“The liturgy for the dead is an Easter liturgy. It finds all its meaning in the resurrection. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we, too, shall be raised. The liturgy, therefore, is characterized by joy, in the certainty that 'neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.'
This joy, however, does not make human grief unchristian. The very love we have for each other in Christ brings deep sorrow when we are parted by death. Jesus himself wept at the grave of his friend. So, while we rejoice that one we love has entered into the nearer presence of our Lord, we sorrow in sympathy with those who mourn.” Book of Common Prayer, p. 507.
The fact of the Creation and the Incarnation teach us that the human body has a quasi-sacramental nature. It is the creation of God-God who took flesh in a human body. We believe in “the resurrection of the body,” and so the reverent care of the dead should be a matter of profound concern for all Christian people.
Therefore, when you have a death in the family, do not try to endure the grief and shock alone; no one expects you to do so. Do not hesitate to call your parish priest immediately, even if in the middle of the night. Your pastor cannot take away your pain, but he or she can stand beside you with spiritual resources and advice at a time when pain and shock may make clarity of thought difficult.
You may prepare and file instructions for your own service. (These are not legally binding, but may be helpful to your survivors.) Such instructions should not be in your will, but should be in a place where they can be located and read before the funeral service. It is, in fact, a good idea to discuss your preferences with your family. A copy can even be incorporated in the church files.
The following article is provided to help you understand the principles upon which Christ's Church's policy and practice are based.
The Funeral Service
When you are making arrangements for the funeral, remember that the Prayer Book assumes the normal service is the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. This is rooted in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the basis of Christian hope in eternal life. Consequently, the liturgy has many references to the resurrection, such as the use of the Paschal Candle, the use of the word “Alleluia” and of Easter hymns. In some circumstances, the Eucharist may not be appropriate; the clergy will advise you on this matter.
An expensive casket is of no advantage to the departed and often is a hardship on the living. A dignified and reverently appropriate funeral does not need to involve great expense. Do not let anyone persuade you that moderate expense is in any way “disrespectful.” Few people desire an ostentatious funeral for themselves, but some mistakenly believe it is necessary to show their regard for the departed by this means.
Since the Episcopal funeral service is a service of worship, it is properly held in a church unless considerations of space prohibit. It does not matter whether the deceased was a member of the Church or not, or whether the survivors are members. The Church and its services are available to all.
The Church is where we are baptized, where we are confirmed, where we are instructed in the faith, where we meet and enjoy our friends, where we exchange wedding vows, where we take our joys and sorrows before the Lord week by week. What could be a more fitting place to bid farewell to our loved ones and to commend them to their God? In any case, it is virtually impossible to carry out the worship of the Church in a Funeral Home because our services assume the presence of an altar with its ornaments, paten, chalice and other sacred vessels, linens, vestments, Prayer Books and other appurtenances of worship which are not available in a funeral chapel or are transported there only with great inconvenience.
The scheduling of funeral services should be done in close consultation with a member of the Christ's Church clergy.
It matters not whether one's life appears to the world as a “success” or a “failure”: only God, “unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid,” can judge us. However, a brief meditation or homily, expressing the Christian hope and focusing on the love of God and the triumph of Jesus Christ, is appropriate. It is also appropriate for a member of the family to write and read this eulogy at the service.
If there is to be an obituary read during the liturgy, it should be brief: not a listing of all one's achievements, activities, honors and fraternal offices, but outlining, in a few broad strokes, the trend and scope of one's life and family ties, not omitting such Christian landmarks as Baptism and Confirmation, when these dates are known.
Closed Casket and Funeral Pall
The Book of Common Prayer directs that “the coffin is to be closed before the service and it remains closed thereafter. It is appropriate that it be covered with a pall (Christ's Church does have such a pall) or other suitable covering.” In the case of a veteran, the American Flag may be used as the pall.
If it is desired to allow viewing of the remains, this is done before the funeral service. The purpose of the Episcopal funeral liturgy is to help lift up our hearts and minds from the earthly to the heavenly, from death to life, from the material to the spiritual. To open the casket afterward would invite the return of our anxieties, pain and grief and to deny the message of Christ's resurrection.
Music is chosen with regard to it's appropriateness to Christian worship. It should not be “funeral” in mood, but rather should be expressive of faith and confidence in God. In some cases, the music requested may not be appropriate of the occasion or in accordance with the teachings of the Episcopal Church. Hymns are to be chosen from the Episcopal Hymnal and Easter music is especially appropriate. In the Episcopal Church, hymns are considered a fundamental part of worship and therefore, it is the priest and parish organist who ultimately specify the music.
The use of flowers is similar to that in church on other occasions of worship; family flowers are placed at the altar, in the parish's ordinary altar vases. Additionally, other flowers such as would be appropriate at Easter may be used. A member of the clergy is to be consulted on this. When there are many floral tributes, they should be taken directly to the cemetery or to the family home, or they may be given to hospitals and nursing homes.
It is appropriate for the family to suggest that, in lieu of flowers, memorial gifts be made to the Parish Memorial Fund, Heart or Cancer Funds, or a designated hospital. The donors' gifts will be acknowledged by the fund (and of course, such gifts to these funds are also acknowledged by the family.)
The Episcopal church has no objection to cremation. The cremation may take place after the service in Church, or beforehand, in which case the ashes may be present at the service and blessed during the commendation. Indeed, the Graveside Committal and burial may take place after the funeral Mass. Christ's Church's Columbarium is available. The church office should be contacted for further information.
The Graveside Rite
The committal of the body, or the ashes, is a part of the funeral rites of the Church and should take place either at the actual grave site or in the Church itself, following the Eucharist. There is a growing movement among funeral directors to discourage a graveside service and to instead encourage a second service in a special cemetery chapel. Episcopalians should resist the suggestion of using these chapels. The grave-the final resting place-is what we are blessing. The graveside rite should take place at the actual grave whenever possible.
Other Forms of Service
There are circumstances in which the Eucharist may not be appropriate or desired. The Prayer Book provides a number of variations and forms of service, all of which should be celebrated in the Church.
Even when compelling reasons dictate that the service be held in a funeral home, the Church's liturgy is used, under the direction of clergy, who should be consulted before any final decisions are made.
It is our earnest hope that this article has helped you to better understand the policies and practices of Christ's Church, and that it will help you in making decisions regarding your own fuenral arrangements, or those of your loved ones. It is our desire to make the riches of the Church's tradition of worship available to support and sustain you in your time of sorrow, that you may experience, even in a time of pain and loss, the liturgy and sacraments of the Church as a way of encountering Jesus Christ and deepening our faith in God.
Special thanks to the Diocese of Northern Indiana for this Burial Rite Guide.