Christians trust they will go to heaven to be with God once they have died and so in some respects a funeral is a time of joy, although also sadness, as the person will be missed by friends and loved ones.
The church minister may come and visit the person and their family to discuss any concerns and to help the person to prepare for their death. Depending on the form of Christianity (ie. Anglican, Presbyterian etc.) and the particular church, there may be slightly different customs that will be followed.
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The church minister will offer any comfort or assistance the family needs to help them cope with the death and to organize the funeral. Friends will often send their sympathies in the form of cards and/or flowers to the deceased’s family.
A Christian may be either buried or cremated, depending on their preference. The ceremony will typically be held at the deceased person’s church and conducted by the minister, but it could also be held at a funeral home. The ceremony may involve hymns, readings and prayer by both the minister and the deceased’s family and friends. The casket may be present in the room during the ceremony and carried out at the end by pallbearers – usually members of the deceased’s immediate family. There is often the opportunity for people to view the deceased and to say their last goodbyes before the deceased is buried.
If the deceased has been cremated the ashes may be scattered. Otherwise, the ashes or body will be buried in a cemetery and marked with a gravestone to remember the deceased.
On special occasions such as the deceased’s birthday, Christmas or anniversary of the death, family and friends may come and visit the grave. Often, flowers or other objects to remember the deceased will be placed on the grave as a sign of respect.
Catholics believe that there is an afterlife and that once a person dies they will see God face to face. If a person has committed a grave offence and has not repented at the time of death then that person would not enter into the full glory of heaven.
The sick and the elderly can receive the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick on a regular basis if they wish to. If they can’t get to church on their own they will be taken there by other members of the church.
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When a person is close to death the family or friends ask a priest to come and pray with the sick person and the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is administered. This includes anointing with Holy Oils and the reception of the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion. After the person has passed away the priest comforts the family and helps them prepare the funeral arrangements.
The Catholic funeral rite is called the Order of Christian Funerals. Family and friends pray for the soul of the deceased person and ask God to receive their soul into his eternal glory. The Vigil of the Deceased (a prayer service) is held the night before the funeral. On the day of the funeral a Requiem Mass for the deceased person is celebrated. This includes scripture, prayers and hymns. Family and friends are invited to take part in the service.
At the grave or place where the body has been entombed the Rite of Committal
is celebrated. Family members and friends along with the priest pray once again
for the deceased person as they commit the body or cremated remains to the
final resting-place. The gravesite is also blessed.
Over the next year family members and friends often have Mass celebrated for
the peace of the soul of the deceased person. On special occasions such as the
deceased’s birthday, Christmas or anniversary of the death, family and friends
will often visit the grave. Flowers or other objects to remember the deceased
are sometimes placed on the grave as a sign of respect.
Beliefs may vary depending on whether the Jewish person is Orthodox, Reform
or Conservative. Jews believe that when they die they will go to Heaven to be
with God. This next world is called Olam HaEmet or ‘the world of truth’. Death
is seen as a part of life and a part of God’s plan.
Family and friends will gather. A rabbi may be called to offer comfort and
to pray for the person who is dying.
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The person’s eyes are closed, the body is covered and laid on the floor and
candles are lit. The body is never left alone. Eating and drinking are not
allowed near the body as a sign of respect. In Jewish law, being around a dead
body causes uncleanliness so often the washing of the body and preparations for
burial will be carried out by a special group of volunteers from the Jewish
community. This is considered a holy act.
Jews may not be cremated or embalmed. In Israel a coffin might not always be
used but outside of Israel a coffin is almost always used. The body is wrapped
in a white shroud. Mourners have the opportunity to express anguish. Tears are
seen as a sign of sadness and show that the mourner is confronting death.
Mourners also tear their clothing as an expression of grief.
The burial takes place as soon as possible following the death. Pallbearers
will carry the casket to the grave. A family member will throw a handful of
earth in the casket with the body. This is to put the body in close contact
with the earth. Jewish law says each grave must have a tombstone to remember
A candle is lit after returning from the cemetery to mark seven days of
mourning called Shivah. This is when people can offer sympathies to the
mourners. A meal is prepared by friends to help the mourners regain their
strength. Each year the anniversary of the death is commemorated according to
the Hebrew calendar. This day is observed as a solemn day of remembrance.
Hindus believe in reincarnation. When a person dies their soul merely moves
from one body to the next on its path to reach Nirvana (Heaven). So, while it
is a sad time when someone dies, it is also a time of celebration.
Family and a priest may come to pray with the dying person, sing holy songs
and read holy texts. The priest may perform last rites.
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Family will pray around the body soon after death. People try to avoid
touching the body as it is considered unclean.
The deceased will be bathed and dressed in white traditional Indian
clothing. If a woman dies before her husband she will be dressed in red. The
procession might pass by places that were important to the deceased. Prayers
are said at the entrance to the crematorium. The body is decorated with
sandalwood and flowers. Someone will read from the scriptures. The head mourner
is usually a male or the eldest son and he will pray for the body’s soul.
Hindus are cremated as they believe burning the body releases the spirit.
The flames represent Brahma (the creator).
A priest will purify the family’s home with spices and incense. A mourning
period begins during which friends and relatives can visit the family and offer
their sympathies. After the funeral mourners must wash and change their
clothing before entering the house.
One year later Shradh occurs. This is either a one-off event or may become an
annual event. Shradh is when food is given to the poor in memory of the
deceased. Shradh lasts one month and a priest will say prayers for the
deceased; during this time the family will not buy any new clothes or go to any
There are two types of Muslims – Shi’ite and Sunni, so beliefs and customs
may be slightly different for each. Muslims believe that the soul continues to
exist after death. During life a person can shape their soul for better or
worse depending on how they live their life. Muslims believe there will be a
day of judgment by Allah (God). Until then, the deceased remain in their graves
but on judgment day they will either go to Heaven or Hell. Muslims accept death
as God’s will.
Muslims should be prepared for death at any time, which is partly why daily
prayers are so important. A dying person may wish to die facing Mecca, the
Muslim holy city. Family members and elders recite the Muslim scripture called
the Koran and pray for the person.
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The eyes of the deceased will be closed and the body is laid out with their
arms across their chest and head facing Mecca. The body will be washed by
family or friends. It will be wrapped in a white shroud and prayers will be
The body will be buried within 24 hours as Muslims believe the soul leaves
the body at the moment of death. The funeral will take place either at the
graveside and involve prayer and readings from the Koran.
No women are allowed to go into the graveyard. Before burial a prayer will
be recited. Mourners are forbidden from excessive demonstrations of grief. The
body will not be cremated as this is not permitted in Islam. The deceased will
be buried with their face turned to the right facing Mecca. A coffin is usually
not used but a chamber dug into the grave and sealed with wooden boards so no
earth touches the body. The grave will usually be simple without any fancy
Three days of mourning follows where visitors are received and a special
meal to remember the departed may be held. Mourners avoid decorative jewellery
and clothing. Male family members go to visit the grave daily or weekly for 40
days. There will also be prayer gatherings at the home for 40 days. After one
year there will be a large prayer gathering of family and friends. After that,
male family and friends visit the grave and everyone remembers the deceased in
CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST LATTER DAY SAINTS
Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints (or Mormons as they are also known)
believe that at death the body and the spirit separate. The spirit goes to the
spirit world before being reunited with the body. The judgment will then occur
and after that the person will live in Heaven with God.
The ward bishop and members of the church will offer support to the person
who is dying and their family.
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The ward bishop will go to the deceased’s home and offer assistance to the
family in making arrangements for the funeral.
Funeral services are generally conducted by the bishop in a ward chapel or
in a mortuary. Although people mourn the loss of a loved one, the funeral
service is viewed as a celebration of the life of the deceased. The service
will consist of a eulogy, doctrinal messages, music and prayer. The funeral is
designed to bring peace and solace, as church members believe families may be
reunited in the life hereafter. Mourners often send flowers to the family to
show their support.
Church members who have received temple ordinances are buried in their
temple clothing. The grave is dedicated as a place of peace and remembrance for
the family. Cremation is generally discouraged.
The gravesite is considered to be a sacred place for the family to visit and
place floral remembrances.
SEVENTH DAY ADVENTIST
Seventh Day Adventists believe that death is an unconscious sleep. When
Christ returns to the earth he will awaken all those who believe in him and
they will all go to be with God in heaven.
For a Seventh Day Adventist death is not something to be afraid of but is
part of God’s plan. The church minister or lay group leader may come and offer
support to the person who is dying as well as their family.
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Friends may visit and offer sympathies to the family. The church minister or
lay group leader may offer assistance in helping with preparations for the
The funeral will usually take place within a week. Friends may be able to
view the deceased if that is what the family wishes. The service will usually
take place at the church, a chapel or crematorium and include music, singing,
scripture readings, a sermon and prayers.
Seventh Day Adventists can be buried or cremated. There will be a committal
ceremony at the graveside or crematorium. The minister or lay group leader will
pray and read scripture as they commit the body to the earth.
Friends may visit the family to offer help and offer words of comfort. They
may also send flowers or food to the house.
Sikhs believe in reincarnation but also that if a person lives their life
according to God’s plan then they can end the cycle of rebirth in this life.
They believe in an afterlife where the soul meets God
Friends and relations will be with the dying person and recite from the
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After passing away the deceased will be washed and dressed in clean clothes.
If the deceased has fulfilled the Sikh baptismal ritual then the five symbols
of Sikh membership will also be placed in the coffin.
Friend and family drive in procession to the crematorium. Death is not seen
as a sad occasion but an act of God and so it is forbidden to cry. There may be
an opportunity to view the deceased. Hymns may be sung, prayers and the poem
Cremation is the norm although Sikhs and only small children and babies will
be buried. A male family member will switch the cremation oven on. The ashes
will be spread in running water and are traditionally sent to India.
Afterwards the mourners will come to the temple for more hymns and readings
as well as the distribution of parsad, a kind of bread/pudding, which is a
symbol of God’s blessing. For days after the death, Guru Granth Sahib will be
read or sung regularly in order to ease the sorrows of the family.
Buddhists believe in rebirth and that when they die they will be reborn
again. The goal is to escape the cycle of death and rebirth and attain nirvana
or a state of perfect peace. There are lots of different types of Buddhism and
many different ways of dealing with death.
The dying person may ask a monk or nun in their particular Buddhist
tradition to help them make the transition from life to death as peaceful as
possible. Buddhists believe that a person’s state of mind as they die is very
important so they can find a happy state of rebirth when they pass away. Before
and at the moment of death and for a period after death, the monk, nun or
spiritual friends may chant from the Buddhist scriptures.
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Buddhists believe the spirit leaves the body immediately but may linger in
an in between state near the body. In this case it is important the body is
treated with respect so that the spirit can continue its journey to a happy
state. The time it is believed to take for the spirit to be reborn can vary
depending on the type of Buddhism practiced.
Because there are so many different types of Buddhist funeral traditions
vary. Funerals will usually consist of a simple service held at the crematorium
chapel. The coffin may be surrounded by objects significant to the person who
has died. Monks may come with the family to the funeral and scriptures may be
The person may either be cremated or buried depending on their tradition.
There may be speeches and chants on the impermanence of life.
The grave may be visited by friends and family in remembrance of the person
who has passed away. The importance of the gravesite will depend on the
particular Buddhist tradition. Buddhists believe that it is just the physical
body that lies in the grave because the person’s spirit has been reborn.
Buddhists will often do things to wish for the happiness of the deceased
person. For example in Southeast Asia lay people give offerings to the monks in
memory of the dead person.
Scientologists believe that humans are immortal spiritual beings called
thetans who live several lives. Each thetan has a body and a mind, which exists
from lifetime to lifetime. When a person dies they simply move into a new life.
The Scientology minister may visit the person who is dying and the family
providing guidance and assistance at this point in their lives. After the
person has passed away the minister will offer comfort to the family and help
them to organize the funeral if required.
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There is no particular protocol after the person has died – it is up to the
family and the wishes of the deceased.
The funeral service will be taken by the Scientology minister who will ask
the mourners to remember that the deceased has simply moved into a new life and
to wish them well. The minister will speak directly to the thetan acknowledging
it for its contributions in this life, releasing it from any obligations and
freeing it to move on to its new life. There will probably be a eulogy and
reading from the Scientology scripture. It is up to family what else they want
to include. The congregation is encouraged to say goodbye to the person.
A scientologist will usually be cremated but may also be buried. If the family
goes to the gravesite some words will be said by the graveside.
Usually families will receive mourners at their home after the funeral.
Mourners may give their sympathies with flowers or cards. The deceased will be
remembered on special occasions and flowers placed on the graveside.
Traditional Maori believe that the spirit continues to exist after death and
that the deceased will always be a part of the marae (traditional meeting
place). Once someone has died they will go to the spirit world.
It is important for Maori to see the person before they die if possible so
friends and family will visit the person to pray and provide support.
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Depending on the tribal group there may be slightly different customs
followed when someone dies. The ceremony of tuku will be carried out to free
the spirit from the body. The body will be prepared for example the deceased’s
hair may be traditionally oiled, combed and decorated with feathers. The person
will be dressed in fine clothes, perhaps traditional Maori garments if that is
their wish. The body will not be left alone at any time until it is buried. It
will be taken to the marae so that people can pay their respects. A karanga is
performed welcoming the spirit and the body onto the marae. Family and friends
(whanau) share their grief openly and loudly.
The night before the burial whanau gather to sing songs to remember the
dead. At the funeral speeches are given and a eulogy by a close family member.
After the funeral mourners wash their hands and share food. After the meal a
karakia (invocation) is held, story telling about the deceased and singing. A
group of Maori remains at the marae to remove the tapu (sanctity) from where
the body lay.
The body is usually buried rather than cremated so it can be returned to
Papatuanuku (mother earth). There will be a short karakia and members of the
immediate family will be present.
Once the burial has taken place the family is welcomed back onto the marae
and everybody gathers for a big feast. The family’s house is then blessed to
make sure the spirit of the deceased does not linger in it. Close relatives may
stay longer to help the immediate family get over their loss. Maori believe the
dead should be remembered and respected so the family will regularly visit the
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that when they die they go into a kind of sleep
until God resurrects them from the dead. Those who gain entrance to heaven will
live with God but the vast majority of mankind will be resurrected to a
restored paradise on earth.
The church elders will visit the person, pray with them and share scripture
to bring the person comfort.
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No rituals are performed at time of death but an elder will give comfort to
friends and family of the deceased.
The funeral is usually held at the Kingdom Hall that the deceased attended
or at the funeral home. The body may either be cremated or buried depending on
the wishes of the deceased. Mourners will usually wear dignified clothing in
muted colours out of respect for the deceased. A church elder runs the service
with a sermon, prayers and singing.
A committal service may take place at the graveside if this is the wish of
the family. It would include prayers and scripture, which will once again be
lead by the church elder.
Mourners gather at the family’s house so friends and relatives can offer
their sympathies. Flowers and cards are usually sent. Family and friends may
come and visit the grave in the coming years to remember the deceased.
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