1-7 (There will be no more death, no more mourning or sadness)
or Romans 5:5-11 (Surely we may count on being saved by the life of his Son)
or Romans 8:14-23 (What we suffer in this life can never be compared to the glory waiting for us)
or Romans 14:7-12 (If we livem we live for the Lord; if we die, we die for the Lord)
or 2 Corinthians 4:14-5:1 (There is a house built by God for us, an everlasting home)
or 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (Jesus died and rose again and it will be the same for those who believe in him)
or 1 John 3:1-2 (What we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed)


The most obvious psalm to use, especially if sung, is psalm 23 (The Lord is my shepherd) but others are given in the Lectionary.


Alleluia, alleluia.
I am the resurrection and the life, Says the Lord.
Whoever believes in me will neve die.


The Bethany Mass uses the gospel story of the raising of Lazarus at Bethany - John 11:32-45.

Dramatised gospel reading adapted for six voices (Narrator 1, Narrator 2, Jesus, Martha, Mary, Disciple)

Bidding Prayers

A way of doing these bidding prayers might be to have two readers - one to read the intention, the first part of each bidding prayer; and another to read to second part, the bidding prayer itsel. fOthers might light a candle during each prayer. The bidding prayers conclude with the traditional Requiem aeternam (it may be good to print this prayer in the order of service so that everyone can easily join in).

Priest: As we remember those who have died, and we who remain on earth, let us pray for all the sons and daughters of God our merciful Father.

1. Let us pray for all those who have died, especially those from the families of our own school community of [name of school]. (pause while a candle is lit) Lord, judge them kindly, welcome them into your presence, and give them peace. Lord, in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

2. Let us pray for all those who are bereaved. (pause while a candle is lit) Lord, comfort them in their sorrow, reassure them in their sense of loss, fill their emptiness with your love. Lord, in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

3. Let us pray for all those who nurse the sick and comfort the dying. (pause while a candle is lit) Lord, make them strong to do their work, make them gentle as they look after the weak, make their hearts grow in love. Lord, in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

4. Let us pray for our communities and our society that we may care for the sick, the elderly, the weak, and the dying.. (pause while a candle is lit) Lord, make us always aware of the needs of those who suffer, generous and patient with those who makes demands of us, and able to see and serve you in the least of your brothers and sisters. Lord, in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

Priest: Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord.
All: And let perpetual light shine upon them.
Priest: May they rest in peace.
All: Amen.
Priest: May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
All: Amen.

Click on thumbnail for larger image
Christ calls forth Lazarus
origin unknown (what does this mean?)
Resurrection of Lazarus (1896)
by Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937)
Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Lazarus (2009)
CJ Tañedo (b.1979)
The Raising of Lazarus (after Rembrandt) (1890)
Vincent van Gogh (1853-90)
Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh, Amsterdam
The Raising of Lazarus
The Raising of Lazarus
origin unknown
Lazarus in the Tomb
This is probably a drawing of Christ in the tomb but could also be used to illustrate the Lazarus story
origin unknown
Empty Tomb
origin unknown