Religion offers a vital role in the healing and coping process of people who suffered traumatic experiences. The major religious denominations of the world provide the faithful, ideas on the meaning of life and death, and the purpose of one’s life in this world. Religion gives people a sense of meaning for death and a method to deal with the seemingly inevitable nature of a person’s impending demise. Here are some of the traditions and ceremonies observed by various significant religions today.
Roman Catholic Observances
It is part of the Catholic tradition to give the sacrament of the anointing of the sick. In this sacrament, a person who is terminally ill receives prayers intended to ensure the person’s repentance by confession and communion. The anointing is done when death is imminent. It also acts as the last rites for someone who is about to pass away.
After death, the priest also officiates the wake of the departed and the following funeral services and internment.
After the death of the person, the body is sent to a funeral home, and prayers are offered. After several days, determined by the family, the body is then taken to the Parish church. The casket is cover with a white cloth and is blessed with holy water. A mass is celebrated, and then the remains are escorted by the bereaved to the graveyard for burial. A prayer is said before the funeral, and it was customary to mark one month after the burial.
Protestant funeral observance
The funeral ceremonies are similar to Catholic practice but without the sacraments. A significant part of the service is the offering of hymns and testimonials to celebrate the promise of resurrection and everlasting life. Condolences are offered through flowers and helping with the bereaved in organizing the wake. Attendees of the funeral often wear black clothes as a symbol of grief. After the burial, the family regularly visits the grave in remembrance during anniversaries or certain essential family events such as reunions. Unlike Catholic observance, there are no rigid instructions on how to organize and observe a funeral.
Judaism explicitly prohibits funeral procedures like autopsies and embalming. Aside from this, public viewing of the corpse is also regarded as disrespectful. Judaism focuses on the respectful treatment of the body as observed by all factions of Judaism, namely Reformed, Orthodox, and Conservatives.
Jewish funeral tradition
At the funeral, public viewing is not recommended. Burials are also prohibited during the days of the sabbath (typically on Saturdays and any significant religious observance). Flowers and music are also not approved and disfavored.
Eulogies are offered by family members and by religious leaders i.e., Rabbis. In the course of the funeral wake, it is reasonable to have several eulogies. The family members then accompany the funeral entourage to the cemetery. Each of the family members places a shovel of earth on the coffin.
The mourning period in Jewish culture lasts typically for one year. The bereaved offer a declaration of faith or Kaddish, which they say. The entire mourning tradition starts with a three-day observance after the burial. In this period, no visitors are entertained so as the family can lament in private. After which is a seven-day mourning period, where the family refrains from cooking any food, and a lamp is kept burning in remembrance of the departed.
After the week-long mourning reclusion, the bereaved enters society but continues their mourning tradition for thirty days. Mourners also wear signs of lamentation like a black pin, or torn garments as a symbol of grief. After a year, the family celebrates the deceased first anniversary by unveiling a tombstone. If a child is born during the aftermath of a loved one’s demise, the parents can name the child with the deceased name in memory.
Islamic Funeral Traditions
In the Islamic faith, death is considered as an act of God, and all must accept it. Any form of expression that questions this is regarded as a rebellion against God and is seemed a sin. However, despite the forceful acceptance of death as something pre-ordained, it is common to encourage mourners to show their grief openly. It is part of the Muslim faith that crying in grief helps cleanse the soul as it was considered purification.
The Funeral ceremony
Immediately after death, the family goes into a seven-day mourning period. Here neighbors, friends, and family members accompany the bereaved in mourning. They bring food for the family and guests as it is tradition not to cook during the period of mourning. Added to these is the restriction on the use of television, radios, and music for 40 days, though this practice is gradually falling out of favor. On the 40th day after the death, a prayer is offered and is repeated on the 52nd day.
Islamic burial tradition
Islamic tradition dictates that Muslims are to be buried in Muslim cemeteries and their eulogies officiated by Muslim clerics. The body is wrapped in white linen and is buried without a coffin. This tradition of coffin-less burial stemmed out of the belief that the body, when buried, must be in contact with the Earth. It is also customary for the body to be washed before burial. It is done in either a special place inside a mosque or in a hospital.
Funeral Rites from Around the World
There are many funeral rituals observed around the world. However, despite the differences, there is some commonality between cultures that makes it interesting to know.
Officiated by a spiritual leader
In many cultures, death is considered a deeply religious occasion. It is the termination of one’s mortal life and his or her entry to the immortal. Because of this, spiritual leaders often officiate or preside over funeral rituals. In almost all religions, a person of high religious standing is called upon to preside over the ceremonies and help the bereaved recover from the loss.
Embalming of the dead
In many cultures, embalming is a part of the funeral ritual. The body is prepared for viewing, and embalming is used to preserve the body for a few days to a couple of weeks. The practice of embalming is popularized by the Egyptians, but the tradition is present in almost all ancient civilizations. The common reason for embalming is to preserve the body long enough to allow relatives to catch a glimpse of their deceased loved one before burial.
Burial of the deceased
It is a common tradition between cultures to bury the dead in their homeland. It is a cultural similarity that is seen across the board. It provides a sense of comfort for the family to know their loved one is buried in a cemetery in their homeland.
Asian Funeral Traditions
Asian funeral traditions are based on the teachings of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism on life and death. However, modern funeral rites in Asia are mixed with some western and Judeo-Christian practices.
Common funeral traditions in Asian families
Upon the death of the person, the family immediately organizes a funeral with the help of the family elders. The body is prepared with great respect and is clothed in warm garments and placed in caskets. Food is commonly made for the deceased as it is part of the Asian tradition that people passing through the afterlife require nourishment. Music and mourners are often part of the funeral entourage, while copious amounts of incense are burned as sacrifices for the gods.
After the burial, the family gathers for a meal and shows their final respect to the spirit of the deceased family member. A portrait of the person who died is commonly kept in an altar as a remembrance.
African Funeral Culture
Tribal origins of African funeral rites can still be seen in African funerals, but most have adopted western funeral traditions. Many evangelicals and protestant denominations have converted millions of Africans, and many follow these sects traditions about death.
For Africans, the death of a loved one signals a gathering of family and friends in the home of the deceased to offer support. Guests often provide music and song to lift the spirits of the bereaved. The funeral is often called “home-going” as it signals the returning to the creator of the dead loved one. Typically a shared meal is prepared for all of the attendees in the course of the funeral wake.
In many African societies, the color of mourning is white, and it was customary to wear white clothes to show their grief. However, superstition is rampant in African lore, and the threat of the “living dead” strikes fear up to today. So, they take great care in respecting the soul of the demise and make sure they pass over to the other side without angering them.
Funeral Practices in Indian Culture
India is a conglomeration of tribes and ethnicity that almost every part of India has its way of respecting the dead. However, there are standard practices that one can observe throughout Indian culture regarding funeral rites and burials.
Funeral wakes are held immediately after the demise of a loved one. Here people congregate in the dead’s home, where people offer support for the bereaved. The wake is interspersed with drinking, banqueting, and making each day lively and merry through jokes and merriment.
The family in mourning wears black or white clothes. In some parts of India, the mourning process includes public manifestations of grief, wailing, and crying. After the wake and burial, the family prepared a banquet for the visitors who spent all those nights during the aftermath.
Hispanic funeral rites
Catholicism heavily influences the Hispanic funeral rites. Central and Latin America are bastions of the Catholic faith, and their funerals are mostly local interpretations of Catholic rituals elsewhere in the world.
In all funeral rites, the priest is the person who presides over the ceremony. The rosary is recited at the home of the deceased during the wake. The recitation of the rosary goes on in set intervals for a year and on every death anniversary.
After the wake, which may only last a few days to a couple of weeks, the body is brought to the Parish church where a mass is held and the remains blessed. It is customary for the bereaved to state a commitment during this time as an act of contrition. As a sign of support from the attendees, an envelope with monetary donation are given to the bereaved family.
Anglo-American Funeral practices
The typical western tradition of funeral rites is based primarily on Christian customs. After the demise of a loved one, a funeral wake is held where family and friends gather to support the survivors. A clergy, pastor, or chaplain may officiate the funeral services, and a eulogy is offered by people close to the departed.
In most cases, burials are private events, and only family and close friends are invited to attend. After the burial, the family gathers for a reunion where food and drinks are served. It is customary for people attending funerals to wear black or dark-colored clothes as a sign of grief and sympathy to the family of the deceased.