Concerning Funerals

Funeral Practices in the Episcopal Church for use by: Clergy, Laity and Morticians

General Remarks: In 1992, the Liturgical Commission undertook to revise the Diocesan statement entitled “Concerning Funerals” (dated 1970); however, the ethos of the rites in The Book of Common Prayer (1979) is so different from the 1928 version that we felt the Diocesan statement required extensive revision.

The purpose of the paper is to establish some standards for the liturgical celebration of funerals in this diocese. Episcopal funeral practices are based upon and derived from rich, orderly, and diverse traditions. What we do at a funeral reflects what we believe about God, human life, the resurrection of Jesus and our own hope for risen life with those we love. We affirm those traditions and urge that they be taught with thoroughness, and sensitivity within all our parishes.

Our parishes represent a great variety of cultural and ethnic traditions. Some of these will be of such importance that they should be respected and reflected in our liturgy at funerals. Others, however, may reflect a view of death, afterlife and mourning which is not consistent with Church teaching. Careful teaching will be required in such situations to assure that our liturgies reflect what we believe and that our pastoral care is responsive to cultural needs. Pastoral sensitivity should be balanced with thoughtful criticism, a thorough teaching of the Christian faith and careful liturgical planning. When the Episcopal funeral rite is celebrated carefully, with all its richness, dignity and clarity, few people would want anything less.

The entire contents of this paper, entitled “Concerning Funerals,” are copyright by Howard E. Galley, Jr., and Susan E. Schaeffer. Permission of the copyright holders is hereby granted to the liturgical Commission of the Diocese of New York to publish this as an in-house working document. All rights reserved.

We hope that this document will prove helpful to clergy, laity and mortuary pesonnel and we believe that it expands our understanding of funeral practices with our Episcopal tradition.

The Rev’d. Lloyd Prator
Chair, Liturgical Commission
Diocese of New York

I. Prolegomena

A. The Role of the Clergy

For members of the Episcopal Church, the norms regarding burial set forth in the Book of Common Prayer should be followed. Clergy should bear in mind that many members of the church have not participated in the revised Episcopal funeral liturgy. Both pastoral concern and tact are necessary in order to explain that the Episcopal Church has expectations about the conduct of funerals that differ from those held among the American public at large, which are generally Protestant, secular, or even pagan.

In the Episcopal Church, the funeral liturgy is primarily an act of worship. Indeed, “the liturgy of the dead is an Easter liturgy” (Prayer Book, p. 507). While the Prayer Book refers to the whole complex as the “Burial of the Dead,” the service includes much more than the actual burial and services with the body present. It also provides for a liturgy after the burial of the body or in the absence of the body. It is, therefore, very important that parishioners be informed about funerals at times other than when planning for funerals–e.g., by occasional catechesis, or articles in the parish newsletter. For example, inquirers’ classes might contain a class on funeral practices. A sermon, perhaps in Eastertide, might outline Episcopal funeral practices. An adult education class on death or bereavement might profitably contain a unit on funeral practices. Each parish might develop a funeral customary, designed for lay use, and have it readily available in the parish tract rack. It might be mailed to all parishioners once each year, perhaps near All Souls’ Day or during the Great Fifty Days of Easter. Very little useful education occurs between a death and the hour of a funeral. The clergy should encourage members of the church to make known their wishes about their own funeral arrangements, and to prepare their wills. (Prayer Book p. 445.)

Parishioners should be made aware that they are expected to call the priest before the funeral director is called (ideally, by the priest) and ought to be apprised before the need arises of the reasons why this procedure is desirable. It is assumed that in requesting the services of a priest of the Episcopal Church the family accepts the discipline and worship of the church in which the priest is ordained to serve. The priest is responsible to the Bishop for conducting the service in accordance with the Prayer Book rubrics. A priest of the parish with which the deceased was associated presides at the liturgy. When present, a deacon should exercise the diaconal ministry in all its fullness.

B. Working with a Funeral Establishment

The clergy can be of great help in assisting the family in its dealings with the undertaker. A cleric should establish a good working relationship with an undertaker early in his or her tenure. (A word about terminology: In our day, the traditional names ‘undertaker’ and ‘mortician’ have been supplanted in common parlance by the term ‘funeral director’. To us in the Church, this term is misleading, for the actual direction of the funeral liturgy is, and should be, in the hands of the clergy, and the mortician ought neither to give directions nor to make decisions about the conduct of the service.) It is strongly advised that the clergy instruct their people to defer making arrangements with the undertaking establishment until a member of the clergy has been notified of the death.

Prior to notifying the undertaker, the clergy should encourage the “family” to discuss the issue of funeral expenditures. (For the sake of convenience, the term ‘family’ will be used here with the understanding that responsibility for funeral arrangements may rest with other survivors who are not relatives of the person who has died.) Parish clergy should obtain a range of expenses and become familiar with the services provided by local undertaking establishments. Various arrangements are possible. For instance, when cremation is to follow the liturgy, to lower costs, the coffin may be rented for the service. Some parishes have a burial society whose special ministry is to construct and provide the coffin–e.g., Trinity, Fishkill, NY, and St. Columba’s, Washington, D.C. Vigils or wakes may be held in the church (see Section IV, below).

As to the matter of holding funerals in funeral establishments, the rubrics of the Prayer Book (Prayer Book, pp.468, 490) state, “baptized Christians are properly buried from the church,” and the people should be so instructed. If the cleric determines that it is inappropriate to conduct the service in the church, then a graveside service is usually the preferred alternative.

C. The Body: A Christian View of Burial

From ancient times, Christian funeral rites, following Jewish precedents, have assumed that the body is present for the funeral service. Members of the family or the Church bestowed special care on the body because it was the temple of the Holy Spirit. The body was lovingly washed, sometimes anointed, wrapped in a clean linen shroud, or clothed, and a vigil kept either in the home or the church.

The corpse ought to be handled reverently. This does not imply, however, that it ought to be thought of as being prepared for immortality. In this regard, modern funeral practices have reverted to pagan (e.g., Greek, Hindu, or Egyptian), rather than Christian, notions of death. Pagan conceptions about the afterlife suggest that there is a continuity of the individual’s soul or body between the present and the future life. The Christian faith, on the other hand, emphasizes transformation.

The central proclamation of the Christian gospel is: “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died” (I Cor 15:20). As St. Paul clearly wishes us to understand, the doctrine of the resurrection means that, at death, the physical body indeed perishes (“dust to dust”) and is no more. Then in the resurrection, God provides a new (spiritual) body which bears “the image of the Man of Heaven,” i.e., the Risen Christ (I Cor 15:44, 49; cf. vv. 35-54). In other words, in Christianity, our risen life is based on a new creative act of God, not a continuation of our natural life in a new form.

The resurrection of the body connotes transformation and new creation; therefore, efforts to preserve and enhance the mortal body, such as are provided by morticians, are unnecessary for Christians. Because of our belief in the resurrection, a Christian’s view of burial should properly exclude such practices as embalming (unless the body must be held or transported some distance), cosmetic enhancement, and expensive coffins. “Viewings” in the funeral home, moreover, are neither necessary nor required. Accordingly, Christians ought to be encouraged to express a desire for simple burial and for holding vigils (“wakes”) in the church (see Section IV, below).

When the resurrection is the foundational belief, the Christian view of burial may also, and quite properly, include cremation. Coincidentally, cremation is being used increasingly in contemporary American funeral practice. Among several arguments for its use, economic reasons are prominent, especially in more densely populated areas. The order of service in the Prayer Book, however, suggests that cremation should follow the funeral liturgy. The general rubrics concerning the service (Prayer Book p.490) emphasize, rightly, the importance of the body’s presence and its significance to the liturgy and pastoral needs of the bereaved. If cremation is indicated, the coffin may be rented for the service and for transport to the crematorium. For a variety of reasons — for instance, when the person has died of a severe, wasting disease such as AIDS or cancer — many families frequently desire that cremation take place immediately after death. However, because Episcopal practice is to have a closed coffin and no viewing is required, cremation may, in the instance described, take place after the service.

Episcopalians should bear in mind that the Prayer Book unequivocally states, “The coffin is to be closed before the service, and it remains closed thereafter” (Prayer Book, pp. 468, 490). These, therefore are the three possibilities concerning the body and the funeral liturgy: The first choice is to have the funeral with the uncremated body present. A second option is to have the funeral with the cremated remains present. (See Section V, below). Under extraordinary circumstances, the funeral may be held with neither the body nor the ashes being present. (See section VI below.)

II. The Funeral Liturgy in the Church (with the body present)

A. Preparations for the Service

The rubrics urge that the service be held at a time when the congregation can be present (Prayer Book, pp. 468, 490). In some cases, an evening hour for the funeral should be considered. Although it would be highly unusual in view of the restricted hours kept by cemeteries and gravediggers, burial could follow an evening funeral. In the case of cremation, interment would of necessity take place at a later time.

The selection of the rite, collects, and lessons are made in collaboration with the family. Decisions about music are to be made at this time. The family should choose pallbearers. It is preferable that the pallbearers, rather than employees of the funeral home, bear or guide the coffin into the church.

Because the theology of the revised Prayer Book service now emphasizes the resurrection, the color of the vestments is most commonly white. A white or gold pall is appropriate, although the pall need not match the vestments. Black or Advent vestments and pall, once the norm for funerals, may still be pastorally appropriate on occasion. When the eucharist is celebrated, a chasuble or cope is appropriately worn.

It is suggested that no flowers be brought into the body of the church except those designated for the altar. Rather than incur the waste of huge bouquets of flowers, the friends and family of the deceased should be encouraged to contribute to a charity or some fund of the parish.

It should be noted that since 1928, the Prayer Book has not specifically forbidden the church’s offering of a funeral liturgy for someone who has committed suicide. In the rare case where the suicide was clearly intended as an act of unbelief in God, it would appear more appropriate that the service be designed for one who does not profess the faith (see The Book of Occasional Services, second edition, p. 171).

The Prayer Book provides that the Eucharist may or may not be part of the funeral service. The celebration of the Eucharist is strongly recommended for the funerals of communicants. The Church teaches that the eucharist provides a bond between those who gather for holy communion and those who share in the heavenly banquet in the New Jerusalem.

B. Concerning Music at Funerals

First consideration should be given to the singing of those parts of the service that are by their very nature songs – the entrance anthems, psalms or canticle, Sanctus, fraction anthem, and the anthem at the commendation (Kontakion). In the selection of hymns and anthems, careful consideration should be given to the rubric in the Prayer Book that “the liturgy for the dead is an Easter liturgy” (Prayer Book, p. 507). Hymns, sung in the liturgy, are to be only those authorized by the Episcopal Church which includes all past hymnals (Prayer Book, p. 14). For pastoral reasons, the use of hymn texts and tunes from the 1940 Hymnal may be appropriate. Although an Easter liturgy, this does not mean, however, that hymnody should be limited to Easter hymns. Other hymns that speak of Christian hope are also appropriate. (See appendix for suggested hymns).

In addition to their use at the offertory and communion, hymns may also replace the Prayer Book versions of the psalms. “Suitable selections include hymns that are metrical paraphrases of the psalms appointed, such as…”

#645, 646 The King of Love My Shepherd Is (Ps 23)
#658 As Longs the Deer for Cooling Streams (Ps 42)
#687, 688 A Mighty Fortress Is Our God (Ps 46)
#680 O God, Our Help in Ages Past (Ps 90)
#668 I to the Hills Will Lift Mine Eyes (Ps 121)
#666 Out of the Depths I Call (Ps 130)
#151 From Deepest Woe I Cry to Thee (Ps 130)

Careful consideration should also be employed when selecting service music. It is desirable that the setting of the Sanctus and fraction anthem be familiar to some of those assembled.

In the selection of congregational and/or choir offertory and communion anthems, attention is called to the rubrics on p. 14 of the Prayer Book which requires other anthems to be “from Holy Scripture, or from this book, or from texts congruent with them.

The hymnal also contains a metrical paraphrase of the Kontakion (Russia, Hymn #358, ‘Christ the Victorious’). Unfortunately, the referent is couched in the plural (“servants”), which makes it appear to be a prayer for all present at the time when the liturgy is concerned with calling specific attention to the individual person departed. Although its text is flawed, this hymn may be substituted for the preferred setting (Hymn #355, “Give Rest, O Christ”) when the latter cannot be used.

In situations where no choir is available, the presence of a cantor can make possible the singing of some of these parts of the service. Also, “on occasion, and as appropriate, instrumental music may be substituted for a hymn or anthem. When it is desired to use music composed for them, previously authorized liturgical texts may be used in place of the corresponding texts in this Book” (Prayer Book, p.14). In any case, musical settings that dwell on maudlin sentiments are to be avoided.”

C. The Funeral Liturgy

  1. The Entry Rite. The coffin is received at the door, the pall is placed on it, the pallbearers take their places, and the body is brought in feet first. The clergy and acolytes precede the body and the family follows it. Members of the family who are elderly or infirm may be seated prior to the service. The pallbearers, who properly should be family members and friends rather than employees of the funeral establishment, may bear the coffin on their shoulders to the head of the nave and then place it on the trestle (or catafalque or dolly), feet facing the altar. If bearing the body into the church is impossible, the pallbearers, one in front and one behind at minimum, wheel the trestle to its place at the head of the aisle. The procession may be led by the cross and torches. A deacon or other designated person may bear the Paschal Candle in procession and place it in its stand near the body where it remains until the end of the service.
  2. Opening Anthems. If the body has not been brought to the church previously, the liturgy begins with the burial anthem(s) (Prayer Book, pp.469, 491-492). If the anthems cannot be sung, they may be recited by the priest or by all present, or a hymn may be sung in their place. If the vigil or wake has been held in the church, a hymn is generally more suitable, because the coffin is already in place. The use of the anthem on p. 492 (“In the midst of life we are in death…”) is especially recommended for a community that has a strong sense of remorse at the death of a person–e.g., in the case of neglect or an accident. The anthem, “I am the resurrection,” may be then used at the beginning of the Committal. Music for the entrance anthems appears in the Accompaniment Edition of The Hymnal 1982.
  3. Announcements. The Rite II service provides (Prayer Book p.492) for necessary announcements after the entering procession and before the collect. If there is to be a reception following the service, an invitation and notice of the location are also appropriately mentioned at this time.
  4. The Liturgy of the Word. The rite requires the reading of one or more passages of scripture. If there is communion, the last reading is always from the gospel (Prayer Book, pp. 470, 494). It is desirable that three lessons and at least one psalm be included. The rubrics do not provide for the inclusion of a non-scriptural reading.The Book of Common Prayer does not allow the singing of an anthem after any of the readings at a funeral. The Rite I rubrics allow a canticle or psalm after the Old Testament reading, and a canticle or hymn after the New Testament reading. The Rite II rubrics allow the singing of a psalm, hymn, or canticle after each of these readings.The passages that precede the gospel should be read by one or two laypersons. The psalm may be sung by a cantor, or by the choir, or by the entire congregation, or may be read by a layperson. The Prayer Book (pp. 479, 495) provides that the gospel be read by “the deacon or minister appointed”. The use of the word “minister” in this rubric was intended to make it possible, when appropriate, for the gospel to be read by an ordained minister of another communion.
  5. The Homily. The homily, which follows the gospel, is designed to comfort and instruct those present and to recall for them the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the resurrection of the faithful departed by virtue of their baptism. Eulogies per se are not appropriate. However, salient facts that witness to the power of God in the person’s life may appropriately be mentioned in the course of the homily. Serial eulogies are a part of funeral practices in many places. However, the rubrics of the Prayer Book prescribe only one homily (Prayer Book, page 480, 495). The sharing of memories about the deceased is an important pastoral ministry which Christians have for one another; however it is not an appropriate part of a funeral liturgy. Providing for eulogies and reminiscences at a place and time apart from the service would ease the pressure to include them in the liturgy. (See the instructions for a vigil on page 20). After the homily, the Apostles’ Creed may be said (Prayer Book, p. 480, 496), however, its use is not required.
  6. The Prayers of the People. If there will be no Eucharist, the Lord’s Prayer is said before the Prayers of the People. The Prayers of the People are led by a deacon or a layperson. It should be noted that the rubrics on p. 496 provide that the Prayers of the People in Rite I (Prayer Book, pp. 480-481) may be used in the Rite II service, and that the form on p. 465 is also available as an alternative. Selected prayers (Prayer Book, pp. 480, 487-489, 496, 503-505) may be used in place of the Prayers of the People. The Peace is exchanged in the usual fashion.
  7. Offertory Procession and Communion. It is recommended that offering of the bread and wine be brought forward by friends of the deceased. At communion, an usher or server appropriately leads members of the family to receive before the rest of the congregation. Because many persons present may be unfamiliar with parish customs, it is particularly important that a person–such as an usher, acolyte, or a member of the altar guild–indicate to visitors when and where they are to receive communion. If the post-communion prayer is not printed in the bulletin, it is necessary for the celebrant to indicate the page.

D. The Commendation

The use of a formal commendation at the conclusion of the service in the church is a liturgical innovation of the 20th century. Its purpose is to provide an opportunity for a final farewell by those who will not be present at the graveside or crematorium service. If the committal immediately follows the service in the church, the commendation is omitted.

The suggested ceremonial for the commendation is as follows:

The priest moves to the foot of the coffin facing the congregation. The cross and torch bearers stand in the aisle at the head of the coffin facing the priest but far enough away to enable the priest to pass in front of them if there is to be a censing or sprinkling. If the Paschal Candle is used at the procession from the church, the bearer stands in front of the cross bearer facing the priest. If incense or holy water is to be used, the bearers of these stand on either side of the priest.

The singing of the Kontakion (“Give rest, O Christ…”) or other song is then begun. During the singing, the priest may sprinkle the coffin while walking around it and may then cense it while walking around it. If there is no singing, the sprinkling and/or censing may take place before, during, or immediately after the spoken Kontakion.

The priest, still facing the coffin, says the prayer of commendation and may bless the people. The appointed dismissal is then said.

  1. At the Procession from the Church. While the pallbearers turn the body around, the priest, other clergy, and accompanying acolytes move away and take position between the crucifer and the coffin, facing the altar. When all is in readiness, the priest turns (which is the cue for others in the procession to turn) and leads the body out. The family follows the body.
  2. As the Body is Borne from the Church. A hymn may be sung, instrumental music may be played, or one or more of the appointed anthems (Prayer Book, pp. 483-484, 500) may be sung or said. In places where the cemetery is adjacent to the church, the singing or recitation of these anthems or one or more of the appointed canticles (Prayer Book, pp. 484, 500) is appropriately continued until all are assembled at the grave.

E. The Committal

  1. At the Grave. The coffin is borne to its final resting place, ideally by the pallbearers and not the gravediggers. The priest takes position at the head of the coffin. The cross and torch bearers, if present, take position at the other end. If any announcements are to be made, such as an invitation to those present to assemble for refreshments or for a meal, they are made by the priest, and not by a representative of the funeral home, before the rite begins.Although it requires some persistence to accomplish, in accordance with classical Anglican practice, the body is lowered into the grave while the appointed anthem is said or sung. Alternatively, the gravediggers may lower the coffin before the rite begins. At this time, the body may be sprinkled and/or censed. After the anthem, the priest casts a handful or shovelful of earth upon the coffin while saying the appointed words. (NB: Anglican tradition has been insistent upon the use of earth, as opposed to sand or flower petals.) The mourners may also cast earth upon the coffin. Ideally, the family and friends can fill up the grave; however, this usually requires that the vault cover be installed, and most cemeteries are unprepared to make this accommodation. Filling the grave themselves allows the mourners the feeling that they have done all that they can do.After the prayer of committal, the priest greets the people with the salutation (“The Lord be with you”), leads the Lord’s Prayer, and concludes the service as appointed. If the place of burial is not in consecrated ground, the priest may say the consecratory prayer (Prayer Book p.487 or 503) immediately before the opening anthem of the committal rite.
  2. In the Church. In places where the graveyard is adjacent to the church and burial is to follow immediately, and the weather is sufficiently inclement that it is inappropriate to ask all present to proceed to the grave, the committal rite may take place under the shelter of the church. In such cases, the rite of Commendation is omitted (see rubric Prayer Book, pp. 482, 499); if desired, the Kontakion may be sung during communion. Also, the casting of earth upon the coffin is omitted, but it is desirable that the actual sentence of committal and the casting of earth be done by the priest at a convenient time after the congregation has departed.
  3. At a Crematorium. The Committal rite is also appropriately used immediately prior to cremation substituting the words “the elements” for “the ground”. In these circumstances, the casting of earth is omitted.
  4. At the Interment of Ashes. The Committal is also appropriately used substituting the words “its resting place” for “the ground” if the ashes are to be placed in a columbarium. If the place of interment is the ground, the casting of earth is appropriate.
  5. Burial at Sea. The Committal is also used at the burial of a body or ashes at sea substituting the words “the deep” for “the ground”.

III. The Funeral Liturgy without a Eucharist

The priest vests in alb or surplice with a stole or tippet and may wear a cope. Deacons vest in alb or surplice with stole, and may wear dalmatics.

The service takes place as described previously except that the lessons need not include a reading from the Gospel (Prayer Book, pp. 470, 494). It is strongly recommended that at least one Psalm be included. The rubrics do not provide for the singing of an anthem at such services (see Section II.B., above), but it would appear reasonable to sing an anthem after the homily.

It should be noted that the Lord’s Prayer is said prior to the Prayers of the People. In place of one of the forms printed, suitable prayers (Prayer Book, pp. 487-489; 503-505) may be used. After the prayers, the service continues with the Commendation (in the absence of the body, with a blessing).

If the funeral without a eucharist has been held during the week, it is desirable that the deceased be mentioned in the Prayers of the People at the eucharist on the following Sunday.

This form of service is also appropriate for the burial of Christians who are not Episcopalians.

IV. Concerning Vigils and Wakes

In most communities, the vigil or wake takes place in a funeral establishment and, in some communities, includes an act of worship led by the local pastor, or a deacon, layreader, or friend of the family. Such a service normally includes one or two Psalms, a reading from Scripture, and prayers. The Prayer Book (p. 465) suggests the use of Psalms, lessons, and collects drawn from the funeral liturgy, and thus provides an opportunity to use ones which will not be included in the funeral rite itself. The use of the litany at the time of death (Prayer Book, p. 462) is specifically recommended, as is the form of prayer given on p. 465.

In some places, the custom of holding the wake in the church has been recovered, and the Prayer Book makes specific recommendations for such a vigil (Prayer Book, p.466). The vigil begins with the reception of the body. If a priest, the officiant vests in alb or surplice with stole, and may wear a cope. A deacon vests in alb or surplice with stole, and may wear a dalmatic. A layreader vests in alb or surplice. A deacon, if present, or a server, may carry the lighted Paschal Candle. If there is no server, the lighted Paschal Candle may be placed in its stand between where the body will lie and the altar. Alternatively, lighted candles may be set around the area where the body will be placed.

The officiant and server proceed to the door of the church where they await the arrival of the body. Upon arrival, a pall is placed on the coffin, after which the officiant says the biddings and prayers given on pp. 466-467 of the Prayer Book.

The body is then borne into the church to the place where it will rest. The procession is led by the deacon or a server, bearing the Paschal Candle. The other ministers, if any are present, then follow; then the officiant, then the persons bearing the body; and, finally, members of the family, if they are not already in the church. During the procession, the officiant may recite a suitable Psalm or anthem; or, if there are singers present, Psalms and anthems may be sung.

The devotions which follow may be very simple, such as an appropriate collect, and the traditional formula: “May his soul and all the souls of the departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.” Or they may be more elaborate and include one or more readings from Scripture, additional psalmody, and the litany at the time of death, or the prayers for a vigil provided on p. 465 of the Prayer Book.

After the devotions, a silent vigil is kept. In our time, there is considerable pressure to display the body; however, in traditional Anglican practice, the coffin always remains closed. Holding the vigil or wake in the church has the added advantage of protecting a family that wants the coffin closed from being pressured to open it for viewing.

After the vigil service, it is suitable that the family be conducted to a room nearby where they can greet those who come to the church to pay their respects. The provision of refreshments is also recommended.

Well before the beginning of the funeral liturgy, the coffin is closed and covered with the pall, and it remains closed thereafter. The closing of the coffin before the service permits the mourners to acknowledge the parting caused by death and to commend the deceased to God. When the wake takes place in a chapel rather than in the church, the moving of the coffin may be done in either of two ways: (1) During the singing of the entrance anthems, the coffin is borne from the chapel into the church. (2) The coffin is moved to its place before the altar without formal ceremony at a convenient time prior to the arrival of the congregation.

V. Concerning Ashes

Cremation is becoming more common and customs about this practice are still evolving. Generally, the treatment of ashes is similar to that of a body in a coffin. Parishes may wish to consider providing a pedestal-style catafalque which should be placed in the position normally occupied by a coffin in the church. Parishes may also wish to provide a suitable covering for the ashes, such as a pall of sufficient size to fully cover the container of ashes. A chalice veil is inappropriate for this use. It is suggested that ashes be placed on the catafalque before the service, and that they remain there unless there is to be an immediate procession to a place of interment at the church.

The rubrics do not specifically provide for the use of the Commendation in connection with ashes, but its use appears to be increasingly common. If the commendation is used, the ministers take their places as described in Section II, D.

VI. The Funeral Liturgy in the Church in the Absence of the Body or Ashes

Although popularly called a “memorial service,” this liturgy is the funeral for a person and is to be distinguished from a service which is held at a stated time interval after death, such as an anniversary, or in a place other than where the funeral is being held (See Section VIII, p.22).

If the body has been willed to science, or if there are no remains, the service includes all the elements given above, with the following exceptions:

— The Commendation is omitted (Prayer Book, rubric, pp. 482, 499). Rather, the service concludes with the blessing and dismissal. In order to include it, the Kontakion may appropriately be sung during communion.

— The Committal may precede the service (Prayer Book, pp. 468, 490), in these circumstances.

VII. Other Rites

Where fraternal rites are desired, that service should precede the church service, either at the home of the deceased, fraternal meeting place, or at the funeral establishment.

If military honors are to be included, the American flag may be substituted for the funeral pall. The flag is removed from the coffin prior to the casting of earth. The officer or non-commissioned officer in command of a military detail should confer with the priest before the committal as to the proper arrangements.

VIII. Memorial Services

As pointed out above, a memorial service, strictly speaking, is a “service held at a stated interval after death, such as an anniversary or in a place other than where the funeral is being held.” If the memorial service is a Eucharist (“requiem”), the rite begins as prescribed for celebrations of the Holy Eucharist (p. 323 [Rite I], or p. 355 [Rite II] of the Prayer Book,).

The opening acclamation “Alleluia. Christ is Risen.” is appropriate to the occasion, even during Lent. The circumstances of the person’s death, or the needs of the assembled congregation will determine whether the Kyrie Eleison, the Trisagion, or the Gloria in Excelsis is used. The proper collect is Number 8 (p. 202 or 253). As the rubric on those pages indicates, any of the collects for use at the Burial of the Dead may be substituted.

The proper Psalms and readings are those appointed under Number 8 on p. 928 of the Prayer Book. Any of the Psalms and lessons appointed for the funeral liturgy may be used instead. A homily on the appointed scriptures is appropriate (See Section II.C.5. “The Homily,” above).

For the Prayers of the People, any of the usual forms may be used, or one of those appointed for the funeral liturgy (See Section II.C.6., above). The Proper Preface of the Commemoration of the Dead is used. One of the usual postcommunion prayers may be used, or the form given to conclude the funeral liturgy on p. 482 or 498 of the Prayer Book,.

IX. Other Memorial Services

A non-eucharistic memorial service may take the form of a liturgy of the Word. In such cases, the service begins as prescribed for celebrations of the Holy Eucharist but concludes after the Prayers of the People with the singing of a hymn, if desired, the Lord’s Prayer, and with the Grace or a blessing, or with the exchange of the Peace.

Historically, memorial services could also employ a special form of Morning or Evening Prayer. While the Prayer Book makes no specific mention of such services, the following form of the office for this occasion is suggested:

  1. Opening Preces and Gloria Patri
  2. Venite (Morning Prayer only)
  3. A suitable Psalm or Psalms, such as those suggested in the funeral liturgy.
  4. One or two lessons, such as those suggested for the funeral liturgy, each followed by an appropriate canticle.
  5. Concluding prayers, which may take either of the following forms: (a) Salutation, Lord’s Prayer, and one or more appropriate collects. (b) One of the forms for the Prayers of the People given in the funeral liturgy.




The liturgy for the dead is an Easter liturgy. It finds all its meaning in the resurrection. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we, too, shall be raised. (Prayer Book, p. 507)

Burial Of The Dead

358 Christ the Victorious, give to your servants (1 Cor 15) (Cantakion) (Commendation)
355 Give rest, O Christ (1 Cor 15)
354 Into paradise may the angels lead you (Rev 7 & Rev 21) (In Paradisum)
357 Jesus, Son of Mary (Communion)
356 May choirs of angels lead you (Rev 7 & Rev 21) (In Paradisum)

Also see:

671 Amazing grace! how sweet the sound
688 A mighty fortress is our God (Psalm 46) also 687
665 All my hope on God is founded
208 Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia! The strife is o’er (1 Cor 15)
658 As longs the deer for cooling streams (Psalm 42)
695 By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered also 696
487 Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life
669 Commit thou all that grieves thee (Psalm 37)
287 For all the saints, who from their labors rest
151 From deepest woe I cry to thee
326 From glory to glory advancing, we praise thee, O Lord
677 God moves in a mysterious way
379 God is Love, let heaven adore him
690 Guide me, O thou great Jehovah
637 How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord also 636
517 How lovely is thy dwelling place (Psalm 84)
335 I am the bread of life (Jn 6 & Jn 11)
692 I heard the voice of Jesus say
668 I to the hills will lift mine eyes (Psalm 121)
635 If thou but trust in God to guide thee
429 I’ll praise my Maker while I’ve breath (Psalm 146)
620 Jerusalem, my happy home (2 Cor 4-5)
624 Jerusalem the golden (Rev 7 & Rev 21)
194 Jesus lives! thy terrors now (Rom 8 & Jn 14) also 195
526 Let saints on earth in concert sing
621 Light’s abode, celestial Salem (Rom 8, 1 Cor 15, 2 Cor 4-5, Rev 21) also 622
702 Lord, thou hast searched me and dost know (Psalm 139)
691 My faith looks up to thee
664 My Shepherd will supply my need (Psalm 23)
14 O God, creation’s secret force also 15
680 O God, our help in ages past (Psalm 90)
448 O love, how deep, how broad, how high also 449
455 O Love of God, how strong and true also 456
623 O what their joy and their glory must be (Rom 8, 2 Cor 4-5, Rev 21)
388 O worship the King, all glorious above! (Psalm 104)
666 Out of the depths I call (Psalm 130)
373 Praise the Lord! ye heavens adore him (Psalm 148)
560 Remember your servants, Lord (Mt 5:3-12)
685 Rock of ages, cleft for me
492 Sing, ye faithful, sing with gladness (1 Cor 15)
679 Surely it is God who saves me (First Song of Isaiah) also 678
447 The Christ who died but rose again (Rom 8)
645 The King of love my shepherd is (Psalm 23 & Jn 10) also 646
663 The Lord my God my shepherd is (Psalm 23)
457 Thou art the Way, to thee alone (Jn 14)
338 Wherefore, O Father, we thy humble servants
625 Ye holy angels bright (Rev 7)
618 Ye watchers and ye holy ones (Rev 7)

Also see Easter section:

178 Alleluia, alleluia! Give thanks to the risen Lord191 Alleluia, alleluia! Hearts and voices heavenward raise (1 Cor 15)174 At the Lamb’s high feast we sing181 Awake and sing the song212 Awake, arise, lift up your voice182 Christ is alive! Let Christians sing185 Christ Jesus lay in death’s strong bands also 186184 Christ the Lord is risen again!183 Christians, to the Paschal victim199 Come, ye faithful, raise the strain also 200205 Good Christians all, rejoice and sing!180 He is risen, he is risen!207 Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!188 Love’s redeeming work is done (1 Cor 15) also 189 204 Now the green blade riseth from the buried grain176 Over the chaos of the empty waters also 177210 The day of resurrection!202 The Lamb’s high banquet called to share211 The whole bright world rejoices now192 This joyful Eastertide187 Through the Red Sea brought at last, Alleluia!209 We walk by faith, and not by sight