Traditions By Religion
A traditional Catholic funeral consists of three main parts: the Vigil
(sometimes called the "Wake"), the Requiem Mass, and the Burial
and after-burial gatherings. Note that the following pertains to funerals
for adults; funerals for baptized children who've not yet reached the
age of reason are quite different and joyful because they, without a doubt,
go straight to Heaven, not having had the opportunity to commit a mortal
sin. In childrens' funerals, the priest wears white, the Gloria Patri
is not replaced with the Requiem aeternam, the Gloria in excelsis is said,
etc. Their Mass is not a Requiem Mass, but a "Votive Mass of the
The Vigil (Wake)
The Vigil most often takes place in a funeral home nowadays, though
it could take place in a home, parish church or chapel, or other place,
depending on the laws of your state and the practices of your parish or
chapel. The Vigil is the time when family gathers around the dead one,
first of all to pray for him, and also to remember his life, and console
one another. If the wake takes place in a funeral home, funeral cards,
a type of holy card, are usually present (ordered through the funeral
home's funeral director), with a Catholic image on one side and, on the
other, a prayer, and the name, birthdate, and (pray God) Heavenly birthdate,
of the dead. If the wake is not held at a funeral home, one can still
order custom-made funeral cards or make one's own.
The Vigil, which may last from a few hours to two days, has the very specific
purpose of attending to the soul of the dead one. At the Vigil, therefore,
prayer for the dead is central, and you should ask your priest to lead
the mourners in the Rosary (Glorious Mysteries) for the soul of the departed
(if no priest is available, you can, of course, pray the Rosary yourself
as a group). Note that the following prayer, the "Eternal Rest"
prayer, is prayed for the dead after each decade of the Rosary (where
the Fatima Prayer is usually prayed):
Eternal rest grant unto him/her (them), O Lord; and let perpetual light
shine upon him/her (them). May he/she (they) rest in peace. Amen.
During the Vigil, the casket is usually open, flanked by candles at both
ends (one's Baptismal Candle should be used, if possible). In some Catholic
cultures, mirrors are covered or turned toward the wall during this time.
It is typical for Catholics to kiss their loved one goodbye, and being
relic-minded and very conscious of the holiness of a Christian's body
and its eternal relationship to the Christian's soul, to keep a lock of
hair or some other memento which is later placed, along with funeral cards
and the like, on the family altar. This will help remind them to pray
for their loved one.
Flowers, as symbols of the beautifully transient, are always present,
though some might request that, aside from a few representative flowers
from closest family members, donations be made to selected charities instead
of additional bouquets being bought. A Crucifix is, of course, always
present, too, and often a Rosary will be placed in the dead person's hands.
When you enter the place of the Vigil (you should dress modestly), you
might find a visitors' sign-in book. Do sign it, as it is good for the
mourners to see many names listed and to know that their loved one was
cared for by many. These books are often used by the family in sending
Thank You cards afterwards, and make this task much easier in having all
the names and addresses in one place.
Then greet the mourners with words of sympathy and of hope in Christ
Risen and Glorified. After this, you will go and kneel on the kneeler
beside the coffin and pray for a few moments (or as long as you need).
The length of time one "should" stay at a Vigil depends on his
closeness to the dead one and the dead one's family. Immediate family
would stay at the Vigil the entire time; casual friends can pay their
respects with even a 10 minute visit and sincere prayers.
Food sent to the home of the mourners during the Vigil (if the Vigil
is held at home), between the Vigil and the Mass, or after the burial,
helping to care for little ones, the handling of chores, and other such
kindnesses are best just done without asking instead of offered.
The Requiem Mass
On the day following the Wake will come the Requiem Mass (non-Catholic
visitors will find general information on how to behave at a Catholic
Mass here). The body is taken from the place of the Vigil to the church
or chapel as the bell with the deepest voice -- the "tenor bell"
-- tolls, if possible. The body is taken toward the Altar, to just outside
the sanctuary. It is placed feet toward the Altar if the body is that
of a layman, and head toward the Altar if the body is that of a priest.
Generally speaking, the Requiem Mass is like other Masses but with the
following differences: Incense is not burned at the Introit and Gospel,
the Judica Me , Gloria, the kissing of the Book after the Gospel Reading,
and Kiss of Peace in Solemnn Masses are omitted.
The priest, dressed in a black cope, will greet the coffin at the door
of the Church, sprinkling it with Holy Water, and intoning the De Profundis
(Pslam 129) and the Miserere (Psalm 50). The Introit asks that eternal
rest be given to the departed, and the Collect asks that God deliver his
or her soul. The Epistle will be a reading of I Thessalonians 4:13-18,
in which St. Paul speaks of death. After the Gradual, a Tract asking absolution
from every bond of sin on the part of the deceased is intoned, followed
by the glorious Sequence, the Dies Irae. The Gospel will be a reading
of John 11:21-27, the story of St. Martha's profession of faith that her
brother, Lazarus, will rise again. The Offertory prayer asks Jesus Christ,
King of Glory, to deliver the souls of the faithful departed from Hell,
and for St. Michael to lead them into the holy Light. The Secret asks
pity on the soul of the departed. The Communion asks that light eternal
shine on the departed, and the Postcommunion asks that the Sacrifice of
the Mass purify the departed.
Afterwards, the priest, again vested in a black cope, stands at the foot
of the coffin and grants the departed absolution, which is followed by
the Responsory, Libera Me. A Kyrie is then chanted, followed by the Pater,
during which the priest passes twice around the body, sprinkling it with
holy water and incensing it. This is followed by a prayer asking that
the holy angels bear the departed to paradise. As the body is carried
out of church, the Antiphon In Paradisum is sung ("May the angels
lead you into paradise: may the martyrs receive you at your coming, and
lead you into the holy city, Jerusalem. May the choir of angels receive
you, and with Lazarus, who once was poor, may you have everlasting rest.")
Burial and Informal After-burial Gatherings
After the Requiem Mass, the coffin is taken to the cemetery. The ground
or mausoleum in which the body will be disposed should be blessed by a
priest if the cemetery is not a proper Catholic cemetery (which is the
ideal) or already blessed. This is done with these words as the grave
and body are sprinkled with holy water and incensed.:
O God, by Your mercy rest is given to the souls of the faithful, be please
to bless this grave. Appoint Your holy angels to guard it and set free
from all the chains of sin and the soul of him (her) whose body is buried
here, so that with all Thy saints he (she) may rejoice in Thee for ever.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Traditionally, at least in Catholic cemeteries, the body of a layman is
buried such that the head faces East, symbolizing their awaiting bodily
resurrection by Christ, Who is called "Orient." Priests are
buried in the opposite direction of the laity, symbolizing their having
to confront the effects of their pastoring on the souls entrusted to them
After the funeral, it is typical to gather at the house of the one closest
to the departed, to eat, drink, remember, console one another, and pray
(these informal post-burial gatherings are also sometimes referred to
as "wakes." This isn't strictly accurate, but common usage).
This is when bringing food and drink is especially appreciated, as it
is in the days to come when the crowds go home -- but the survivors, still
grieving, are beginning to confront the sad reality of their temporal
Antyesti or Hindu funeral rites, is an important sacrament of Hindu
society. Extensive texts of such rites are available, particularly in
the Garuda Purana. There is wide inconsistency in theory and practice,
and the procedures differ from place to place. Further, these rites also
differ depending on the caste, jati, social group, and the status of the
A funeral in Bali
About 4000 years before, in the Indian subcontinent, human bodies were
either exposed to the elements of nature, and to the birds, or buried
in the earth, in a river, and sometimes a cave or an urn. Centuries later,
cremation became the usual mode of disposal of the dead bodies, with certain
exceptions - the exceptions being bodies of infants, yogis, sadhus, and
a few others. Cremation became popular due to the notion that the soul
cannot enter a new body until its former one has totally disappeared,
and cremation was considered the fastest way to expeditiously dispose
of the dead bodies.
Hindu funeral rites may generally be divided into four stages:
The rituals and rites to be performed when the person is believed to
be on the death bed.
Rites which accompany the disposal of the dead body.
Rites which enable the soul of the dead to transit successfully from the
stage of a ghost (preta) to the realm of the ancestors, the Pitrs.
Rites performed in honor of the Pitrs.
Procedures for cremation vary from place to place. Immediately after
the death, the body is placed on the floor with the head pointing towards
the south which is the direction of the dead. An oil lamp is light and
placed near dead body, this lamp is kept burning continuously for the
first three days following the death. In Hinduism, the dead body is considered
to be symbol of great impurity hence miminal physical contact with the
dead body is maintained, perhaps to avoid the spread of infections or
germs. Most often the dead body is bathed by purified water, and then
dressed in new clothes, if the dead was a male or a widow then generally
white clothes are used,whereas if the dead was a married women with her
husband still alive or a young unmarried girl, then the body is dressed
either in red or yellow. Sacred ash (bhasma) is applied on the forehead
of the deceased, especially for the worshippers of Lord Shiva (Saivites),
otherwise sandalwood paste is applied on the forehead, if the dead was
a worshipper for Lord Vishnu (Vaishnava). Further, few drops of the holy
Ganges water may be put into the mouth of the deceased so that the soul
may attain liberation, also few leaves of the holy basil (tulsi) are placed
on the right side of the dead body. The body then may be adorned with
jewels, and placed lying on a stretcher, with the head pointing towards
the south, which is the direction of the dead. Sometimes the body may
be kept in a sitting position too. The stretcher is adorned with different
flowers including roses, jasmine, and marigolds, and the body is almost
covered with the flowers. Thereafter, the close relatives of the deceased
person carry the stretcher on their shoulders to the cremation ground.
If it is located at a distance, the stretcher is placed on a cart pulled
by animals like bullocks. Nowadays vehicles are also used.
The cremation ground is called Shmashana (in Sanskrit), and traditionally
it is located near a river, if not on the river bank itself. There, a
pyre is prepared, on which the corpse is laid with its feet facing southwards,
so that it can walk in this direction, as this is the direction of the
dead. The jewels, if any, are removed. Thereafter, the chief mourner (generally
the eldest son) walks around the pyre three times keeping the body to
his left. While walking he sprinkles water and sometimes ghee onto the
pyre from a vessel. He then sets the pyre alight with a torch of flame.
The beginning of the cremation heralds the start of the traditional mourning
period, which usually ends on the morning of the 13th day after death.
When the fire consumes the body, which may take a few hours, the mourners
return home. During this mourning period the family of the dead are bounded
by many rules and regulations of ritual impurity. Immediately after the
cremation the entire family is expected to have a bath. One or two days
after the funeral, the chief mourner returns to the cremation ground to
collect the mortal remains and put them in an urn. These remains are then
immersed in a river. Those who can afford it may go to select places like
Varanasi, Haridwar, Allahabad, Srirangam and Kanya Kumari to perform this
rite of immersion of mortal remains.
The preta-karma is an important aspect of Hindu funeral rites, and its
objective is to facilitate the migration of the soul of the dead person
from the status of a preta (which is akin to a ghost or spirit) to the
abode of the ancestors (that is, the abode of the Pitrs). It is believed
that if this stage of funeral rites is not performed or performed incorrectly,
the spirit of the dead person shall become a ghost (bhuta). The rites
generally last for ten or eleven days, at the end of which the preta is
believed to join the abode of the ancestors. Thereafter, they are worshipped
during the 'sraddha' ceremonies.
If a person dies in a different country, in a war, or drowns, or in any
other manner that his body cannot be retrieved for the antyesti, his funeral
rites may be performed without the dead body, and similar procedures are
followed had the dead body been available. If such a person appears (that
is, he has in fact not died), then "resurrection" rituals are
mandatory before his being admitted to the world of the living. The Hindu
communities in the United States have begun to look at streamlining the
process of cremation rituals and post-cremation observances, that is practicable
for the present age and lifestyle.
The Muslims of the community gather to offer their collective prayers
for the forgiveness of the dead. This prayer has been generally termed
as the Janazah prayer.
The prayer is offered in a particular way. Like Eid prayer, this prayer
is also prayed with extra (four) Takbirs, but there is no Ruku' (bowing)
and Sujud (prostrating). Supplication for the deceased and mankind is
recited. In extraordinary circumstances, the prayer can be postponed and
prayed at a later time as done in the Battle of Uhud. It becomes obligatory
for every Muslim adult male to perform the funeral prayer upon the death
of any Muslim, however when it is performed by the few it alleviates that
obligation for all.
Grave of a Muslim: The deceased is then taken for burial (al-Dafin).
The style of the grave and that of the burial may vary from place to place
due to different methodologies surrounding funeral proceedings. The Islamic
directive is restricted to a respectful burial in the ground.
The grave itself should be aligned perpendicular to the Qiblah (i.e.
towards Mecca). The wrapped body is placed directly into the ground, without
a casket. Graves should be raised, up to a maximum of twelve inches above
the ground. Graves markers are simple, because outwardly lavish displays
are discouraged in Islam. Many times graves may even be unmarked, or marked
only with a simple wreath. However, it is becoming more common for family
members to erect grave monuments.
Only men are allowed to attend the actual graveside service. The
body is laid such that the head is facing the Qiblah. Those present at
the grave each take their turn in pouring three handfuls of soil into
the grave while reciting "We created you from it, and return you
into it, and from it we will raise you a second time", [Qur'an 20:55].
More prayers are then said, asking for forgiveness of the deceased, and
reminding the dead of his or her profession of faith.
In a Tatar Muslim cemetery after the burial, the Muslims who have gathered
to paying their respects to the dead collectively pray for the forgiveness
of the dead. This collective prayer is the last formal collective prayer
for the dead.
Loved ones and relatives are to observe a 3-day mourning period. Mourning
is observed in Islam by increased devotion, receiving visitors and condolences,
and avoiding decorative clothing and jewelry. Widows observe an extended
mourning period, 4 months and 10 days long, in accordance with the Qur'an.
During that time, the widow is not to remarry, move from her home, or
wear decorative clothing or jewelry.
Grief at the death of a beloved person is normal, and weeping for the
dead is allowed in Islam. It is however prohibited to express grief by
wailing (Bewailing refers to mourning in a loud voice), shrieking, beating
the chest and cheeks, tearing hair or clothes, breaking objects, scratching
faces or speaking phrases that make a Muslim lose faith.
In Israel the Jewish funeral service will usually commence at the burial
ground. In the United States and Canada, the funeral service will usually
commence at a funeral home (and occasionally a synagogue or temple) for
an ordinary Jew, and from there the mourners and their entourage proceed
to a Jewish cemetery for the burial. In the case of a more prominent person,
such as a well-known communal leader, rabbi, rebbe, or rosh yeshiva, the
entire service with eulogies can be held at the synagogue or yeshiva that
the deceased was affiliated with.
A hesped is a eulogy, and it is common that several people speak at
the start of the ceremony at the funeral home, as well as prior to burial
at the gravesite, though some people specify in their wills that nothing
should be said about them. On certain days, such as on Chol HaMo'ed ("intermediate
days" of Jewish holidays), eulogies are forbidden.
Kevura, or burial, should take place as soon as possible after death.
The Torah requires burial as soon as possible, even for executed criminals
. This means that burial will usually take place on the same day as
death, or, if not possible, the next day. Some Reform and other congregations
delay burial to allow more time for far flung family to come to the funeral
and participate in the other post burial rituals.
This custom may have originated from the fact that Israel was, and is,
a country with a hot climate. In Biblical times, there were few ways of
keeping the dead body from decomposing. Not only would this be generally
undesirable, but allowing the dead body of any person to decompose would
be showing that person great disrespect. Decomposition would have occurred
especially quickly in Israel due to the constant heat. Thus, the custom
of burying the body as soon as possible. (Although the practice of embalming
and mummification had advanced to a high level in Egypt, this, too, is
considered disrespectful, since it involves a great deal of manipulation
and the removal of bodily organs.) In addition, respect for the dead can
be seen from many examples in the Torah and Tanakh. For example, one of
the last events in the Torah is the death of Moses when God himself buries
him: "[God] buried him in the depression in the land of Moab, opposite
Beth Peor. No man knows the place that he was buried, even to this day."
(Deuteronomy 34:6) 
Typically, when the funeral service has ended, the mourners come forward
to fill the grave. Symbolically, this gives the mourners closure as they
observe the grave being filled in. One custom is for people present at
the funeral to take a spade or shovel, held pointing down instead of up,
to show the antithesis of death to life and that this use of the shovel
is different from all other uses, to throw three shovelfuls of dirt into
the grave. When someone is finished, they put the shovel back in the ground,
rather than handing it to the next person, so that they shouldn't pass
along their grief.
While the grave is being filled in, some Jews may throw in a handful
of earth from Israel on the dead body.
The mourners traditionally make a tear in an outer garment either before
the funeral or immediately after it. The tear should be on the left side
for a parent (over the heart and clearly visible) and on the right side
for brothers, sisters, children and spouses (and does not need to be visible).
If a son or daughter of the deceased needs to change clothes during the
shiva period, he or she must tear the changed clothes. No other family
member is required to rend changed clothes during shiva. Neither son nor
daughter may ever sew the rent clothes, but any other mourner may mend
the clothing 30 days after the burial.
When they get home, the mourners do not shower or bathe for a week, do
not wear leather shoes and/or jewelry, men do not shave, and in many communities
large wall mirrors in the mourners' home are covered. It is customary
for the mourners to sit on low stools or even the floor, symbolic of the
emotional reality of being "brought low" by the grief. The meal
of consolation (seudat havra'ah), the first meal eaten on returning from
the funeral, traditionally consists of hard boiled eggs and other round
or oblong foods. This is often credited to the Biblical story of Jacob
purchasing the birthright from Esau with stewed lentils; it is traditionally
stated that Jacob was cooking the lentils soon after the death of his
During this time distant family and friends come to visit or call the
mourners to comfort them via "shiva calls".
Commencing and calculating the seven days of mourning
If the mourner returns from the cemetery after the burial before sundown
then the day of the funeral is counted as the first of the seven days
of mourning. Mourning generally concludes in the morning of the seventh
day. No mourning may occur on Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath), nor may the
burial take place on Shabbat, but the day of Shabbat does count as one
of the seven days. If a Jewish holiday occurs after the first day, that
curtails the mourning period. If the funeral occurs during a festival,
the start of the mourning period awaits the end of the festival. Some
holidays, such as Rosh Hashanah, cancel the mourning period completely.
In Sikhism death is considered a natural process. An event that has absolute
certainty and only happens as a direct result of God's Will or Hukam.
To a Sikh, birth and death are closely associated, because they are both
part of the cycle of human life of "coming and going", which
is seen as transient stage towards Liberation, complete unity with God.
Sikhs thus believe in reincarnation.
However, by contrast, the soul itself is not subject to the cycle of
birth and death. Death is only the progression of the soul on its journey
from God, through the created universe and back to God again. In life,
a Sikh always tries to constantly remember death so that he or she may
be sufficiently prayerful, detached and righteous to break the cycle of
birth and death and return to God.
The public display of grief at the funeral or Antam Sanskar as it is
called in the Sikh culture, such as wailing or crying out loud is discouraged
and should be kept to a minimum. Cremation is the preferred method of
disposal, although if this is not possible any other methods such as burial
or submergence at sea are acceptable. Worship of the dead with gravestones,
etc. is discouraged, because the body is considered to be only the shell
and the person's soul is their real essence.
On the day of the cremation, the body is taken to the Gurdwara or home
where hymns (Shabads) from the SGGS, the Sikh Scriptures are recited by
the congregation, which induce feeling of consolation and courage. Kirtan
may also be performed by Ragis while the relatives of the deceased recite
"Waheguru" sitting near the coffin. This service normally takes
from 30 to 60 minutes. At the conclusion of the service, an Ardas is said
before the coffin is taken to the cremation site.
At the point of cremation, a few more Shabads may be sung and final speeches
are made about the deceased person. Then the Kirtan Sohila, night time
prayer is recited and finally Ardas called the "Antim Ardas"
("Final Prayer") is offered. The eldest son or a close relative
generally starts the cremation process – light the fire or press
the button for the burning to begin. This service usually lasts about
30 to 60 minutes.
The ashes are later collected and disposed by immersing them in the nearest
river. Sikhs do not erect monuments over the remains of the dead
After the cremation ceremony, there may be another service at the Gurdwara,
the Sikh place of worship, call the Sahaj Paath Bhog Ceremony but this
Baha’i is a religion with Islamic roots. Baha’is believe
that after death, the soul leaves the physical body and world behind for
a spiritual one. This spiritual world does not necessarily contain a Heaven
or a Hell. Instead, Heaven is being near God, while Hell is being farther
away. In addition, the Baha’i religion does not have a particular
set of guidelines regarding funeral services. The few practices that they
do have are as follows:
Baha’is may wear anything from casual attire to formal wear to
a funeral. Flowers and contributions in the deceased’s memory are
also appropriate. However, non-Baha’is cannot contribute to a Baha’i
fund. Concerning the deceased, they must be buried within a one-hour radius
of the place of death. In addition, they are not to be embalmed or shown
in an open casket.
According to the Buddhist faith, individuals pass through a series of
reincarnations until they are liberated from worldly illusions and passions.
Death is a way to reach the next reincarnation and move closer to nirvana,
a state of absolute bliss. Buddhist funerals are often more like celebrations,
where followers focus on the soul of the deceased as it makes its ascent
from the physical body.
The Buddhist funeral services revolve around the concepts of sharing,
good conduct and meditation. The first service is held within two days
of a death at the home of the bereaved. A second service is held two to
five days following the death, and is conducted by monks at the funeral
home. The third and final service is held seven days after the burial
or cremation and is meant to create positive energy for the deceased as
he transcends to the next stage of reincarnation.
The viewing takes place the evening before the funeral. Guests are expected
to view the body and offer a small bow in front of the casket to honor
the impermanence of life. Guests should also offer their condolences to
the family. The funeral ceremony includes chanting and individual offerings
of incense. Guests are not expected to join either part of the ceremony,
but should sit quietly and observe the rituals. While the family dresses
in white, guests usually wear modest black clothing. Loose clothing is
advised for ceremonies at temples where guests must sit on the floor to
Flowers and donations can be sent to the funeral home, but food offerings
In 1879, Mrs. Mary Baker Eddy founded the Christian Scientist religion
in Boston, Mass. Christian Scientists believe that sin, death and disease
do not come from God. Instead, they are created by man. They also believe
that funeral services are optional.
If a funeral service is preferred, attendees are encouraged to wear formal
clothing in muted colors. Services are typically held in private or in
funeral homes as opposed to a church. Since Christian Scientists do not
have clergy, a Christian Scientist teacher, practitioner, reader or friend
conducts the ceremony. The ceremony does not include personal remarks
or eulogies. However, it does include readings from one of Mrs. Eddy’s
books or from the King James Bible. Also, funerals are not typically open
casket. In addition, food may be served afterward. However, alcohol is
Episcopalians find their religious roots in the Church of England. They
believe in heaven and hell, with the final judgment being made by Christ.
Their funeral services can take place alone or as part of a bigger ceremony,
complete with Communion. An Episcopal priest conducts the ceremony, during
which the casket is typically closed. During the ceremony, the priest
reads from The Book of Common Prayer. Non-Episcopalians are encouraged
to join in reciting the prayers if they [the prayers] agree with their
faith. In addition, only baptized Christians are permitted to take Communion.
The Greek Orthodox Church has many traditions—many of them surrounding
funeral services. Members of the Greek Orthodox religion believe that
at the moment of death, the deceased receive a partial judgment—they
get a preview of heaven and hell. On the final judgment day, the deceased
are sent to either heaven or hell.
At the deceased’s funeral services, mourners are expected to wear
navy blue or black, formal clothing. If mourners choose to visit the grieving
family before the service, tradition requires that they say, “May
you have an abundant life,” or “May their memory be eternal.”
In addition, making contributions to a pre-determined charity or fund
is appropriate. During the actual services, mourners must stand at the
appropriate times and pay respects to the family. Funerals are also typically
open casket. As a result, both members and non-members of the Greek Orthodox
faith are expected to bow in front of the casket and kiss the object (cross
or otherwise) resting on the deceased’s chest. Later, at the internment,
each mourner places a flower on the casket. Afterward, family and friends
may head to a restaurant, church hall or private home for what is customarily
called a “mercy meal.”
Other traditions include that widows wear black clothing for up to two
years after the death of their spouse and that a memorial service for
the deceased be held on the Sunday closest to the 40-day mark after death.
Annual memorial services may follow on the anniversary of the death.
Hindus believe that upon death, an individual’s soul enters another
reincarnation. The reincarnation depends on the individual’s karma,
which is determined by his actions in his present life as well as his
past lives. Once an individual realizes the true nature of reality, the
soul will become one with Brahman, the One, All-Encompassing soul. The
funeral ceremony serves as a purification process to cleanse the soul
for a possible union with Brahman.
After a Hindu’s death, the family prepares the body for the funeral
and wraps it in a shroud. The body is then presented at the family’s
home for a viewing. Women place flowers at the feet of the body, and everyone
joins in chanting to Yama, the god of death.
Following the viewing, the men carry the body to the crematorium. Hindu’s
cremate the dead because the burning of the body symbolizes the release
of the spirit. Prayers are said at the entrance of the crematorium. The
chief mourner, usually the eldest son or male in the family, offers prayers
of goodbye from the entire family. Sometimes, the men will shave their
heads as a sign of respect for the deceased. Guests are expected to leave
as soon as the cremation begins. The ashes, according to traditional Hindu
belief, must be washed or placed into a river for final cleansing.
Family and guests come together for a meal and prayers following the cremation.
The mourning period lasts for 13 days when friends may visit the family
to offer comfort. Visitors are expected to bring fruit.
The Hmong view death as a natural part of the life cycle. All Hmong are
given a mandate upon birth that determines the length of their life. When
their mandate is up, the soul must leave its body to reside with its ancestors.
When a Hmong dies, the entire family comes to the home to pay their respects.
Traditionally, the Hmong prefer to die in their own home and hold the
funeral there among family and friends. Due to restrictions in the West,
the Hmong must store the body and hold the service in a funeral home.
A typical Hmong funeral lasts three days. The funeral is the most important
part of Hmong culture and must be done properly to ensure a prosperous
afterlife for the deceased. Family members prepare the body for burial
and adorn it with objects to protect its soul from evil spirits as it
journeys to the other world. They provide the soul with food, wine, clothing
and money. The Hmong will also sacrifice a rooster to accompany the soul
on its journey. Musicians play a pipe and set of drums to guide the soul
in the direction of its ancestors.
The Hmong will perform a ceremony a year following the death to invite
the soul back for a final feast. An animal is traditionally sacrificed
at this service to ensure that the soul makes its final ascent to its
Supporters of the Islamic faith, called Muslims, believe in an afterlife.
Once an individual’s soul is freed from his physical body, he awaits
the final Day of Reckoning when he must account for his actions. The Qur’an
explains both the rewards of heaven and the punishments of hell. Burials
are preformed as quickly as possible after the death in order to free
the soul from the body
A Muslim funeral has two purposes: to provide a decent burial for the
deceased and to comfort the family. Friends should listen to the family’s
grief and encourage them to accept God’s will so they can return
to a normal routine. Funerals are simple yet respectful. Women should
cover their heads and arms and sit separately from the men.
Following the service, mourners are expected to walk with the casket to
the plot. Everyone should remain silent during the procession. The body
is buried without a casket, and turned so that the head points toward
Mecca, the Muslim direction of prayer.
Friends may bring baked goods, fruits or simple meals that need only to
be heated. Do not bring flowers.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that in death, the deceased are unconscious—sleeping
in their graves while waiting for the final resurrection, and that exactly
144,000 of them [the Jehovah’s Witnesses] receive eternal life immediately
upon their death. In heaven, they will help Jesus Christ in establishing
the Kingdom that will bring better conditions on Earth at the time of
the final resurrection - Armageddon. The world’s remaining Jehovah’s
Witnesses will continue to live forever on Earth in a new, “earthly
At a Jehovah’s Witness’ funeral, mourners are expected to
wear simple clothing in muted colors. The funeral services last between
15 and 30 minutes and are typically held at a Kingdom Hall – the
place of worship for their faith – or a funeral home. A congregation’s
elder runs the services. Following the hall or funeral home services are
Judaism, like many other religions, is made up of different sects. The
four major sects of one of the world’s oldest religions include
(in order of liberal to more conservative): reform, reconstructionist,
conservative and orthodox. Reform and Reconstructionist Jews believe that
there is no bodily resurrection or physical life after death. Conservative
Jews believe that there will be a resurrection of the dead. In the physical
sense, there will be a resurrection at the coming of the Messiah. Spiritually,
the deceased will live on through the memories of the living. Orthodox
Jews also believe that there is a type of physical and spiritual life
after death at the coming of the Messiah. The resulting lives are lived
in heaven and hell-like places. Nevertheless, these sects follow to a
degree many of the same customs concerning funeral services and traditions.
Funeral services take place the day after death. Attendees are expected
to wear formal attire in subdued colors. Also, non-Jews are not permitted
to wear symbols of other faiths (i.e. a crucifix, etc.). Specifically,
men must wear head coverings—either a yarmulke or a kippah. At some
conservative services, women must also wear head coverings, while at orthodox
services, women are expected to cover their arms and legs to the knee
in addition to their heads. Mourners should not send flowers. Food, however,
is permitted. Although, if attendees send food, it should be kosher—or
food blessed by a rabbi.
Rabbis conduct the funeral services. They can be either men or women,
except in the Orthodox sect (men only). Funerals are also typically closed
casket. Cremation is not permitted (except among some Reform Jews). Additionally,
mourners are not permitted to enter during the recessional, processional
or reading of eulogies during the services. Funeral services usually last
between 15 and 60 minutes. Following the services is internment, where
no acquaintances are to be present. At the time of internment, the casket
is carried in a slow procession to the grave with seven pauses along the
way. After prayers, each person places a shovel-full of dirt on the casket.
The immediate family then recites the Kaddish—a prayer about God
and His relationship with the mourners. Others in attendance recite only
the limited responses. As the immediate family leaves, they walk between
two rows—made up of the rest of the funeral procession.
Immediately following internment, the family sits in mourning. This 7-day
period is known as a shiva. During the shiva, visitors are expected to
stay for a 30-minute visit to eat and express condolences. Visitors must
wait for members of the immediate family to eat their meal first, but
they [visitors] do not have to say prayers before eating. Visitors must
also wait to be addressed by the immediate family before paying their
respects. In addition, there are services during shiva—one each
in the morning and evening—for 10 to 20 minutes. Non-Jews can silently
read English from the prayerbook and stand when necessary.
Also during this time, members of the immediate family sit on small chairs
or boxes, wearing a cut black ribbon and slippers or socks to show grief.
Additionally, a 7-day shiva candle is immediately lit (following the internment),
mirrors are covered, and “luxurious” bathing is prohibited
(i.e. no shaving or cutting hair). Conducting business is also prohibited.
In this way, family members avoid vanity and express the extent of their
grief. Overall, mourners miss work for about a week—social functions
with dancing and music, from one month to a year. Family members can mourn
(i.e. wear black, attend services, etc.) for up to 11 months after the
death of a parent or child with 30 days for other relatives such as an
aunt or uncle. During this time (which includes shiva), the Kaddish is
recited every day. On the anniversary of the death (yahrzeit), mourners
may attend services and light a yahrzeit candle that burns for 24 hours.
In addition, there may be an “unveiling” of the tombstone—a
simple ceremony that takes place one year later. This ceremony is invitation-only.
Mormon/Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints accepts death as an essential
part of the plan of salvation. The followers, commonly known as Mormons,
believe that everyone who lived or ever will live on earth is a spiritual
child of God because they all lived with God before the existence of man.
When an individual dies, the soul leaves the body for the spirit world,
a place of learning and preparation. Upon the resurrection of Christ,
the body and soul are reunited for eternity.
Since Mormons believe they will be reunited with the deceased in the afterlife,
funerals are a time for hope and anticipation. Guests should wear modest
clothing and ensure that their hems are near the knees. The service includes
sacred music, prayer and a eulogy that remind mourners of Jesus Christ’s
Atonement and Resurrection. Close family and friends attend a brief graveside
service following the funeral.
The family usually hosts a gathering after the service so that all attendees
can offer their condolences. Cards and flowers are appropriate gifts.
When a Pentecostal dies, his body returns to the earth while his soul
awaits final judgment. The destiny of the deceased depends on his adherence
to the redemptive plan designed by God for sinners. Pentecostals who follow
that plan will eventually join God and enjoy eternal life. Ultimately,
the soul will reunite with the body during the Resurrection.
The funeral ceremony includes singing, scripture reading and prayer. The
minister will offer a sermon and eulogy in honor of the deceased. Guests
should wear dark clothing.
Flowers may be sent to the funeral home or church where the funeral is
held. Guests may also offer food to the family to help them during their
Many European leaders including Martin Luther and John Calvin founded
Protestantism during the Reformation of the Roman Catholic Church. Protestants
originally differentiated themselves from other Christians by accepting
the Bible as the only source of infallible truth. The present-day Protestant
Sects include Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalian
Protestant funerals have a wide variation of customs and are generally
tailored to the wishes of the deceased and his family. Services are meant
to comfort the family and guests while also celebrating the life of the
deceased. The minister often emphasizes the promise of life after death
as a reassurance to the bereaved.
The funeral usually occurs within three days of the death. It is common
for the family to host a visitation period prior to the funeral where
guests can pay their respects to the deceased and give their condolences
to the family.
Guests are not expected to stay for the duration of the viewing. The funeral
service usually includes scripture readings from the Bible, hymns and
a sermon. A close friend or family member will most likely offer a eulogy
in appreciation for the deceased’s life. While black clothing is
no longer necessary for Protestant funerals, guests should dress in a
respectable manner. Guests can send flowers cards or charitable donations
to the funeral home or to the church where the funeral will take place.
The family often hosts a gathering following the funeral. The purpose
of the gathering is to share memories of the deceased that help the family
deal with their grief. Food can be sent or delivered in person to the
Catholic funerals are rich with tradition and sacrament, but vary according
to individual, family and church. The religion expands many geographic
regions, making personal heritage and tradition a large part of the Catholic
ceremony. Irish, Russian and Italian are just a few of the cultures that
influence the tone and structure of a Catholic funeral, and each heritage
has a unique way of dealing with grief.
Typically, the second day after a loved one passes away, friends and family
will hold a visitation or “wake,” usually held at a funeral
Immediately following the wake or on the third day, a Catholic funeral
is held. The funeral service may stand alone, or be part of a bigger ceremony
known as a mass. The mass is one of the foundations of the Catholic religion,
having been conducted in the same manner with the same words and gestures
for hundreds of years. Only recently has the mass been changed from Latin
to the language of each local parish’s members.
During mass, the priest reads from Scripture, leads prayers and administers
Holy Communion. Non-Catholics are encouraged to stand during appropriate
parts of the ceremony. However, kneeling, singing, or reading prayers
aloud is optional. Non-Catholics must also refrain from taking Holy Communion
during mass. A funeral reception may also be held after the services,
where food and/or drink are often served, depending on the deceased’s
family’s wishes. Additionally, a mass may be held on the annual
anniversary of the death.
Scientology began in 1954 in Los Angeles, under the leadership of L. Ron
Hubbard. Scientology is based on eight “dynamics”—self,
family and sex, groups, mankind, all life forms, the physical universe,
spirituality, and infinity or the Supreme Being. The ultimate goal is
for man to reach the greatest level of understanding or success in each
of these dynamics. Scientologists also believe that man is immortal and
spiritual. Therefore, man lives several lives. Scientology gives its parishioners
the “tools” to deal with these past lives and to be happy
in their current lives.
As a result, Scientologists conduct memorial services, rather than funerals,
after death. At these services, Scientology ministers reiterate that the
deceased, as a spiritual being, has moved into a new life.
Seventh Day Adventists
Seventh Day Adventists believe the dead sleep until the Second Coming
of Christ. On this day, the deceased and the living face a final judgment
to determine their salvation. Those who remain loyal to God will enter
the sanctuary of heaven to enjoy eternal life.
The funeral for a Seventh Day Adventist usually occurs within one week
of his death. Friends are encouraged to call and offer condolences to
the family before the funeral. Seventh Day Adventists provide comfort
for the family by saying phrases such as, “I sense your grief and
share it with you” or “We look for the coming resurrection.”
It is also customary for guests to offer a brief word of encouragement
to the family before the funeral service. Women should wear respectable
clothing that covers the arms and falls just below the knee. Guests should
wear dark clothing and remove all jewelry.
It is appropriate to pay the family a visit several days following the
funeral to assist with difficulties and to offer comforting words that
may ease the grieving process. Guests may send flowers or food to the
house. Do not make any charitable donations.
When a Shinto follower dies, his spirit lives forever under the protection
of ancestral spirits and Kami, or Shinto divinities. The Shinto perform
daily rituals at shrines in their homes to bring the spirits of the dead
back to earth. They offer food, drink and burn incense. These rituals
ensure that the dead are always remembered.
While Shintoism is simple in nature, the ceremonies are very complex and
do not allow for personalization. Each stage of a Shinto burial is performed
according to ancient rituals. A burial contains over 20 procedures. The
kich-fuda, koden and bunkotsu are three of the procedures. The kich-fuda
is a time of serious mourning where close family and friends wear all
black and carry stringed prayer beads. During the koden procedure, friends
and family offer monetary gifts to the immediate family to help with funeral
expenses. The bunkotsu stage is one of the final steps, where ashes are
given to close family members to put in their home shrines.
According to Sikhism, individuals go through a constant cycle of birth
and rebirth until their soul breaks free and meets with the supreme soul,
God. Sikhs remain continuously aware of death, repeating prayers and performing
righteous deeds so they may eventually break the cycle of birth and death.
Since death is viewed as an act of the Almighty, Sikhs are expected to
keep their emotions under control. Even the closest mourners should appear
Upon the death of a Sikh, the family prepares the deceased with a yogurt
bath and dressings that bear the five symbols of a Sikh. The five symbols
are a kirpin, the Sikh knife representing compassion and one’s duty
to defend the truth, kara, a stainless steel bracelet, kachera, a special
Sikh underwear, kanga, a small comb and kesh, or uncut hair. The family
recites many prayers throughout the preparations to help the soul leave
the body and become one with God.
Once the body is prepared, the family carries it to the crematorium followed
by a procession of friends and family. Sikhs continue to recite many prayers.
Since all of the prayers are recited in Gurmukhi, the original language
of the Gurus, guests are not expected to join. Both men and women must
wear headgear during all ceremonies. A scarf covering the head is adequate.
There is no requirement for color of clothing.
The Sikh mourning period lasts between two to five weeks. The family may
decide to hold a number of ceremonies during that time period. Flowers
and cards are appropriate gifts. Foods are also appreciated but nothing
with meat, fish, eggs or alcohol.
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