The majority of funerals in the United Kingdom take place in the context of a religious service no matter how slight, encompassing a wide spectrum of denominations and religions:
Church of England
The Anglican Church is known as the Church of England in England, as the Episcopal Church in Scotland, as the Church of Wales in that country and as the Church of Ireland in both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. Services are regulated by powers delegated by Parliament to the General Synod of the Church.
When a Christian dies, it is seen as the end of his/her life on earth. A funeral is held for friends and family to grieve for the person who has died and give thanks for their life.
If someone is on their deathbed, a minister will prepare them for death. This is most likely after a long period of illness. Prayers of preparation and reconciliation may be said, with only the minister in the room. Family and friends can participate in the Lord’s Prayer, the Word of God and Holy Communion.
Often, the deceased will have left information in his/her will concerning what they want to be included in the funeral service (hymns, prayers) and will also say whether they wanted to be buried or cremated. The funeral is held about a week after death. It can either take place in a church or at a crematorium. It usually includes:
- The Gathering: the minister will open the service with a short reading from the scriptures
- Readings and sermon
- Eulogy and Personal readings, reflecting on the person’s life and their role in the Christian church. A family member or friend may wish to read out a poem or a passage from the Bible.
- Prayers: prayers of thanksgiving, penitence and readiness for death are said.
- Reflection: Silent time for reflection when the congregation is given a short moment to reflect on the deceased.
- Commendation and farewell: The minister speaks these words: “Let us commend (the person’s name) to the mercy of God, our maker and redeemer.” The minister then reads a prayer of entrusting and commending.
- The committal: this is probably the most solemn moment of the service. At a burial, this is when the coffin is lowered into the grave. At a cremation, the curtains are generally closed around the coffin, although may at the family’s request remain open. “We therefore commit (his or her) body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life.”
Catholics believe in Heaven and Hell, but also in Purgatory. This is a place for those who have died in a ‘state of grace’ (that is, they have committed ‘venial’ or forgivable sins) and may not go straight to Heaven.
A Catholic funeral is slightly different and can be with or without Mass:
- The Vigil for the Deceased: this is a service of prayers, songs and homilies either at the home of the deceased or in church, before the day of the funeral.
- Introductory rites: the priest greets the congregation and says: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” He leads the coffin and congregation down the church aisle. Holy water is sprinkled and there is an opening song and prayer.
- Liturgy of the Word: sermons from the Bible are read out, as well as a homily (a practical rather than theological sermon) and a Psalm.
- Liturgy of the Eucharist: there is a preparation of gifts, a Eucharist prayer is said and Holy Communion is received.