Guide to Religious Funerals
While all religions observe some form of funeral rites, the way the service is ordered, body is prepared and details of tradition are engrained differ amongst even the most closest of beliefs. Let's view the particulars of Britain's most popular religions and how they observe the passing of those with faith in each denomination.
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Judaism does not speak of an after life but a World To Come, upon death you are to be judged. There are also different types of Jewish religion; Conservative, Reconstructionist, Reform and Orthodox. Each may denote a different requirement for service and burial.
Planning: A process termed K'vod Hamet - honouring the dead, ensures that when a Jewish person dies they are buried within 24 hours. This doesn't leave much time for funeral planning. However in the modern age, a funeral can be delayed to allow for family members to arrive. A Rabbi will usually be your contact to arrange a funeral but a Funeral Director can also consult on your behalf.
There are several notes to observe when it comes to burial and care of the body. Autopsies are forbidden unless legally requested while Organ donation is acceptable, embalming is usually banned. Cremation is only allowable by Reform Jews and a funeral ritual may take place whereby mourners rip off a part of their clothing in a show of grief and re-wear it for the next seven days.
A Jewish coffin is known as an Aron, made from pine and no other materials so fully biodegradable. After death a Shomer Guardian will be appointed to serve and Dayan HaíEmet prayer read beginning proceedings. A body will be purified, dressed in a muslin shroud and a male wearing a Kippah or Yarmulke - religious skullcap with prayer shawl - termed Tallit / Tallis.
Jewish Funeral Planning:
Like Christianity, a Jewish funeral can be held anywhere but more commonly a Synagogue or a funeral home or Graveside at a Jewish cemetery. The service itself can last up to an hour and as would be expected, prayers, hymns and psalms may be read with the Rabbi offering the Eulogy.
After the service is complete, a congregation may be expected to follow the hearse to the final resting place. Here two lies will be formed with the closest family forming the nearest line to the grave. Further hymns or recitals may be offered and the congregation may drop a handful of soil on top of the coffin once it has been lowered. Additional non Jewish rights such as military or civil will take place at this moment.
Not dissimilar to Orthodox Church, Jewish people tend to reflect more than once about loved ones who have passed. In the initial mourning period, seven days are reserved - termed Shiva. A candle will burn for seven days with family taking the week off to mourn and pray, guests are allowed to visit. The second mark of respect is for thirty days from the funeral date - termed Shloshim.
During this time close family will say prayers and hymns daily while going about their normal routine. For parents, this process can last for a year. There are nominated religious days of the dead. Yom Kippur and Shemini Atzeret, on both occasions you can visit a Synagogue to offer remembrance. Directly after the funeral a wake may be held at home or in a hall of the Synagogue where a meal is cooked by friends of the family.
Etiquette: Jewish people tend not to send flowers and instead financial donations, called Tzedakah to a nominated charity. At the funeral people are expected to wear formal dress and for males to wear a Skullcap which they can pick up on the day. It is acceptable for you to remain silent during a service but you can join in with Amens if you feel confident doing so.
Islam is a collective of many different sects and has different belief systems and observances, so a Muslim funeral can differ from location to location. Many believe in entering Paradise which is achieve by being a good person in their own life. At the point of the end of the known universe - the Day of Judgement, souls will either rise to Paradise or descend to hell.
Muslim Funeral Planning:
A local Islamic organisation can assist with Muslim funeral planning and it should be timely, as a burial should occur as soon as is possible, time scale dependent on locality.
Ghusl and Kafan procedures are strictly followed. The first a body wash by a same sex person. Latterly the body is dressed in a large basic fabric. Men with three sheets, Women with five. There is never usually a viewing. Embalming tends not be observed and cremation not allowed. Headstones and monuments are prohibited by Islamic Law.
An Islamic funeral service can last up to an hour and will be held in a separate room aside form the main hall of the mosque. An Imam will lead the service and offer prayers and religious scriptures. Specific Islamic prayers and readings from the Quran will be shared by the congregation and there is a specific order inside the room. All should face Mecca and closest male relative should be in the first of three rows. Then remaining male mourners, children and then women towards the rear.
The burial site if nearby will be lined by males of the congregation who will pass the coffin on the shoulders to the final resting place. The grave will align to, and the person placed on their right side facing Mecca. A prayer will be read while stones and wood surround the casket. While no soil should come in contact with the coffin itself, mourners will throw a hand full of soil over the grave site towards the end.
This very much a communal affair with those in the congregation providing the bereaved family with food for at least three days. People with visit the family home and hold a reception. The period of mourning will last for 40 days. Widows are expected to mourn for four months and ten days, ensuring they meet no men who they may wish to have a marital relationship with.
Etiquette: Unlike with the Lord's Payer in C of E, the Muslim funeral prayer should only be spoken by true Muslims. Non observers of Islam however are still welcome to attend a funeral. Shoes should be removed before entering a mosque and there is a strict dress code for women. Skirts to the ankles, long sleeves, high neck lines, head scarf and loose clothing with no parts see through. Men should be in formal dress.
Buddhism and Hinduism are very similar, originating within the same Indian Subcontinent this shouldn't be a surprise. The basic difference is the contradiction. Hindus will seek Atman and the self / the soul to reach a goal of 'heaven / nirvana', whereas Buddhists will seek the Anatman, the not self / not soul, to cancel out the progeny of existence in a bid to live within Nirvana.
Buddhist Funeral Planning:
A local Monk or Funeral Director can assist with planning fora Buddhist funeral. The deceased will have stated a wish fora Buddhist funeral and those wishes should be met as much as possible.
Buddhists tend to prefer cremation but burial is permitted, as is organ donation. Embalming is not required in this religion unless deemed appropriate if a delay in internment. The congregation should present the family mourning with flowers which are placed alongside the alter. Itself decorated with an image of Buddha, a photo of the deceased, flowers, candles, fruit and incense.
The Buddhist Funeral:
The Buddhist funeral may take place at a family home or at a Buddhist Monastery. The order of service is not written in stone and will be a personal or local choice. A service may occur before or after a cremation or burial. The most fulfilling aspect if the personal remembrance as each person walks in towards the alter. The remainder is made up of Buddhist Monk chanting, either recorded or life, with readings and eulogies presented.
Wake: Memorial observances are common in most religious. Certain days after a Buddhist funeral are marked as days for observance. The 3rd, 7th, 49th and 100th day.
Etiquette: A few observations that should be adhered to are as follows; Monks which can be seen to sit higher up than the congregation, when they stand you should stand and when they sit, you should sit. Upon entering the place of worship, you should walk towards the alter, bow your head, place hands in prayer form and think briefly about the person before walking away to a seat. Required dress is white and modest.
What is known as a form of Christianity is also further split within the Baptism Church. With no strict adherence to faith guidelines, each Church that is Baptist could have slightly different beliefs meaning a funeral service could differ also. at the heart however is the idea that faith in Jesus Christ will deliver eternal life in some form.
Baptist Funeral Planning:
A funeral director can liaise with a Minister or Pastor to arrange the service. If you have a preferred Baptist Church then they will be contacted or you can do this yourself.
Unlike some religions, organ and tissue donation, along with embalming are accepted by most in the faith. It is common for there to be a viewing before the funeral takes place, enabling friends and family to say a final and personal farewell. There is usually no rules against popular songs being used alongside religious hymns. Cremation is an acceptable practice.
The funeral service doesn't differ much from the Church of England. Congregations are invited to a church or crematorium. The person's life will be celebrated in all its colour and scriptures will lean towards how an afterlife with God awaits. While services between different Baptist Churches will differ the casket is usually placed in front of congregation and a Minister or Pastor will deliver the service and Eulogy.
Wake: A meeting is usually arranged for after a funeral but not before the committal has taken place and the person laid to rest. You may be invited to both or graveside service may be for close family only.
Etiquette: Depending on the Church, Caribbean versus Britain, the service may denote all black dress and formal through to a more colourful funeral congregation to reflect the person's character. You will be advised at the time. It is best to ask the family if they prefer flowers or a charitable donation, as views vary across the Church. It is perfectly acceptable to sit in silence rather than sing hymns or dance.
Catholics don't believe in re-incarnation but an after life, that you will be judged on how you lived your life and enter a spiritual place. This will either be Hell, Heaven or a place in-between called Purgatory.
Catholic Funeral Planning:
Rather than after the death, planning can begin before with a Priest needed to be called to usher in the Holy Communion and give Last Rites. The same priest can also assist in organising the funeral or a funeral director can do so on your behalf. You will need to decide between a Catholic Funeral Mass or Liturgy.
Before the funeral takes place, a Prayer Vigil may ensue which is similar to a wake or viewing. This can be held at a room within a Church, in the family home or at a funeral home. Details are usually provided via a death notice. Organ donation is accepted in Catholicism today but not entirely. And while burial is preferred to cremation, cremation can occur as long as the body is present for the funeral. Ashes however should not be scattered but buried or placed at a religious resting place.
A Catholic service is more restrictive than a Church of England service. You will not find pop songs or themed funerals, it observes strict adherence to the rules. With religious music, hymns, prayers, psalms, readings, and the eulogy.
The difference between Mass and Liturgy service is there is no Holy Communion with the latter. Chosen through preference or because the funeral is on a restricted day or no Priest is available. A Funeral Mass will include the Eucharistic Prayer, the receiving of the Host - communion wafer and sip from a chalice.
The burial is treated separately from the service and is called the Rite of Committal. It can be overseen by a Deacon or a Priest and feature the Lord's Prayer and other readings.
Wake: While there is no official mourning period, family and friends tend to gather for a wake after the funeral to say one last goodbye. Drinks and food maybe served either at the family home or in a public setting. Memorial services are not uncommon and my be organised for six months or a year after the funeral.
Etiquette: Formal black dress is normal. Flowers are accepted. During the service it is best to follow others in being seated, standing, bowing head for hymns and prayers or remain silent if unsure as to how to respond.
The clue is in the name but Church of England and Anglican Church are not world's apart, on some issues however they do differ. On English soil the Anglican church is the Church of England. Elsewhere in the world, the equal of C of E in Wales would be the Church of Wales and this continues across almost 160 countries.
While their leaders respect hierarchy of the C of E, the Anglican Church is split across many lines, Episcopal, Evangelical, Continuing, Realignment, Liberal and Communion. All pretty much believe in there being a real heaven and hell and upon Judgement Day those that had faith will be reborn.
Anglican Funeral Planning:
In England everyone has ready access to a Church of England minister, no matter personal religion, but many still go through a Funeral Director to organise a funeral. If you are foreign to the UK or with British passport but born overseas you may be a member of another Anglican origin Church. If the person is not being repatriated or if they are, you may be able to find a community branch of this Church on British soil such as a Polish community with a local CofE Church.
As with the English faith, a viewing service is normal but not always adhered to. Where family and friends can visit for a few days to say their goodbyes and meet the bereaved and to offer support. It is common for organ donation to be an acceptable practice, with embalming to follow. Especially in the UK where funerals can take up to two weeks in some areas before they take place.
The Anglican Funeral:
An Anglican funeral follows similar structures across the world, with a reading from the book of Common Prayer, with hymns and prayers chosen. The schedule doesn't need to adhere strictly to religious guidelines. Many CofE churches in England are open to respectable pop music, themes and for individual requests either side of the sermon. Anglicans may request the taking of Holy Communion and whether open or closed, the coffin will usually reside at the front of congregation and service, whether cremation or to be taken for burial. A second gathering termed a burial service is not unusual and may be immediate, the sole service or planned for a few months ahead.
Wake: It is very common for family and friends to gather either at a nearby hall or travel to a local family member's home to offer support and talk about the deceased at a post funeral reception. Chatting about the loved one's life. It's not akin to an Irish wake, more reserved, a quiet event.
Etiquette: Appropriate attire is dark clothing, smart, usually a suit and tie. Although some funerals may request a more relaxed affair. If you are unsure of standing up, singing or quoting prayer, then you should feel comfortable to remain seated throughout. It is nice to try and join in whenever possible.
Eastern Orthodox Funeral
There are many atheists that believe heaven is the life we lead now. Without wishing to simplify the many veins of the Orthodox religion, this belief is similar. In Orthodoxy both Heaven and Hell is not the final destination but the life you have shared with God. If you love God and observe a Godly life yours time on Earth will be enriched and be a form of Heaven. However, if you lead a Godless life and hold traits that are not in tune with God, your life may well be Hell on Earth.
Eastern Orthodox Funeral Planning:
Like Catholicism, when death is approaching an Eastern Orthodox Christian Priest should be called to offer Holy Communion. Those present at the Death will be lead in service and in prayer to release the soul. A funeral direct can assist in planning or a local Orthodox Priest can be contacted. A body may be dressed in normal dress, religious robes if a church official or military uniform if served their country.
Cremation tends not to be a valid option and burial preferred. People who commit suicide are not accepted for an Eastern Orthodox funeral service. Written consent is required for organ donation and depending on the local sect, it may either be allowed or denied.
There may be a viewing before the funeral, it lasts until the casket is taken to the Church. It begins with the priest enacting the First Panikhida prayer. This period can last one to three days with readings from the Book of Pslams. After a funeral another wake takes place which is less formal where people can congregate and talk, and may eat food termed a Mercy Meal.
An Eastern Orthodox funeral has a similar order to other religions and placing of mementos. It can last up to an hour and each of the congregation will hold a lit candle for the duration. An open coffin will display the deceased and the following will be visible. A band of paper simulating a crown to show a life lived, an icon of a Saint or Jesus Christ placed in a palm. A dish of Koliva at the head of the coffin to represent the completed life cycle.
Mourners will stand throughout the service which is lead by at least four religious official, ranging from Bishop or Priest through to a Deacon, Sub-Deacon and Alter Server. Each have a differing position, all will read prayers, sing hymns and lead the service in turn. Ensuring readings, prayers and the correct rites are observed including the Holy Communion.
Dark modest clothing is a requirement. The mourning period lasts for forty days where the family may wear black for the entire period. Memorial days are the 3rd, 9th and 40th day and marked with religious observances. Thereafter there will be annual services at a local church every year for seven years with three, six and nine months seeing Church services too.
Sikhism is centred around the reincarnation of the soul or transmigration. The human form of this cycle is seen as the pinnacle of the continual journey. It offers a single opportunity to be in union with God - Waheguru, the Giver of Knowledge, through what most people understand to be living a respectable life and meeting the terms of Karma.
Sikh Funeral Planning:
You can either contact a local Gurdwara or use the services of a Funeral Director. Both will understand the need to follow the guidelines of the Sikh Reht Maryada (Code of Sikh Conduct and Conventions) for funerals based on Sikihism otherwise known as Antam Sanskaar - the Last Rite of Passage.
Amritdhari Sikhs, throughout their life, wear and accommodate the five K's, known as the Kakaars. While the body will be washed, these should not be removed from the body and no hair cut. The body in an open casket will usually be surrounded by flowers.
This is very much a religion that believes in cremation and not burial. The order of service can vary across different sects and family needs. In some cases there might be three services, before cremation, at the point of cremation and latterly at the Gurdwara. In others there may just be one service.
There will be a reading of the Ardas Prayer and two further prayers, Japji and Kirtan Sohila. There is no official designated place for a Sikh funeral, it can either be at a place of worship, at the family home, crematorium or simply outdoors. The particular difference with Sikh funerals is the lack of visible grief, a congregation more at ease that this is their God's will. Though you may hear chants of Waheguru several times sporadically.
Ashes are then spread over rivers where allowable and by permit. There are no headstones or monuments laid to mark an area where ashes are scattered, even if ashes are buried at a location.
Like the Church of England there is no strict adherence to a period of mourning. On the day of death a family may start reading out a Sikh holy scripture - the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, a continuous reading of the Akhand Paatth or spread over a week to ten days, read as a devotional display.
Etiquette: It is normal custom to remove one's shoes when entering a Gurdwara. The expected dress for a Sikh funeral is that of plain clothes that cover the majority of the body. You may also be expected to wear a head covering, either cap or headscarf. During hymns and prayers you may join in or remain silent and seated.
Non-conformist Protestant Funeral
You may think this subscribed to history but there are still a few churches today with great followings that have split from the state. These so called free churches or non conformist do not conform to anything a Presbyterian or Anglican / C of E religious leader may convey.
These churches are accepted and vary from The Quakers, Unitarian, Pentecostal, Methodist and Baptists to the Church of Christ, Scientist. There are still many other smaller and individual free of state churches and free churchman in the UK.
Each of these strains of religion follow their own guidelines and over time these may change to become inherently different to Anglican or remain on more traditional terms. a funeral director is more than capable of being the go between as in any other funeral, contacting the relevant Pastor or Minister.
At the very heart of all non conformist protestant funeral planning is the guidance towards God. However in each instance this may either be celebrated joyfully as in an Evangelical service or focused on a person's life as a Unitarian and the life they fulfilled, rather than as a wholly religious affair with the Pentecostal church. Each observe differing traditions, some will deny cremation and others open to both.
Aside from a Quaker funeral which is more of an officiated yet informal meeting, many non conformist funerals still conform to an observance structure. There may be readings from the King James Bible and words transcribed from the Founder Mary Baker Eddy at a Church of Christ, Scientist service. There will be a viewing and Invitational period with Baptists, with scripture, song and burial committal services graveside at Methodist.
Each religion is conscious of personal preferences when it comes to bereavement. Within each non conformist Church you are free to decide if you wish to have a wake or post funeral meeting. Either in a home or in a room at the place of worship, a local pub known to the family. Where people can pay respects to the bereaved and release their feelings to like-minded souls.
You should contact the bereaved or a close friend to find out what formal dress is accepted at a non conformist funerals. Unless a personal preference, many will denote formal dark attire, however there may certain instances where more colourful dress may be requested. If you are unsure about a religion the usual act of remaining silent or seated is accepted but many welcome people of other faiths into their places of worship.
Rather than a spiritual form of after life, Hindus believe reincarnation and the basis of the next life will be judged upon that of the previous, most of the world understands this as Karma. In Hinduism this cycle of rebirth into another life force (Samsara) can only reach a higher stage - Moksha. Like Karma, most in the world would understand this to be equal to the Buddhist term Nirvana.
Hindu Funeral Planning:
Before death a Priest may be called to administer certain rituals, saying prayer and observing the offering of Ganges water into the mouth.
Mantras may be chanted or a recording played and family will gather to comfort the dying person in their moment of death or visit shortly after. A funeral tends to be held within 24 hours but in Western society this is permitted to be longer.
The body should only be touched when essential to do so. As in most religions the body may be washed by family members or staff of a Hindu funeral home. During the washing the head should point southwards, mantras may be played during and the body positioned. With big toes tied together and hands formed in praying fashion above the chest. The body should be dressed in a white shroud or if a married woman dies before her husband, a red shroud. Organ donation and embalming are both acceptable, the latter is not usually required however.
Before the funeral service the body would be placed in a type of open casket which resembles that of a basket. Then either called Chandandam (Sandlewood) or Vibuti (Ash) is placed on the forehead of the Male, or Tumeric if a Woman. A string of flowers will be placed around the neck and holy basil in the casket. Visiting relatives and friends may place Pinda (rice balls) nearby.
The majority of Hindu funerals are cremations, this is in stark contrast to some religions that only accept burials. Only babies, children and Saints can be buried. Cremations traditionally should take place on the Ganges with ashes spread there after. However being a worldwide religion, the ashes may be repatriated for a service or another known local river can be accepted.
It is customary for there to be a gathering after the funeral. Guests will freshen up and change clothes for the event. A meal may be prepared and a Hindu priest should attend to purify the house with incense. The mourning period lasts for thirteen days from the day of cremation. Ensuring the rite of Preta Karma is completed. A Sraddha memorial one year after the death will allow all to attend a service in memorandum.
Etiquette: Please note that distinct difference in dress requirements, white casual clothing is preferred and black isn't really required. Flowers, like in Christianity are very welcome and should be sent to the family home or designated funeral home. The open casket is normal before all funerals for public observation.
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