Understanding rites and customs

To help you understand different types of religious and cultural requirements, following are some brief descriptions of the most common funeral rites and customs.

Religious requirements

Many funeral services are religious in nature. From conventions for cleaning and dressing the body to the timing and features of the funeral service itself, the structure that religion provides around dealing with death fulfils both religious obligations and offers comfort and guidance to those who are grieving.

Anglican

Anglican funeral services are led by an ordained minister.

The service itself generally consists of prayers, a eulogy, scripture readings, a sermon and hymns. Holy Communion is sometimes also celebrated as part of the service. The service is an occasion to express the faith of the deceased.

Mourners – whether they are members of the religion or not – are encouraged to participate in the service and express their sorrow when saying goodbye.

A family member or close friend may offer the eulogy in appreciation of the deceased’s life.

It’s quite common for the family to host a gathering after the funeral to continue to share memories of the deceased, and offer support and consolation.

Buddhism

Buddhist funeral services involve 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 in order to create positive energy for the deceased as they transcend to the next stage of reincarnation.

The viewing takes place the evening before the service at the funeral home. Guests are expected to view the body and offer a small bow in front of the casket to honour the impermanence of life. Guests also offer their condolences to the family.

The funeral ceremony includes chanting and individual offerings of incense. Guests do not join in these rituals, but sit quietly and observe.

While the family of the deceased 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 meditate.

Flowers and donations can be sent to the funeral home, but food offerings are discouraged.

Catholic

A Catholic funeral service celebrates the deceased’s life and commends their soul to God. The service reflects this through hymns, prayers, scripture readings, a homily and the eulogy.

The service may sometimes be part of a larger ceremony known as a Requiem Mass, which is led by an ordained Priest.

The family of the deceased may request a vigil on the night prior to the funeral service, where prayers, the rosary or family reflections take place.

Non-Catholics are encouraged to stand during the appropriate parts of the service, however kneeling, singing and reading prayers aloud is optional. Non-Catholics must also refrain from taking Holy Communion during a Requiem Mass.

A gathering after the funeral service may be held, providing family and friends with the opportunity to share memories and support each other.

Greek Orthodox

At a Greek Orthodox funeral service, guests are expected to wear black or navy blue formal clothing.

If visiting the family of the deceased before the service, tradition requires mourners to say “May you have an abundant life” or “May their memory be eternal”.

During the funeral service, guests must stand at the appropriate time and pay respect to the family.

Funerals are often open casket. If this is the case, both members of the Greek Orthodox faith and non-members are expected to bow in front of the casket and kiss the object – usually a cross – resting on the deceased’s chest. At the interment, each guest places a flower on the casket.

After the funeral service, family and friends may gather at a restaurant, church hall, home or other venue for what is known as a ‘mercy meal’.

Islam

Muslims and followers of Islam bury their dead as they believe that the dead body must be respected and not harmed in any way.

At death, a chapter from the Quran is read and few drops of holy water are given to the dying person. After death, the body is bathed, anointed and draped with a seamless white shroud.

Muslim custom dictates that the body should be buried within 24 hours of death.

Muslim funeral services are simple, yet respectful. Women should cover their heads and arms, and sit separately from the men.

Following the service, guests are expected to walk with the casket to the burial plot. Everyone must remain silent during the procession.

The body is buried without a casket and turned so the head is pointing toward Mecca.

Flowers should not be sent.

Judaism

Jewish funeral services take place the day after death.

Guests are expected to wear formal attire, usually black. Men must wear a head covering in the form of a yarmulke or kippah. At some conservative services, women must also wear head coverings. At orthodox services, women are expected to cover their arms and legs to the knee in addition to their heads and sit separately.

A Rabbi conducts the funeral service, which typically has a closed, plain casket.

The funeral service usually lasts between 15 and 60 minutes. Guest are not permitted to enter during the recessional, processional or reading of eulogies.

Immediately following the funeral service, the family sits in mourning for a seven-day period known as Shiva. During this time, visitors are expected to stay for a 30-minute visit to eat and express condolences.

Flowers should not be sent, however kosher food is permitted.

Uniting Church and Methodist

A Uniting Church or Methodist funeral service is led by a pastor. Readings can come from a variety of sources.

Guests who are not members of the religion are not expected to participate, but are not discouraged from doing so.

The funeral service usually includes hymns and a sermon. A family member or close friend may offer a eulogy in appreciation of the deceased’s life.

While black clothing is no longer necessary, guests should dress in a respectful 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 to share memories of the deceased and help the family deal with their grief.

Cultural requirements

Death is a universal experience. But it is also an experience that each culture approaches in a distinct way.

In some cultures, participation in the grieving process is an important ritual; others choose to grieve in private. An annual celebration of a loved one’s passing is a feature in some cultures, while others believe even the mention of the deceased’s name brings bad luck. Holding a wake is a significant feature of the funeral service in many cultures.

We all bring something different from our cultural background to a funeral service based on where we have come from.

At Walter Carter Funerals, we will always make every effort to ensure that your cultural traditions are observed. Please contact us to discuss your requirements.

If you would like more information about the rites and customs pertaining to a particular religion or culture, please contact us.

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