Funerals

Following the death of a devoutly Catholic friend this weekend, I began to wonder what funeral services are like in other churches, as well as what sort of servicces atheists have had.

The standard Protestant funeral service is a service of thanksgiving, hymns, and prayers for the family of the deceased. More recently, Holy Communion has been celebrated. The sermon is typically an evangelistic opportunity to call those who know not Christ to bow the knee to him, that they might be saved.

The last one I went to was my Dad’s and it was fairly typical of Protestant churches. I attend a Lutheran church, and, for as long as I’ve been a member I don’t recall ever going to one. My family members are not Lutheran but are a mish-mash of other denominations.

My dad’s funeral was in a Free Methodist church and it started by having the members of his immediate family walk in behind the casket up to the front of the church. There might have be en a couple of hymns sung, and then the pastor delivered a eulogy. My dad had been ministered to by a local Baptist minister and so, my mom, had him give a eulogy from his perspective of knowing dad. Another hymn or to, then the pulpit was opened for any others who wanted to say something about him. My niece did that as well as she read a letter from her cousin who could not attend.

After another hymn or two, the family followed the casket out…normally we would have gone directly to the cemetery but dad had told mom that he didn’t want people hanging out in the cold for the burial (his funeral was in December in Northern Michigan) so his body was taken back to the funeral home and we all gathered in the church fellowship hall to have a light snack.

I’ve been to a variety of Protestant funerals. Non-denominational, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc. All have their own sort of flavor.

Recently, I attended a great aunt’s funeral. She went to one of those strict Holiness-Pentecostal churches. It started out with a service at the church. The front rows are reserved for the immediate family. They placed the casket in front of the pulpit. There was a choir. Some hymns and gospel songs were sung. The preacher gave part eulogy/part evangelistic sermon (urging those who had known and been influenced by my aunt to follow her example and give their lives to Christ, etc.).

Then quite unnecessarily a whole flock of the deceased’s grandchildren and great grandchildren flocked to the casket and made a big scene where they dramatically cried over the body. After that was over, they escorted the family out as the choir sang “Amazing Grace.”

At the graveside, I think all that really occurred was that the preacher said some prayers and read a Scripture passage discussing the resurrection of the dead in Christ.

I’ve been to a lot as well, and oddly, being Catholic, not many of them were Catholic funerals.

With every one, its different. Usually it has the same contents- people speaking about the departed, prayers or being led in prayer by some sort of minister. There isn’t any set way of doing it. I somewhat feel sorry for them because they do not have the comfort of Holy Mass and Holy Communion within the funeral.

I had a brother-in-law who was basically an atheist or agnostic in his beliefs.

He and his wife attended a Unitarian Universalist “church” for awhile, but it appeared to be one of those religions in which Buddha, Christ, Hinduism, etc were all considered equal. I think their god was really humanism and intellectualism more than anything, or at least that was the impression I had of it.

They cremated his body. The memorial service, if you want to call it that, was at the family home. Since he was a musician and an artist, his wife and daughter had a selection of some of his music playing and some of his favorite artwork was on display.

Some of his friends gathered around and had a “shot” of whiskey together as a toast in his honor.

The absence of God in all of that was very depressing. Also, the sad part is that before he went to war in the 1960’s, he was open to and respectful of Christianity. After he returned from war, he became a non-religious anti-establishment hippie for the most part.

Serious Protestants will take comfort in the Word of God and the presence of the Comforter. I feel sorry for those who don’t really believe in the Word of God because they are truly adrift at sea in grief.

My father was a Presbyterian and died a few years ago. The service included the family sitting up in the front center of the church with friends and visitors occupying the rest of the sanctuary.

The service consisted of a few of his favorite hymns, readings of comfort from scripture by the pastor, a nice eulogy, including telling a few personal experiences the pastor had with my father that he thought were inspirational.

Before the end of the funeral, those of us children who wanted to speak, along with a few close friends who the family approved to speak came up and briefly spoke of how my father had influenced their lives in a positive way.

When my mother died a decade or so earlier, I asked the pastor if he could read from Proverbs 31 about the virtuous woman, which he graciously did.

At the end of the service, we all drove to the local cemetery in a procession of cars and witnessed the burial, then went back to the church fellowship hall for lunch.

Well, at least they didn’t sing Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” :shrug:

As a funeral director, I have been to hundreds and hundreds of services.

The thing that saddens me the most is having a Mass of Christian Burial for the patriarch or matriarch of a family who have all since “fallen away.” You have a few older parishoners, but outside of that, none of the family knows what to do! I stand in back and watch as the family looks around behind them as to when to stand and kneel etc.; all the while the priest tries to do his best to drag them through it. It is really a shame.

As for protestant funerals, they’re pretty boilerplate. Pick one of the three-four readings, read the 23rd Psalm, sing amazing grace somewhere in the middle, and out. Needless to say, I’m left uninspired.

Oh absolutely! I used to be Protestant, so I know.! :wink: :slight_smile: The study and the love of God’s Word was a gift the Protestants I was with gave to me.

In the Catholic religion we are taught that we actually receive Jesus, the Word of God Himself in Holy Communion. There are no words to describe that gift without making it sound trite.

This is identical to the Southern Baptist funeral experience of this past summer.
I went to a different Baptist funeral a couple of years back, and we spent the bulk of the time listening to the minister yell at those gathered about examining their souls so that they could see the deceased again one day. We’d better shape up. :tsktsk:
Another, primitive Baptist funeral, has full of sorrow, no words of hope, just
isn’t this the worst thing to ever happen. So many tears. Nothing but grief. :imsorry:
Another non-denominational funeral we went to was light, hopeful, many stories of the deceased life, and the adult children taking a shot and leaving the shot glass on the coffin. Everyone seems really pleased, that this captured the spirit of the joy of life of the deceased. :wink:

So…even in some similar churches…things can vary ALOT. The thing to remember is…all of these folks were familiar with these “themes” and believed that their loved ones were “done up right”. The differences came from the preaching style and the tone of the membership.

Various denominations and people of other disciplines that come to our parish for funerals tend to be very wary. Once the funeral Mass is over, they seem to be amazed. They now understood what we teach and do, a bit more, and are often pleasantly surprised, They tend to come away with greater respect for the faith, and are amazed at the welcome they received.

Going to funerals educates you in what other churches are really like. It’s hard to be false when people are grieving.

I believe that it’s one of the most respectful and loving things you can do for a deceased friend, by attending their funeral. So we go. No matter how odd they seem to us. Sometimes they are very similar to our own experience. But they always are a chance to pray for the deceased and offer love to the survivors.

Thoughtful question!

When my mother died a few years ago, my family and I live 1000 miles away and the funeral arrangements was taken care of by my aunt and her sister. both my mother and aunt are not Catholic but main stream Protestant. The process was show up at the funeral home, walk past the coffin for viewing, head into the “chapel” for a few words from the preacher, off to the cemetery, the preacher says a few last words and then invites anyone who would like to say something and then it was over. So uninspiring and left wanting more.

What I found interesting was that when the viewing was in progress is that when I approached my mother I bowed deeply then knelt and prayed for her soul. when I finished I made the sign of the cross on her forehead and bowed again and walked away. My wife and kids followed suit. The looks of puzzlement on everyone’s face there was telling. They just did not get it.

When I die give me the full blown Catholic Mass and funeral with all the incense and Scripture readings and ceremonies that goes with it.

God bless you, and may your mother rest in the loving arms our Jesus and Our Lady. :thumbsup:

My mother’s and my mother-in-law’s both Lutheran were in the church. The service was a regular church service with hymns, scripture reading and a sermon that was directed at the family and the congregation and communion. There was no eulogy.

About a year or so ago, a co-worker of mine invited me to attend his mother’s funeral in a city about 50 miles away. We are friends, so I accepted. His mother was Catholic, although my friend had converted from Catholic to Methodist several years ago.

I convinced my wife to go with me, who is a staunch protestant. We witnessed the funeral and it was not what we were accustomed to so it made us a little uncomfortable, but we went out of respect for my friend.

The good part was that the priest realized a number of non-Catholics were in attendance so he explained and translated what was taking place as best he could, which I appreciated. It wasn’t so intimidating thanks to his efforts.

The bad part was that I found out afterwards from a Catholic co-worker of mine who was sitting next to me who looked a bit angry the whole time, that the priest officiating in that parish used to be the priest in his parish about 50 miles away.

That priest had left in some sort of falling out (I didn’t ask for details) and that my friend was surprised to see he had been transferred to that parish. He told me that he wouldn’t have come to the funeral had he known in advance that that particular priest was officiating.

My wife thought the Catholic funeral was a lot of ritualistic gymnastics except for the eulogy, but I watched attentively to try to find the scriptural basis for what was taking place and trying my best to understand it. I couldn’t understand the parts in Latin, but I understood some of it. In the end, I respected it as the Catholic way of doing funerals. Plus, there were scripture readings, and you can’t go wrong with that, right? :slight_smile:

I agree that all funerals take on the personality of the faith tradition of the deceased. In the end, we are honoring the person who passed away, so it should be about them and not about us, whether or not it leaves us uninspired or uncomfortable.

In the Lutheran tradition, like everything else, it’s all about Christ - which is why we don’t eulogize the deceased. This surprises people who expect otherwise, but I have heard many remarks about how comforted they were by the sermon. The Good News is especially good news in the face of loss.

This is a rather modern way to think about funerals. In my denomination’s official burial office, the dead person is not even mentioned. Funerals are for the living, insofar as they set forth the hope of the resurrection to everlasting life for those who trust in Christ, comfort mourners in their grief, and give warning to unbelievers about their eternal destiny should they not repent.

In my opinion, the best funerals I’ve ever attended honor the memory of the person who died as well as bring comfort to the living and an exhortation to those remaining to live for Christ.

The point I was trying to make is that sometimes it is more important to honor someone’s memory than to insist on remaining in our own comfort zone or to nitpick over the details of someone else’s funeral.

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