The Funeral Rite

For centuries, the Church…

has honored and prayed for the dead through funerals and burials. Christians were noted in the ancient world as a people that showed great care for dead bodies, and that practice continues today in the modern form of the funeral. While some might think the attention to the body, once dead, is macabre, in fact it is essential to our belief in the resurrection of the dead. 

Christ was brought again to life from the Tomb. St. Paul calls Jesus the first fruit of the resurrection, meaning that exactly what happened to Jesus will happen to those who believe in him. We show our faith in the resurrection by bringing the body, or the cremated remains, into the church in a final act of prayer and worship before we process the body to its final resting place.

A typical funeral service at St. Paul’s proceeds like this:

  1. The priest receives the body, usually from the funeral home, with prayers and places the body or cremated remains at the head of the nave under a pall.
  2. The priest seats the family and friends of the deceased.
  3. The priest, deacon, and acolytes process in to the church and the Funeral rite begins much like a typical Eucharist.
  4. Scripture is read by friends or family of the deceased.
  5. Selected remembrances may be given by friends or family, followed by a homily.
  6. The congregation says the Apostles creed.
  7. The congregations prays for the deceased and the whole church.
  8. The congregation receives communion.
  9. The congregation is sent forth to bury the body or place the remains in the columbarium.

The Book of Common Prayer says, “Baptized Christians are properly buried from the church” (468). The presence of the body is important as part of the grieving process for all those who knew the person in life. Our funerals give us time and space to be sad, to say goodbye, to reflect on the faith of the deceased, and to embrace again for ourselves that faith as we reflect on our own mortality.
And that time and space continue after the service as we depart together to bury the body. “It is customary that the celebrant meet the body and go before it into the church or towards the grave” (BCP 468). Burial at a cemetery or in the columbarium are not separate acts from the Funeral service (sometimes called Memorial service). Rather, they are the end of a complete ritual, one in which we grieve, worship, pray, and receive comfort.

The Funeral service provides that comfort in various ways, from reading Scripture, saying or singing a Psalm, singing familiar hymns, or hearing remembrances from friends and family. The greatest comfort, however, comes from receiving the Body of the Lord in Eucharist. This is why we include Eucharist, especially if the deceased was a baptized communicant themselves. In Eucharist, we are giving the food for living a resurrection life. In Eucharist, we are knit together as one Body, the Church. In Eucharist, we remember that Christ has died, is risen, and will come again.