Episcopalian and Anglican Funeral Traditions

May 28, 2010 | 4 comments

This post highlights funeral practices of Episcopalians and Anglicans in general. The actual practices of individual families and congregations will vary within this religious tradition.

For an example of an Episcopalian funeral service, read this post about Irene Adele White’s service, from the 30 Funerals in 30 Days Challenge.

Treatment of the body: The body is rarely viewed and the coffin closed at funerals. A vigil or wake with a closed coffin may be held at the church prior to the funeral. Cremation after the funeral and embalming are accepted.

Funeral or memorial services: Funerals usually take place within two or three days either at a church or a funeral home. The funeral can be a ceremony in itself or part of a larger service, called a “requiem,” which includes a Holy Communion service. A priest leads the service, which includes the entry rite, opening anthems, announcements, the liturgy of the Word (scripture readings), the homily, the Prayers of the People, communion, and a commendation before going to the cemetery or crematorium. There is a variation for a memorial service with cremains or no body present. A program with the order of the ceremony is provided. The Book of Common Prayer and a hymnal are used.

Do’s and Don’ts: Sign the guest book and take a seat. If arriving late, enter quietly. It is not appropriate to take pictures or record the service (both audio and video). Guests of other faiths are expected to stand, kneel, read prayers aloud and sing with those present, unless this violates their religious beliefs. If choosing not to kneel, remain seated. When viewing the body, which is optional, approach and observe silently and somberly. It is appropriate to visit the bereaved at home after the funeral, although there is no specific ritual for calling or expressing sympathy.

Interment: Guests should attend. At graveside, anthems are sung as the casket is lowered into the grave and the body is committed to the ground with prayers. The priest, family and friends cast earth upon the casket. A Committal rite can also be held at a crematorium or burial at sea.

Post-Event Reception: Guests may visit the bereaved at home after the funeral. Food may be served at the discretion of the bereaved. No religious services are held at home.

Gifts: Upon learning about the death, telephone or visit the bereaved to express sympathy. Obituary notices will indicate if flowers are appropriate or if memorial contributions should be made in lieu of flowers. Ask the bereaved if its appropriate to send food.

Mourning period: There is no official doctrine regarding how long a mourner stays away from work or socializing. A mourner might return to work after one week and return to a normal social schedule at his or her own discretion.

Mourning customs: No specific mourning customs or anniversary observances.

Notes: When there’s a death in the family, the Episcopal Church expects families to call the priest first, before calling the funeral home, and to allow the clergy to direct the funeral.

For more details on this religion’s history, beliefs, and funeral practices, you may wish to consult this excellent resource: The Perfect Stranger’s Guide to Funerals and Grieving Practices: A Guide to Etiquette in Other People’s Religious Ceremonies (SkyLight Paths Publishing, Woodstock, VT), or visit Funeralwise.com.

Please post a comment to let me know if you find this information helpful, or if there are specific details you were looking for that this post did not address.

A Good Goodbye