More than 83% of Mexicans are Catholic. Catholic mourning customs will add to the expense of the funeral whether you have a casket or an urn as your final resting place. If el difunto (dead person) isn’t Catholic, but the family is, expect a Catholic funeral.
As the host or hostess, you’ll need to provide refreshment for the attending mourners as the familiar representative of the deceased, both during el velorio and the subsequent novena. The most common food is pan (sweetbread) served with cafe de olla (coffee made in a large pot) or tequila for the male attendees. Usually, mourners that have come to pay their respects bring sugar or styrofoam cups or even alcohol along with their condolences and floral arrangements to help offset the cost. Nonetheless, there is a cost and depending on what you serve and the number of attendees, it could be a nice chunk of cash.
La novena (9-day prayer session) is usually not as well attended. The family often divides up the host responsibilities to provide some sort of nourishment for those that attend. The woman who is in charge of the prayers during the novena, and it is always a woman, must also be taken care of. She may refuse money but a gift of some sort is appropriate.
After el velorio, the body is often taken to church for the misa (mass). Although Pope Francis exhorted the Catholic priests to not charge for the requiem for the dead, it isn’t a free service here in Mexico. The la misa de difuntos for my brother-in-law costs $300 pesos and then whatever was collected when the collection baskets were passed among the funeral attendees.
If the body will be on display during the mass, it is announced as la misa con cuerpo presente (mass with body present). This is the most common situation. If the person died en el norte (in the United States) then the body may not have arrived yet. Or if there were some unforeseen delays, the body may have already been buried before the mass.
For instance, if the church was unavailable for the funeral because of a prior booking, then other arrangements may need to be made. The misa for my brother-in-law couldn’t be held in a timely manner because the festivities of Revolution Day were taking place. His misa and burial were able to take place just before the mandatory 48 hours. Mama Vira’s funeral service was moved from the church in front of her house to the church in the center of town for similar reasons, overbooking and all.
There are different levels of service provided by the church, but I don’t have a price list since it often varies from church to church. My mother-in-law was provided the basic service, which was, well basic. However, when my teacher friend Rene died, being a pillar of the community and all, his many relatives and friends paid for a more lavish funeral service. The entire church was redecorated just for the funeral, like they do for weddings. There was music. The service was about 40 minutes long, praising his virtues. Of course, the service was standing room only in the church and the crowd spilled out and filled la plaza, so there’s no surprise that the extra effort was taken.
The church isn’t done with you or your wallet yet. At the one month anniversary there is the misa del mes (one-month mass) which includes another service with a minimum “voluntary” donation of $300 pesos.
Then at the one year anniversary there is the el primero luctuoso (first year of mourning) with another yet mass. In our area, it’s common to take out a half-page newspaper spread to announce the time and place of the celebration. After the mass, attendees receive a recuerdo (souvenir) which of course you pay for. Each subsequent year has another mass, el segundo luctuoso, el tercer luctuosos and so on, for perpetuity, or as long as someone is paying for it.
If you happen to belong to a religion that makes up the other 17% of Mexico, there are still services to pay for, but it might not stretch out for years to come.