"Love! Do you know the meaning of the word?" 'How should I not?' said the Lady, 'I am in love...in Love Himself.'
~C.S. Lewis
The Great Divorce

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Are Funerals for the Living or the Dead?

A friend of mine once said that funerals are only for the living-the implication being that the status of the deceased is fixed. Either they are in heaven, hell, or their soul is sleeping. (This latter option being the theoretical response of a non-Christian.)

Now this, of course, is the position largely of Evangelicals and Protestants. A person has their time on earth to make their decisions and once dead, nothing can be done for them. Roman Catholics believe in the doctrine of Purgatory which says that believers must, and will desire to, endure a period of purification before entering heaven. Because this is the case, in a Roman Requiem, the focus of the mass to pray for the deceased instead of honoring the person's life and legacy. From a Catholic perspective, the verdict is in-at least officially. (Many Catholics would prefer a service at which endless eulogies can be made, much like other Christian churches.)

As an Anglican, what should the response to this be? For whom is the funeral? I want to make two observations. First, the Prayer for the Whole State of Christ's Church-that long prayer that opens the "communion" part of the service and finds its basis in the Didache's example of praying for the whole of Christ's body. In the prayer is written these words: "And we also bless thy Name for all thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear; beseeching thee to grant them continual growth in thy love and service and to give us grace to follow their good example."
While the 39 Articles forbid the doctrine of Purgatory to be taught, at the least the 16th century Roman one, clearly the Liturgy upholds that their is still maturing to be done by the dead in Christ. With that in mind, it would seem that Anglicans should stand with traditional Catholicism and say that funerals are indeed for the dead.

Furthermore, I would make a point from experience. I recently made a somewhat sarcastic remark to my bishop (an Anglican) about some of the service music that was picked for a funeral we both attended. He mentioned that "it was what brought the "insert name" comfort in this life." (this is not a direct quotation, only the sense of what he said.) In addition, at that same funeral there were some upset that certain hymns were added to the service which were not requested by the deceased. If the funeral is for the living, why should either of these items matter?

My overall view, in line with the Liturgy and luminaries such as C.S. Lewis and Jeremy Taylor, is that the Funeral is an ideal time to pray for all of the dead in Christ, that they would come to full maturity in the Kingdom of God. But I would also say, that within reason, I see no reason that good words made not be said about the person who has died. The Lord shines in his saints. If that be the case, remembering their good example does not distract from Christ but points to him.


  1. Well, as far as the hymns once being a comfort to the deceased, chances are they are also a comfort to the family, friends and those in attendance. On that basis, the entire funeral itself is part of the grief and comfort process (which should not be denied) for those that were close to the deceased. Also, to pray for the repose of the soul.
    Remember that we know very little about heaven and exactly where your soul will reside until the second coming of Christ. So, as we [Anglicans] don't call it purgatory, there seems to be reference to another state before "heaven" with the Lord, before the 2nd coming of Christ (I just recently studied Revelations at length). I can get you the verses and my notes if you like. Also, in regards to the grief and comfort, we just had a discussion at our Stone Soup Supper about it based upon a book & verses, which are currently escaping me. Great blog Billy :)

  2. If you can easily send the notes, I'd love to take a look. I remember the first time the thought of the period between death and the Great Resurrection was presented to me-it was by your uncle, actually. What does it mean to be in a state of everlasting worship when so much of the worship we do is with our bodies? How do we imagine ourselves to exist without a body?
    I, of course, have not the oratorical skills to describe the state as he did. Suffice it to say, based on what he said, I know I want people praying for me! Thanks for dropping by, Rubes!

  3. I enjoyed this post. And there are 2 items i would mention. One is the three "states". The Church Militant - those living here on earth, The Church Expectant - those who have died by bodies haven't been resurrected (this is the state we know the least about), The Church Triumphant this is where Christ sits with his Resurrected body in Heaven.

    The other item is there has been the conversation among theologians of the Particular Judgement and the Final Judgement.

    I would elaborate more, but I am not the best writer to describe it.

    Francis J. Hall (Anglican Priest) wrote a good book that talks a little about this. Dogmatic Theology i believe is the name.