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Funeral Customs: What to expect when attending culturally different funerals

As we live in a multi-cultural society it is likely that at some stage we will attend a funeral for a friend who is of a different religious, or cultural, background to ourselves. It is important to approach all funeral services with respect, but that doesn’t mean we should feel afraid of doing the wrong thing at a funeral that features customs different to our own. We have created this summary of what to expect at different funerals to help you to feel more confident when you attend a service that is a new experience for you. Select from the links above to go directly to a section, and use the blue arrow on the bottom right hand side to return to the top.

Protestant / Baptist Funeral Traditions

After Death Has Occurred

Many congregations hold to the convention that burial or cremation should take place within three to five days of the death. While it is customary to avoid burial on Sundays and religious holidays, burials may occur on any day of the week. Coordinating with the funeral director and pastor will ensure that the traditions of the community are maintained.
There is no ban on cremation for members of a Protestant faith, and cremation may take place either before or after the funeral service.

Dress Code at A Protestant/Baptist Funeral

Conservative clothing is recommended for these funerals. It is customary for funeral guests to gather after the ceremony and offer condolences to the family. Sometimes a gathering will be held at the family home of the deceased; friends and family often help by supplying refreshments.

A Protestant/Baptist Funeral Service

Each church will have its own customs surrounding funerals. In some cases, the funeral will be a joyous event, focused on the life of the deceased and the returning of the deceased’s soul to God, with positive remembrances of the deceased’s life, singing, and uplifting prayer. In other cases, the funeral will be a more sombre affair, focusing on God more than the deceased, at which Scripture is read and hymns are sung but the life of the deceased is not specifically remembered. In either case, a funeral is primarily a religious event, and as such the primary focus of the funeral service should be on the role of God in the life of the deceased and preparing the deceased’s soul to be reunited with God.

Generally, the funeral service and any graveside (burial) services would be conducted by a minister.

Some congregations allow for eulogies and tributes to be delivered by family and close friends, so long as those tributes focus on the role of faith, religion, and God in the life of the deceased.

Specific Funeral Arrangements

At most Protestant funerals, hymns will be sung and Scripture will be read. Depending on the traditions of the particular church, the family of the deceased may be able to request particular hymns or Scripture passages. The family may also be able to request specific music, including traditional songs and, in some congregations, popular songs with religious content.

Burial

The graveside service or interment of cremated remains is usually limited to the participation of the immediate family and close friends and includes a brief service led by a minister. The body may be buried before the funeral service or after the funeral service, and most congregations have no preference for the order of events.

Post-Funeral Reception

After the funeral, it is customary to hold a reception where people can gather and remember the life of the deceased. The reception can take place at the church, at a private home of a family member or friend, or at another location.

Mourning Period and Memorial Events

There are no prescribed mourning period or memorial events.

 

Buddhist Funeral Traditions

After Death Has Occurred

According to the Last Rites of Amitabha, the body of the deceased should not be touched, disturbed, or moved in any way because they believe the soul doesn’t leave the body immediately after breathing stops.

Preparing the Body

The body must be completely cold until it can be washed and prepared for burial or cremation. The deceased should not be dressed in fancy clothes, but rather in the everyday clothes that he or she would normally wear.

Cremation

Cremation is acceptable in Buddhism. If the body is to be cremated, monks may be present at the crematorium and lead chanting. If no monks are present, family members may lead chanting. Cremated remains may be collected by the family the following day, and may be kept by the family, enshrined in a columbarium or urn garden, or scattered at sea.

When to Hold a Buddhist Funeral

Religious memorial services are traditionally held on the third, seventh, forty-ninth, and one-hundredth day after the death, though these days can be flexible if they don’t fit into the family’s schedule. The services may be held at a family home or at a monastery, and the family may choose to limit the participation to only family members or may invite the larger community to participate. “Dana” is performed, which is an act that purifies the mind of the giver and allows for blessings to be given to the Sangha (roughly translated as “community,” and one of the Three Jewels) and subsequently transferred to the deceased.

Viewing, Before a Buddhist Funeral

If there will be a wake, the room in which the body rests should be calm and peaceful. The body should lie in a simple casket and should be dressed in simple, everyday clothes. The casket should be open for the duration of the wake. An altar may be placed near the casket and may feature an image of the deceased, an image of the Buddha, candles, flowers, fruit, and incense. Chanting may take place during the wake, and may be performed by monks, laypeople, or may be pre-recorded and played at the wake. However, any chanting must be for practical reasons, such as to aid in the contemplation of the impermanence of life, rather than for mere tradition. Local, fraternal, military, or civil rites or traditions may be performed at the wake, so long as they do not conflict with the Buddhist Precepts (murder, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and intoxication). The wake may last for as long as the family wishes.

On the morning of the burial or cremation, monks should be invited to perform the last rite, chanting which includes “going for refuge” of the Three Jewels (“I take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the Dharma. I take refuge in the Sangha.”) and the Precepts. The monks will then chant contemplative verses. After the ceremony, the casket is sealed and brought to the funeral hall or to the crematorium. Family members and mourners may carry the casket to the hearse or transportation vehicle and should follow behind the vehicle in a procession.

Dress Code at A Buddhist Funeral

Mourners should wear white rather than black clothing to symbolize their grief and seriousness.

The Buddhist Funeral Service

The funeral may take the form of a funeral service before burial, a funeral service before cremation, or a memorial service after cremation. In all funeral variations, the service and surrounding events should be simple, solemn, and dignified. The funeral is not an appropriate time to display wealth nor should grief be expressed through a display of wealth.

For the funeral or memorial service, the casket or cremated remains should be placed at the front of the room with an altar placed nearby. As at the wake, the altar may feature an image of the deceased, an image of the Buddha, candles, flowers, fruit, and incense. Any flowers or wreaths given to the family of the deceased by mourners may also be displayed. When entering the space, mourners should approach the altar, bow with their hands pressed together in a pose of prayer, and reflect at the altar for a moment. Then they may sit.

Eulogies and Tributes at A Buddhist Funeral

Monks may be invited to perform Buddhist rites and deliver sermons. Mourners and members of the Buddhist community may also preside over the service and deliver sermons or eulogies. During prayer or the delivery of a sermon, head coverings should be removed. Chanting may be led by monks or laypeople, or may be pre-recorded and played at the service. Mourners should join in the chanting or sit silently. Generally, no one in the space should be sitting higher than the monks and all present should stand when the monks stand. At the end of the service, if the body is to be interred for cremated, family members and mourners may carry the casket to the hearse or transportation vehicle and should follow behind the vehicle in a procession.

Burial

If the body is to be buried, monks may be present at the gravesite and lead chanting. If no monks are present, family members may lead chanting. Then the casket should be placed into the grave.

buddist funeral hands of monk

 

Anglican / Protestant Funeral Traditions

Commonly believe that faith in Jesus Christ will lead to eternal life with God.

While there are differing views among different churches, they commonly believe that faith in Jesus Christ will lead to eternal life with God. Those who do not believe in Jesus Christ will be bound to eternal death without God. Neither Heaven nor Hell is understood as a literal place, but rather as a state of being. On the day of judgment, those who have faith in Christ will be resurrected to eternal life, while those who do not have faith will be condemned to eternal death.

After Death Has Occurred

When an Anglican/ Protestant dies the funeral director and a priest should be contacted immediately to help in planning the funeral service and identifying an appropriate funeral home. In many communities, the clergy will help plan and direct the funeral.

Cremation

Cremation is acceptable in the Anglican/ Protestant faith, and will not interfere with holding a traditional funeral.

Viewing

The option of holding a viewing before the funeral is up to the family of the deceased. The viewing can be held in the day or days before the funeral or immediately before the funeral service, and can be open to all mourners or limited to close family members.

When to hold an Anglican/ Protestant Funeral

The funeral can be held at any time after the death. It is normally held at the church or at the Funeral Home. This service is normally held by a Minister or Celebrant and will often include a sermon, prayers, the singing of Hymns, the sharing of Eulogies and perhaps group readings from the Bible.

The Funeral service is held at a church, at a funeral home, or at a chapel at the cemetery.

Specific Funeral Arrangements

The casket should be closed during the service. If the body is not present for the service, a photograph of the deceased may be placed at the front of the room. As church customs may vary, it is best to speak with your priest about specific arrangements. Music appropriate for a worship service may be included.

Burial

Generally, all guests are welcome to attend the interment. Whether the body will be buried in the ground or entombed in a mausoleum, or whether ashes will be interred in a niche or buried in an urn garden, the ceremony will be led by the priest. The priest will recite prayers and commit the body or cremated remains to the earth.

How to Know If You Should Attend a Graveside Service

Graveside services may be open to the public or may be limited to family only. If a public graveside service follows a funeral service the funeral officiant will make an announcement at the end of the funeral inviting people to the graveside service and offering directions to the cemetery. As with a funeral, if a graveside service is open to the public and you want to attend, you should. If the service is limited to family only, you should respect the family’s wishes and not attend. If you are not invited to the service but would like to reach out to the family, consider writing a letter of condolences.

Post-Funeral Reception

After the interment, there may be a reception at a family home or at the church.

Mourning Period and Memorial Events

There is no prescribed mourning period or memorial events.

 

Catholic Funeral Traditions

When Death Is Imminent

When a Catholic is approaching death, a priest should be brought in to administer special rites and Holy Communion to the dying person.

After Death Occurs

After the death, a priest should be contacted so that the necessary rites can be administered and the funeral planning process can begin. It is common for local churches to have relationships with Catholic or Catholic-friendly funeral homes, and the deceased’s priest, your priest, or a local priest can point you in the right direction for finding a funeral home.

When to Hold a Catholic Funeral

Funeral Masses may not be held on Holy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter), Good Friday (the Friday before Easter), Holy Saturday (the Saturday before Easter), or Easter Sunday. Funeral Masses are also prohibited on the Sundays during Advent (the period starting on the fourth Sunday before December 25 through December 25), Lent (the 40-day period before Easter), and the Easter Season (the 50-day period after Easter). A Funeral Mass may be held on Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent), though ashes would not be distributed in the church.

Cremation

Historically, the Catholic Church has not supported cremation. However, these days it is acceptable for a Catholic to be cremated. That said, most churches prefer that the body be present for the Funeral Mass, meaning that cremation should occur after the Funeral Mass.

Viewing Before a Catholic Funeral

The Rosary is a prayer service usually held the evening before the funeral. Much like a viewing, family and friends gather in the home of the deceased, in the funeral home, or in the church to pray and remember the deceased. A priest or deacon usually presides over the prayers, though a layperson with knowledge of the prayers and traditions may preside in the event that a priest or deacon is not available.

Where to Hold A Catholic Funeral

Catholic funerals are held in Catholic churches, though they may also be held in the chapels of Catholic assisted living or care facilities or in the chapels at Catholic cemeteries.

The Catholic Funeral Service

Priests lead the Funeral Mass, and may also lead the funeral liturgy (service). If a priest is not available, deacons may lead the funeral liturgy. If a deacon is not available, a layperson with knowledge of the liturgy and traditions may lead the service. However, only a priest or a deacon may delivery the homily (sermon), which will also serve to remember the deceased by incorporating examples from the deceased’s life. If it is a full Requiem Mass this can only be done by the priest.

Specific Catholic Funeral Arrangements

Throughout the service, no matter who is leading, laypeople may participate as readers, musicians, pallbearers, ushers, and in other usual roles. The music played at the Funeral Mass should be appropriate church music; popular or non-religious music is not appropriate. However, the family of the person who died may coordinate with the priest to have special or especially meaningful hymns, psalms, or readings included in the Mass.

Burial

The Rite of Committal is the Catholic interment service, at which the body is finally buried or interred. The Rite of Committal may take place at a gravesite, mausoleum crypt or tom. Family and friends gather together with a priest or deacon to pray over the body one last time. In order to make the burial or interment site a sacred place for the deceased, the priest or deacon will bless the place before the body or remains are placed inside. After the site has been blessed, the body or remains will be committed to the earth. The priest or deacon will then recite more prayers, and then everyone will join in to say the Lord’s Prayer.

How to Know If You Should Attend a Graveside Service

Graveside services may be open to the public or may be limited to family only. If a public graveside service follows a funeral service, the funeral officiant will make an announcement at the end of the funeral inviting people to the graveside service and offering directions to the cemetery. As with a funeral, if a graveside service is open to the public and you want to attend, you should. If the service is limited to family only, you should respect the family’s wishes and not attend. If you are not invited to the service but would like to reach out to the family, consider writing a condolence letter.

Mourning Period and Memorial Events

There is no prescribed mourning period or memorial events in Catholicism.

Catholic funeral bible with prayer beads

 

Eastern Orthodox Funeral Traditions

When Death Is Imminent

When an Eastern Orthodox Christian is approaching death, a priest should be brought in to hear the final confession and administer Holy Communion to the dying person.

After Death Has Occurred

After the death, the priest will lead those present in prayers for the release of the soul.

Cremation

Cremation is prohibited in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Organ Donation/Donation to Medical Research

Organ donation or donating the body to medical research has been viewed two ways by the Eastern Orthodox Church: One is that it’s an act of mutilation, another believes that donating organs to improve or prolong another person’s life is the greatest gift you can give. Regardless of the opposing views your church may take, a person must leave written consent or else organs should not be removed.

Preparing the Body

The first step in the Eastern Orthodox funeral tradition is preparing the body, which includes washing and clothing the body. If the deceased was a military veteran, he or she may be clothed in his or her uniform. If the deceased held an official role in the Church, he will be dressed in the appropriate robes. Once the body is bathed and dressed, it is ready to be placed in the casket.

Viewing, an Eastern Orthodox Funeral

Once the body has been properly prepared, the priest will then begin the First Panikhida, a prayer (Prayer Vigil) service for the deceased. This is held at the Funeral home or church the night before, at the Prayers the casket is normally open, at the end of the prayers family and friends will file past the casket and then pass the family to give condolences. This will also take place after the Funeral Service.

The Eastern Orthodox Funeral Service

The body is transported to the church for the funeral service via the deceased family home. It is traditional for the funeral procession to travel in one direction, never crossing the same roads. This is to believe that the spirit moves towards God. At the arrival of the church, traditionally, this takes the form of a procession led by the cross. The priest walks in front of the coffin with the censer and leads the processors in the singing of the hymn Trisagion. Even if there will not be a traditional procession, the Trisagion should be recited at the end of the prayers, before the body is brought to the church for the funeral service.

Once at the church, the coffin is opened. Near the head of the coffin should be placed a bowl of koliva, a dish of boiled wheat with honey, with a lit candle on top, symbolizing the cyclical nature of life and the sweetness of Heaven. A crown or wreath with the Trisagion printed on it is placed on the head and a small icon of Christ, the deceased’s patron saint, or a cross is placed in the deceased’s hand or in the casket. Lit candles should be distributed to all present and should remain lit throughout the funeral service.

Mourners and worshipers should stand throughout the funeral service, during which the priest will lead the Divine Liturgy, say prayers, lead the Dismissal, and recite “Memory Eternal.” After the service, mourners are encouraged to approach the casket and “say goodbye” to the deceased and may kiss the icon or cross in the casket. After all mourners have had a chance to “say goodbye,” the casket is closed and removed from the church to the cemetery. At this point, the Trisagion should again be sung.

Burial

Once at the cemetery, a short graveside service is performed by the priest. The Trisagion is again recited. Family and friends will through dirt, sand or flowers into grave and again give condolences to the family

Post-Funeral Reception

After the body is buried, family and friends gather for a reception, where mourners can connect with each other, reflect on the life of the deceased, and eat a meal, called a “mercy meal.”. This may be held at the cemetery

Eastern Orthodox Mourning Period and Memorial Events

The mourning period for Eastern Orthodox Christians lasts for forty days. Within those forty days, the third day, the ninth day, and the fortieth day all have special significance. After forty days, memorials are celebrated at three months, six months, nine months, one year, and on the anniversary of the death for at least seven years. For close relatives, the mourning period may last for one year, during which widows and widowers may wear only black clothing and will recipe Panikhidas regularly. Close relatives may also stay home from work for one week and avoid social gatherings for two months.

 

Hindu Funeral Traditions

When Death Is Imminent

When a Hindu is approaching death, a priest should be contacted and the priest and the family should gather to be with the dying person. Those present should chant mantras or play a recording of mantras being chanted. When death seems imminent, the body should, if possible, be transferred to a grass mat on the floor. A small amount of water from the Ganges River should be placed in the dying person’s mouth. If this is not possible before death, then these actions should take place immediately following the death.

After Death Has Occurred

As soon as death occurs, those gathered will avoid unnecessary touching of the body, as it is seen as impure.

When to Hold a Hindu Funeral

Preparations for the funeral begin immediately. The funeral should take place as soon as possible—traditionally, by the next dusk or dawn, whichever occurs first. A priest should be contacted and can help guide in the decision-making process and direct the family to a Hindu-friendly funeral home.

Preparing the Body

Traditionally, the body is washed by family members and close friends. Many Hindu funeral homes recognize the importance of the family washing the body and will allow the family to prepare the body. If this is not possible, the funeral home may wash and dress the body. For the ritual washing, the deceased’s head should be facing southward. A lighted oil lamp, as well as a picture of the deceased’s favourite deity, should be kept by the deceased’s head. Traditionally, for the “abhisegam” (holy bath), the body is washed with a mixture of milk, yoghurt, ghee (clarified butter), and honey. The body may also be washed in purified water. While the body is being washed, those washing should recite mantras. Once the body is sufficiently cleaned, the big toes should be tied together, the hands should be placed palm-to-palm in a position of prayer, and the body should be shrouded in a plain white sheet. If the person who died was a married woman who died before her husband, she should be dressed in red.

Viewing, Before A Hindu Funeral

Hindus generally hold a brief viewing before cremation. The body should be displayed in a simple, casket. “Vibuti” (ash) or “chandanam” (sandalwood) should be applied to the forehead of a man, and turmeric should be applied to the forehead of a woman. A garland of flowers should be placed around the neck, and holy basil should be placed in the casket. During the wake, family and friends gather around the casket and may recite hymns or mantras. At the end of the wake, before the body is removed for cremation, many Hindus place “pinda” (rice balls) near the casket. At the end of the wake, the casket is removed feet-first and brought to the place of cremation.

Traditionally, all Hindus—except babies, children, and saints—are cremated.

Traditionally, the casket is carried on a stretcher and walked to the cremation site, though it is acceptable to transport the body in a vehicle. If a vehicle, such as a hearse, is used for transportation, the eldest male relative (known as “Karta”) and another male family elder should accompany the casket. It is customary that only men attend the cremation.

Historically, Hindu cremations take place on the Ganges River in India. The family builds a pyre and places the body on the pyre. The Karta will circle the body three times, walking counter-clockwise so that the body stays on his left, and sprinkling holy water on the pyre. Then the Karta will set the pyre on fire and those gathered will stay until the body is entirely burned. For Hindus living outside of India, there are companies that will arrange for the shipment of the body to India and hold a traditional cremation with a proxy Karta.

In Australia, only crematories may cremate bodies. However, most crematories will allow for ceremonies before the cremation and will allow for guests to be present at the cremation itself. Thus, most of the rituals may still be observed. The body should be brought into the crematorium feet-first, ideally with the feet facing south. Those gathered may pray, and then the Karta will perform the ritual circling of the body. At this point, the body is ready for cremation and should be placed into the incinerator feet-first. When the body has been fully cremated, those gathered will return home.

Post-Funeral Reception

Upon returning home, all family members will bathe and change into fresh clothes. Then the family will gather for a meal. A priest may visit the family at home and purify the house with incense.

Hindu Mourning Period and Memorial Events

The day after the cremation, the Karta will return to the crematory and collect the ashes. Traditionally, the ashes should be immersed in the Ganges River, though more and more other rivers are becoming acceptable substitutes. For Hindus living outside of India, there are companies that will arrange for the shipment of the cremated remains to India and will submerge the ashes in the Ganges.

The cremation of the deceased marks the beginning of the mourning period, which lasts for 13 days. During this time, the family of the deceased will stay at home and receive visitors, though mourning rituals may differ depending on the community. A photograph of the deceased may be prominently displayed, and a garland of flowers may be placed on the photograph. Throughout the mourning period, the rite of “preta-karma” will be performed, which assists the disembodied spirit of the deceased to obtain a new body for reincarnation.

One year after the death, the family will observe a memorial event called “sraddha,” which pays homage to the deceased. The Karta will invite Brahmins, members of the highest caste, to the home and provide them with an elaborate meal, treating them as he would his own parents.

 

Lutheran Funeral Traditions

When Death Is Imminent

When a Lutheran is approaching death or has died, a funeral director and pastor should be contacted to help plan the funeral and support the dying person and his or her family.

Cremation

Acceptable forms of committal include burying the body in the ground, entombing the body above ground, commending the body to the sea, and cremation. Whatever method is chosen will not interfere with holding a traditional Lutheran funeral.

Viewing

The option of holding a viewing before the funeral is up to the family of the deceased. For the most part, viewings should be held either at the funeral home, mortuary, or family home. Any fraternal, civil, or military rites should be delivered at the viewing rather than at the funeral.

Burial/Cremation Products

In the event that a casket is present for the service, a white pall may be placed over the casket as a symbol of the baptism and to remind mourners that all are equal in the eyes of God, no matter the minimalism or extravagance of the casket. The same holds for cremated remains, which should be treated in the same manner as a body would.

The Lutheran Funeral Service

The most common Lutheran funeral includes worship in church with the body of the deceased present. However, should this not be possible, adaptations can be made to accommodate the situation, and the pastor can help you make the necessary arrangements.

A traditional Lutheran funeral service is composed of the following basic elements: hymns, litany, Old Testament reading and New Testament reading, Gospel reading, Apostle’s Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. Holy Communion is also often celebrated at the funeral and is not limited to the participation of family and mourners but is extended to all communicants present at the service.

Eulogies and Tributes at a Lutheran Funeral

A eulogy, which should reflect on the deceased’s religious life, may be delivered at the funeral service but is not required. In fact, because Lutherans stress salvation by grace and not by works of the deceased, they generally avoid eulogies.

Instead, Lutheran pastors will often work details about your loved one’s life of faith into the message they deliver about grace, forgiveness, and eternal life. Customs may vary between regions and church bodies, so it’s best to consult with your pastor about this.

Post-Funeral Reception

A luncheon or reception after the funeral service is common and offers mourners a chance to connect with each other and reflect on the life of the deceased. If any mourners have further eulogies or tributes that they would like to deliver, the post-funeral reception is an appropriate time.

Mourning Period and Memorial Events

There is no prescribed mourning period or memorial events for Lutherans.

 

Presbyterian/ Uniting Funeral Traditions

When Death Occurs

When a Presbyterian dies, a pastor should be notified. The pastor can help to coordinate with the funeral home and the family of the deceased, and will begin planning the funeral service.

Cremation

Though there is no clear commandment against cremation, Presbyterians generally do not support cremation, and instead prefer that the body remain intact and be buried in the ground.

A Presbyterian Funeral

The option of holding a viewing is up to the family of the deceased. The location of the viewing should be discussed with the pastor, as some churches prefer to hold the viewing at a funeral home while others prefer to hold it in the church.

Where to Hold a Presbyterian Funeral

The Presbyterian funeral may take the form of a graveside funeral, where the service and interment take place at the same time and location; a memorial service, at which the body is not present and interment has already occurred or will take place later; or a traditional funeral service, where the body is present either in a closed casket or in the form of cremated remains in an urn. Memorial services and funeral services that are not graveside should take place in a church building (rather than a funeral home or cemetery chapel).

The Presbyterian Funeral Service

The pastor leads any service. The service will affirm the Presbyterian belief in the resurrection and focus on God’s power over death. The service will include reading Scriptures, singing hymns, praying, and a short sermon. Holy Communion is not usually celebrated, but it may be appropriate on occasion.

Eulogies and Tributes at A Presbyterian Funeral

A eulogy in praise of the deceased is not a part of the worship service, although there may be personal reference to the deceased in the prayers. It is permissible to delivery a brief eulogy before the worship service begins, though generally eulogies should be delivered during the visitation before the funeral or memorial service or afterwards, at a reception.

Specific Presbyterian Funeral Arrangements

In the event that a casket is present for the service, a white pall may be placed over the casket as a symbol of the baptism and to remind mourners that all are equal in the eyes of God, no matter the minimalism or extravagance of the casket. In the spirit of moderation, flower arrangements should generally be simple and few.

Burial

If there is to be a burial after the funeral service, family members and close friends will gather at the interment site for a final service, led by the pastor. Committal services are usually brief, and often include readings from Scripture, prayers, and a blessing as the body is committed to the earth.

Mourning Period and Memorial Events

There is no prescribed mourning period or memorial events for Presbyterians.

 

Latter-Day Saints (Mormon) Funeral Traditions

After Death Has Occurred

When a Mormon dies, a bishop should be contacted to make arrangements for the funeral and help with finding a funeral home. (While the funeral home doesn’t have to be an expressly Mormon funeral home, it should be familiar with the religion’s traditions.) The bishop may also be able to help with notifying friends and relatives and preparing an obituary. The bishop will notify the Melchizedek Priesthood leader (high-level priest) who will take over supporting the family of the deceased.

Cremation

While cremation is not prohibited for Mormons, it is not encouraged, and the Church prefers that bodies be buried rather than cremated.

When to Hold a Mormon Funeral

Funeral services are not usually held on Sundays.

Preparing the Body

If the deceased received his or her temple endowment (Church initiation in the form of instruction, ordinances, and covenants), he or she will be buried in temple garments (Church-issued white underwear) and temple clothing. For women, temple clothing includes a long-sleeved, floor-length white dress (or blouse and skirt), white stockings, and white shoes. For men, temple clothing includes a white long-sleeved shirt, white pants, a white tie, and white socks and shoes. The temple clothing may be the deceased’s own—there is no need to purchase new temple clothing for burial. If the deceased’s body is too fragile to be dressed, the temple clothing may be placed inside the casket next to the body. The deceased should be dressed in his or her temple clothing by an endowed family member of the same gender. If an endowed family member of the same gender is not available, a bishop may assign an endowed man to dress a deceased man or have the Relief Society (Church women’s organization) assign an endowed woman to dress a deceased woman. If, by law, only a registered funeral director is allowed to handle the body, an endowed family member should ensure that the body has been properly dressed.

Viewing, Before A Mormon Funeral

It is common to have a brief open-casket viewing before the funeral service. The viewing is often held at the same location that the funeral service will be held, but may also take place at a mortuary or funeral home. The viewing is usually open to all mourners, though there is generally time set aside at the end of the viewing for only family members. After the viewing and before the funeral service, the family may ask the bishop to offer a prayer for the family, after which the family closes the casket.

Where to Hold a Mormon Funeral

Mormon funerals usually take place in a Church building or in the chapel of a funeral home, though the service may be held at the graveside.

The Mormon Funeral Service

The service should be led by a bishop or a member of the bishopric, though it may be led by a General Authority (Church leader), a stake president (leader of an administrative unit composed of multiple congregations), or an Area Seventy (priest within a geographically defined area) should one be present at the funeral.

The Mormon funeral is a religious service and offers an opportunity for the Church to teach the gospel. As Mormons believe in life after death, funeral services are generally serious but celebratory events. The service will often contain songs, hymns, prayers, tributes to the person who died, and a sermon. While family members have the option of speaking at the funeral, they are not required to do so.

Burial

After the funeral, the bishop or a member of the bishopric will accompany the family to the cemetery for the burial.

Post-Funeral Reception

After the interment, there is usually a reception for the family and close friends, though the larger community may be invited as well. The meal, called a “mercy meal,” is prepared by the Relief Society. The reception offers mourners an opportunity to connect with each other and remember the life of the deceased.

Mourning Period or Memorial Events

There is no prescribed mourning period or memorial events for Mormons.

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