Planning for your funeral is a gift offered to your family, relieving them of some of the decisions that must be made at a difficult time. Spending time now to gather important documents and find services provided can give everyone peace of mind, and is an appropriate part of Christian commitment.
A detailed end-of-life planning booklet is available through the Episcopal Church Foundation that covers many of the topics and concerns individuals have as they approach the end of their earthly life.
Some things to do and consider:
- Fill out forms available in our planning materials and keep these in a secure place that you and your loved ones know about.
- If you choose to be an organ donor, or to donate your body to science, complete the appropriate paperwork and let your friends and loved ones know of your intentions.
- Advance preparation of legal documents can be a great help to your family when making decisions about your final plans. Consider a will, a durable power of attorney for financial matters, advance medical directives (including mental health), and organ donation.
- Speak with clergy and loved ones about your medical and funeral wishes so that several of those close to you will know of your preferences.
- Locate important papers and documents, including: funeral planning sheets, birth certificate, passports, social security cards, bank deposit box information, checking account numbers, keys, burial plot records.
- Assemble a list of computer account usernames and passwords, as these may be very difficult for family members to access after death.
- Consider meeting with a member of the clergy to discuss funeral liturgy plans and to learn more about the funeral industry, including the pros and cons of funeral prepayments or memberships in memorial societies.
The Church prays with you at death
As the Church prays with you at your baptism, marriage, times of sickness, and others, so also it may pray with you and ministers to you at your death or the death of someone close to you. As a loved one approaches the time of death, you are invited to contact a member of the clergy or the Pastoral Care team at St. Paul’s so that we may be present with you and the one who is dying. The Book of Common Prayer (p. 462) outlines a liturgy that may be offered.
At the Time of Death
It is difficult to think of what to do at the time a loved one dies. Here are some helpful first steps:
- If a loved one dies at home, call 911. A medical examiner will arrive before the body may be removed.
- A doctor must sign a death certificate, which will be important later for legal and insurance purposes.
- Contact St. Paul’s at 206-282-0786 as soon as may be convenient to be connected with a member of our clergy and our pastoral care team.
- Plan for a time for family and friends to gather to remember and grieve together apart from the funeral.
- Make official notification of the death to government agencies: IRS, Social Security, Veterans’ Affairs, etc.
- Titles to vehicles and property will also need to be changed, and insurance companies should be notified.
- Do not be afraid to ask family and friends for specific help with meeting with funeral directors, meals, errands, chores, childcare, thank-you letters, rides, friendly visits just to talk, or putting together a scrapbook.
Contacting the Funeral Home
It is strongly recommended that you speak with a member of the clergy before your meeting with a funeral home. St. Paul’s clergy can provide guidance on choosing a funeral home with a strong reputation and help you think through all of your options during a difficult time.
The clergy can be of great help in assisting the family in its dealings with the undertaker. (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.)
The clergy of St. Paul’s have relationships with area funeral homes and will work with you to find one that meets your family’s needs. Visiting several funeral homes in the area with a friend may also be helpful. An expensive casket is of no advantage to the departed and often is a hardship on the living. Remember that money spent on caskets or other funeral provisions are not indications of how much love you have for the person who has died. A dignified and reverent funeral need not involve a great expense.
After a funeral home has been chosen, when meeting with a funeral director, if the deceased will be buried, take nice clothing that she or he would want to be buried in – formal attire like tuxedos and three-piece suits are not necessary. Remember to bring items like glasses and jewelry. You may also speak with the funeral director about how many copies of the death certificate to order. You may request that family members take part in some aspect of the process to prepare the body; most funeral homes will welcome you to participate in this loving task.
Consider having a viewing of the body, as seeing the deceased can help loved ones to process the reality of death.
The Body: A Christian View of Burial
(From Concerning Funerals published by the Episcopal Diocese of New York)
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 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 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.
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 (BCP, 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. Under extraordinary circumstances, the funeral may be held with neither the body nor the ashes being present.
Burial Rites in the Episcopal Tradition
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.
The liturgy, therefore, is characterized by joy, in the certainty that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This joy, however, does not make human grief unchristian. The very love we have for each other in Christ brings deep sorrow when we are parted by death. Jesus himself wept at the grave of his friend. So, while we rejoice that the one we love has entered into the nearer presence of our Lord, we sorrow in sympathy with those who mourn. (BCP, p.507)
As to the matter of holding funerals in funeral establishments, the rubrics of the Prayer Book (BCP, p.468, 490) state, “baptized Christians are properly buried from the church.”
Planning for the Funeral
Since the Episcopal funeral service is a service of worship, it is properly held in a church, unless considerations of space prohibit. It does not matter whether the deceased was a member of the Church or not, or whether the survivors are members. The Church and its services are available to all.
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. The Requiem Mass should be held at a time when the congregation can be present.
The selection of the rite, collects, and lessons are made in collaboration with the family. 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.
Fraternal, military, or other organizational rites are not added to or otherwise included with the services of the Church, regardless of where the funeral is held. They are personal farewells, and if used should only be done prior to the graveside service. Otherwise, they are an inappropriate anti-climax if held following the solemn committal of the body to God in its final resting place.
The assignment of priests for funerals rests with the Rector. Visiting clergy may request to participate in the service with the permission of the Rector, although clergy from other denominations may not be the presiders at services at St. Paul’s. Episcopal priests in good standing are welcome to serve as the primary officiant at the liturgy; the invitation to do so will be made by the Rector. It is customary for clergy associated with our parish to preside at all funerals.
If the Body or Cremains are Present
The casket is closed, and remains closed, throughout funeral rites in the Episcopal Church. A viewing of the body may take place in a funeral home or for a designated time prior to the start of the liturgy. The casket will be covered with a pall (white liturgical covering) during the service (or a flag, if the deceased has served in the armed forces). Ashes are covered in a similar way.
When a casket is present, it is appropriate to have six to eight strong persons (women or men) escort the casket from the funeral hearse or Chapel to its resting place in the church, and then taken from the hearse to the place of burial. There also may be honorary pallbearers for ashes.
Music at Funerals
If you wish to have music at the funeral, you will need to meet with, and use the services of, our Organist/Choirmaster. The choice of music should reflect the fact that a Requiem mass is a sacramental rite of the Church. The the music for funerals at St. Paul’s is like the music we do for Mass on Sundays; popular music or secular music is not appropriate. The Organist/Choirmaster will help you with your choice of music
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. Although an Easter liturgy, this does not mean that hymnody should be limited to Easter hymns. Other hymns that speak of Christian hope or those that our parish might sing on All Saints’ Day are also appropriate. Settings of the service music should be familiar to some of those assembled. Our Organist/Choirmaster may be of assistance to you in selecting appropriate hymns for the service.
In the selection of offertory and communion anthems, these should be “from Holy Scripture, or from this book, or from texts congruent with them” (BCP, p. 14)
A list of hymns typically done at St. Paul’s may be found here.
Flowers and Decorations
The use of flowers is similar to that on Sunday mornings on other occasions of worship. It is St. Paul’s custom that no flowers be placed in the worship space other than single arrangements in, at most, three locations: beside the pulpit, at the Mary shrine, and in the entryway. 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.
If a body is present, flowers may be placed on the casket when the pall is removed as the procession leaves the church.
Please contact the Flower Team Coordinator regarding floral arrangements for liturgies and flowers and decorations for receptions to be held at St. Paul’s.
Friends and Family
We encourage the participation of friends and family at the memorial service, although care should be taken as to who should be chosen during this emotional time. Friends and family may serve as lectors, oblationers, or pallbearers. Eulogies are not customarily offered at St. Paul’s.
As a funeral is a service of worship, photographers and videographers do not move about the space during the service. Funeral attendees may not photograph or videotape the service with cell phones or other portable devices.
No flash photography is permitted whatsoever in the church.
Timed exposures and videotape (natural light only) may be taken from a stationary position (on a tripod) at the back of the church, in choir loft. Photographers should be professionally attired.
No photographs may be taken during the time when the choir is singing alone or instrumentalists are playing, and it is not appropriate to photograph musicians at any time during the service.
The Service Leaflet
St. Paul’s staff will prepare and produce the printed order of service. If you request a design that includes color, these orders of service must be printed through an outside vendor of St. Paul’s choosing at your cost. You will be able to see a copy of the leaflet before it is printed. You will need to advise us of the number of printed orders of service. Keep in mind that this number should include not only enough worship bulletins for the service, but also those to give to friends and relatives and for your own keeping.
Interment at St. Paul’s
St. Paul’s Bolster Garden is open to those who wish to be interred here. Ashes are placed directly into the ground, and names of those whose ashes are interred there are listed on a memorial plaque in the adjacent hallway. These arrangements may be discussed with a member of our clergy.
The Graveside Rite
The Committal of the body or the ashes is a part of the funeral rites of the Church and should take place either at the actual gravesite, or in the Church, following the Eucharist. We are blessing the grave-the final resting place, and this blessing should take place at the actual grave when this is at all possible.
Receptions following funeral rites are customarily held in the Parish Hall. St. Paul’s parishioners are usually available to help with these arrangements. No alcohol may be served. You may speak with our Hospitality Coordinator about this.
For more information
The Episcopal Diocese of New York has excellent information about the structure and suggested hymns for funeral rites in the Episcopal Church, and may be a helpful resource to you as you work with St. Paul’s clergy and musicians to plan the service.