«The understanding of death and dying as seen by different religions»
  Death and Dying in Christianity


Christian death and burial

Christians believe that when someone dies, they are judged by God. The righteous go to Heaven and the sinners go to Hell. Christians believe that Hell is the separation from the love of God:

They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified by his saints.2 Thessalonians 1:9-10

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 takes this form:

  • The Gathering: the priest will open the service with this reading from the scriptures:

'I am the resurrection and the life,' saith the Lord; 'he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.'

I know that my Redeemer liveth...

Book of Common Prayer 1979
  • Readings and sermon: a psalm from the Bible is read out. It is often Psalm 23, 'The Lord is my Shepherd'. Verses from the Old or New Testament are also read.
  • Personal readings: The priest will talk about the person who has died. This can be quite a personal section, 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. The congregation is given a minute to reflect on the deceased.
  • Commendation and farewell: The priest speaks these words: "Let us commend (the person's name) to the mercy of God, our maker and redeemer." The priest 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 closed around the coffin. "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."

There may also be a selection of hymns which are sung throughout the service.

Some parishes still have space for burials. The burial follows a church service and the family and friends of the deceased gather round the grave for the Committal. It is tradition to throw some dust/mud onto the coffin. A short prayer will be said by the minister.

For those who wish to be cremated, the body is taken to a crematorium, where it is burned. At the point of Committal, the curtains close around the coffin. The ashes are put into an urn and given to the family, who may choose to keep them or scatter them in a place that was meaningful to the deceased.


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.
  • Final commendation: Mass ends, prayers are said and the coffin is taken out of the church.
  • Rite of Committal: prayers are said by the final resting place (at the graveside for burial and before the curtains close for cremation).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines what a funeral is:

The Christian funeral is a liturgical celebration of the Church. The ministry of the Church in this instance aims at expressing efficacious communion with the deceased, at the participation in that communion of the community gathered for the funeral, and at the proclamation of eternal life to the community.Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Christian funerals Christian symbol image
Christian funeral rites vary according to the different groups of the Catholic and Protestant branches of the religion. There are, however, many similarities - Protestant rites are usually a simplified version of Catholic rites.

Quaker Funerals - These are usually quiet and informal affairs. One or more of the people present may speak personally about the deceased. Others may read or quote, however, the majority of time is spent in silent contemplation. The body is buried or cremated with a simple ceremony at the municipal crematorium.

Protestant Funerals - A dying person may have a pastor attend the death bed and prayers may be said. A brief prayer is said for the deceased at the church on the Sunday following the death.
The funeral can take many forms and may include speeches and readings by relatives and close friends.

Greek Orthodox Funerals - Burials last, in the first instance for 3-5 years. The body is then exhumed in a family ceremony with a priest. The bones are then washed, left to dry in the sun, put in a casket and placed in a columbarium - a building fitted with niches that looks like a dovecote.

Roman Catholic Funerals - at the approach of death a priest is summoned to hear the dying person's confession and to absolve them, administer Holy Communion and Extreme Unction, anointing the person with oil that has been blessed by a bishop.
Burial is preceded by prayers for the dead. A requiem is recited at the funeral and the body in the coffin is blessed with incense and sprinkled with holy water.