How Does a Christian Funeral Work?

Posted: 10/10/2017

Just as cultures and religious practices differ, as do the traditions for the funeral services. For a bit of context about the beliefs to do with life and death, Christianity teaches that once a person has passed away, there life on earth ends and they will be judged by God in order to continue on into either heaven or hell. The righteous, of course, go to heaven and those who are considered sinners go to hell. Hell is considered the ultimate separation from the love of God.

In Christianity, a funeral is held to give thanks to all the family and friends who guided to deceased through their life on earth and gives thanks to God for giving them life.

Nevertheless, funerals can vary slightly according to the denomination of Christianity being observed. However, there are not too many significant differences between the services and teachings.

Late Rites

Before a person’s death, it is traditional for a priest or minister to stay by their bedside and pray with them and help them prepare for their death (new life in with God).

In Roman Catholicism, a priest will also anoint a person with holy oil to prepare them for death.

When a person who has passed away is placed into a coffin, sometimes the casket is left open for relatives to say their final goodbyes and pray over the body. The coffin will then be taken into the church or chapel and the priest will recite from the Bible. The priest will also say a few words about the person to comfort the mourners and says more prayers that encourage the soul to be accepted into the gates of heaven.

In the Roman Catholic church, there is actually a special Eucharist named the Requiem Mass in which prayers are said for the person who has passed’s soul.

The order of the service

priest-at-a-funeral

The service at a Christian funeral tends to follow a very clear structure. The service will be taken by a priest or a minister. The main focus of a Christian funeral service is moving the soul from earth into heaven, this is represented by the structure of the service.

The Gathering

 The coffin will be received by the minister or priest at the door and will lead it and the mourners into the service. Then the minister will recite: “’’I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies,’ says the Lord” (John 11:25), “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38+9) and “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4).

Readings and Sermons

Some more readings from the bible will be said, family and friends can partake in these as well. Psalms and hymns may follow the readings, and then a sermon is preached by the minister. A traditional Psalm that is read is ‘The Lord is my Shepard’ which is considered comforting as t speaks of God being with us throughout all of our life on earth and our life with him in heaven and in the grief of those gone.

Prayers

Next is a section of the funeral dedicated to prayers. The sequence of prayers usually follows this pattern:

  • Thanksgiving for the life of the one who has departed
  • A prayer dedicated to those who are mourning
  • Prayers of Penitence
  • Prayer for readiness to live in the light of eternity in the kingdom of Heaven with Christ.

The prayers recall the promise of resurrection come the return of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, known as the second coming.

The prayers tend to conclude with the Lord’s Prayer.

The Burial or Cremation

It is traditional in Christianity for the funeral to end with the burial or either the coffin or the ashes the following cremation depending on which one a person chose. If cremation is the preferred method of dealing with the body, a person’s ashes are typically scattered in the holy ground of the churchyard or in the crematorium’s Garden of Remembrance. The ashes may also be buried a few days following the funeral with its own brief service.

There are no commandments in Christianity that forbid either traditional burial or cremation. In the past and other, older religions, such as Judaism, cremation is not approved of as it is believed that cremation means that a person cannot be resurrected o the Day of Judgement. The Apostle’s Creed states “I believe in…the resurrection of the body”.  However, Christians adhere to St Pauls teaching that, “On earth, it is a physical body but in heaven, it will be a spiritual body”.

At the crematorium, more prayers are said and the coffin is taken to be cremated. Once completed, the ashes are returned to the relatives and loved ones to be buried or scattered in a chosen location.

Alternatively, at a burial site the body is lowered into a grave in a cemetery to then be covered with earth, all of this witnessed by the mourners. A gravestone will later be placed on top, marking the spot and giving some details of a person’s life.

Either way, at both services the priest or minister will recite “We commit this body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust”. This is supposed to evoke a reminder to the witnesses that we are all human and made by God in his image.

Given the expense of a funeral or cremation, we are pleased to help your compare funeral plans to save money long-term.

Mourning

It is extremely common for people to send flowers to the mourners of the deceased. The flowers are meant to represent the beauty of the world in which the person is going to enter (Heaven).

Both at the funeral service and in the home, candles are lit to remind fellow Christians that Jesus was the light of the world and to welcome his presence. Thanks to Jesus, all Christians can be saved from worldly sins and go to heaven.