In the Episcopal Church, a funeral is a celebration of resurrection. This is beautifully symbolized by the fact that instead of dark colors, the color for altar hangings and clergy vestments is always white for funerals because the liturgy for the dead is an Easter liturgy. The message for Episcopalians is clear: because Jesus was raised from the dead, we, too, shall be raised.
The Book of Common Prayer is the authoritative source for the outline of the service and the appropriate readings, psalms and hymns for a funeral service. Your Episcopal priest will be the best guide for helping you make the selections that are most meaningful and appropriate for the service for your loved one. In addition, your funeral director can be of great assistance in coordinating all aspects of a meaningful service.
At the Time of Death
One of the most beautiful and comforting traditions in the Episcopal funeral rites is The Litany at the Time of Death. This prayer can be said by family, friends and a priest, if time permits. Invocations including “That it may please you to give him (or her) joy and gladness in your kingdom, with your saints in light,” make this litany one that can help the family focus on the resurrection aspect of the entire funeral service.
The Funeral Service
The intention is to create a worship service that is a celebration of the life of the departed and a fitting memorial in the hearts and minds of those who mourn. The Book of Common Prayer outlines this service and provides recommendations for readings and music. The service itself begins with the thematic first line: “I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.”
The funeral liturgy in the Episcopal Church service is built around a formal Eucharist, and therefore there typically are no eulogies delivered during the service, although it is often the case that the priest will deliver a homily that captures aspects of the departed’s life. The homily is often created after a conversation with the family, so that references to the departed can be included in a uniquely meaningful way.
If families desire personal eulogies, they may be made by family and friends at a wake the day before the funeral or at a reception following the funeral. For advice on creating a eulogy, click here.
Music at the Funeral Ceremony
There is a wealth of beautiful and appropriate sacred music that is suitable for use in the context of the burial of the dead. Your priest can recommend hymns that will add meaning and beauty to the service.
Readings from Scripture
During the service, there will be a reading from the Old Testament, a psalm (read by the congregation as a whole), a reading from the New Testament and a reading from the Gospel. It is desirable that the lessons from the Old and New Testament be read by lay persons (family or friends). The Gospel will be read by the priest.
There are no special requirements concerning caskets for Episcopal services; they can be made of wood or metal, and should be chosen to meet the specific needs and tastes of the family. The casket is to be closed before the service however, and it remains closed thereafter. It is appropriate that the casket or urn be covered by a pall or other suitable covering during the service.
Flowers at the Service
A casket spray may accompany the casket to and from the church but will be removed and replaced with a funeral pall before entering the church. Floral sprays and decorations sent by family and friends may be displayed depending on the custom of the specific Episcopal Church.
Cremation is an acceptable practice within the Episcopal Church. The ashes should be in the church at the time of the service and are treated as the body would be. This respect should include placing the ashes in a final resting place, which could include a cemetery, columbarium, mausoleum, or cremation garden.
The committal is the brief service, typically read as the body is committed to the grave or as the ashes are placed in their final resting place. If necessary or desired, all or part of the committal service may be said in the church. If preferred, the committal service may take place before the service in the church, (typically in the case of cremation). It may also be used prior to cremation.
For more information on Episcopal Funeral Traditions, the ultimate source is The Book of Common Prayer. You can also find Episcopal Churches anywhere in the United States by clicking here: The Episcopal Church.