November is the month when we Church remembers and honors our dead. At some point in our lives, we will be involved in planning a funeral liturgy either for a loved one or perhaps for ourselves. The Funeral Rites offer ritual prayers that encourage the entire community to be present and to accompany the dead as they transition from this world. As it states in the Order of Christian Funerals,
The responsibility for the ministry of consolation rests with the believing community, which heeds the words and example of the Lord Jesus: ‘Blessed are they who mourn; they shall be consoled’ (Matthew 5:3).
There are rites for use After Death, in the Presence of the Body, during the Transfer of the Body to the Church, the funeral Vigil, Morning and Evening Prayer for the Dead, the Funeral Liturgy, and the Rite of Committal. These rites are designed to comfort the family and friends from the time of the death of their loved one to the burial. The familiar rituals of these liturgies help to create order at a time when life is in disorder.
Taking the time to plan a well-designed funeral liturgy is of utmost importance. The readings, songs, prayers, and rites that are chosen should not only reflect the life of the deceased but should also be an expression of our Christian hope in eternal life.
Because the Church honors the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit, the Church prefers that the body, rather than the cremains, be present for the funeral liturgy. It is the body that we have known and loved so having the body present can also bring a sense of closure that can aid the grief process more so than the presence of the cremains.
The primary symbols of the funeral liturgy echo the symbols of the baptismal liturgy. These symbols, the Paschal Candle, the sprinkling with holy water, the placing of the pall, and the procession into the church remind us that the foundation of our faith began at baptism. But the most powerful symbol is the human community journeying with the deceased and practicing a work of mercy by assuring the family of God’s eternal presence.