Religious Funeral Customs

Catholic Funerals

A traditional Catholic funeral consists of three main parts: the Vigil (sometimes called the “Wake”), the Requiem Mass, and the Burial and after-burial gatherings. Note that the following pertains to funerals for adults; funerals for baptized children who’ve not yet reached the age of reason are quite different and joyful because they, without a doubt, go straight to Heaven, not having had the opportunity to commit a mortal sin. In childrens’ funerals, the priest wears white, the Gloria Patri is not replaced with the Requiem aeternam, the Gloria in excelsis is said, etc. Their Mass is not a Requiem Mass, but a “Votive Mass of the Angels”.

The Vigil (Wake)

The Vigil most often takes place in a funeral home nowadays, though it could take place in a home, parish church or chapel, or other place, depending on the laws of your state and the practices of your parish or chapel. The Vigil is the time when family gathers around the dead one, first of all to pray for him, and also to remember his life, and console one another. If the wake takes place in a funeral home, funeral cards, a type of holy card, are usually present (ordered through the funeral home’s funeral director), with a Catholic image on one side and, on the other, a prayer, and the name, birthdate, and (pray God) Heavenly birthdate, of the dead. If the wake is not held at a funeral home, one can still order custom-made funeral cards or make one’s own.


The Vigil, which may last from a few hours to two days, has the very specific purpose of attending to the soul of the dead one. At the Vigil, therefore, prayer for the dead is central, and you should ask your priest to lead the mourners in the Rosary (Glorious Mysteries) for the soul of the departed (if no priest is available, you can, of course, pray the Rosary yourself as a group). Note that the following prayer, the “Eternal Rest” prayer, is prayed for the dead after each decade of the Rosary (where the Fatima Prayer is usually prayed):

Eternal rest grant unto him/her (them), O Lord; and let perpetual light shine upon him/her (them). May he/she (they) rest in peace. Amen.

During the Vigil, the casket is usually open, flanked by candles at both ends (one’s Baptismal Candle should be used, if possible). In some Catholic cultures, mirrors are covered or turned toward the wall during this time. It is typical for Catholics to kiss their loved one goodbye, and being relic-minded and very conscious of the holiness of a Christian’s body and its eternal relationship to the Christian’s soul, to keep a lock of hair or some other memento which is later placed, along with funeral cards and the like, on the family altar. This will help remind them to pray for their loved one.

Flowers, as symbols of the beautifully transient, are always present, though some might request that, aside from a few representative flowers from closest family members, donations be made to selected charities instead of additional bouquets being bought. A Crucifix is, of course, always present, too, and often a Rosary will be placed in the dead person’s hands.

For Visitors

When you enter the place of the Vigil (you should dress modestly), you might find a visitors’ sign-in book. Do sign it, as it is good for the mourners to see many names listed and to know that their loved one was cared for by many. These books are often used by the family in sending Thank You cards afterwards, and make this task much easier in having all the names and addresses in one place.

Then greet the mourners with words of sympathy and of hope in Christ Risen and Glorified. After this, you will go and kneel on the kneeler beside the coffin and pray for a few moments (or as long as you need). The length of time one “should” stay at a Vigil depends on his closeness to the dead one and the dead one’s family. Immediate family would stay at the Vigil the entire time; casual friends can pay their respects with even a 10 minute visit and sincere prayers.

Food sent to the home of the mourners during the Vigil (if the Vigil is held at home), between the Vigil and the Mass, or after the burial, helping to care for little ones, the handling of chores, and other such kindnesses are best just done without asking instead of offered.


The Requiem Mass

On the day following the Wake will come the Requiem Mass (non-Catholic visitors will find general information on how to behave at a Catholic Mass here). The body is taken from the place of the Vigil to the church or chapel as the bell with the deepest voice — the “tenor bell” — tolls, if possible. The body is taken toward the Altar, to just outside the sanctuary. It is placed feet toward the Altar if the body is that of a layman, and head toward the Altar if the body is that of a priest.

Generally speaking, the Requiem Mass is like other Masses but with the following differences: Incense is not burned at the Introit and Gospel, the Judica Me , Gloria, the kissing of the Book after the Gospel Reading, and Kiss of Peace in Solemnn Masses are omitted.

The priest, dressed in a black cope, will greet the coffin at the door of the Church, sprinkling it with Holy Water, and intoning the De Profundis (Pslam 129) and the Miserere (Psalm 50). The Introit asks that eternal rest be given to the departed, and the Collect asks that God deliver his or her soul. The Epistle will be a reading of I Thessalonians 4:13-18, in which St. Paul speaks of death. After the Gradual, a Tract asking absolution from every bond of sin on the part of the deceased is intoned, followed by the glorious Sequence, the Dies Irae. The Gospel will be a reading of John 11:21-27, the story of St. Martha’s profession of faith that her brother, Lazarus, will rise again. The Offertory prayer asks Jesus Christ, King of Glory, to deliver the souls of the faithful departed from Hell, and for St. Michael to lead them into the holy Light. The Secret asks pity on the soul of the departed. The Communion asks that light eternal shine on the departed, and the Postcommunion asks that the Sacrifice of the Mass purify the departed.

Afterwards, the priest, again vested in a black cope, stands at the foot of the coffin and grants the departed absolution, which is followed by the Responsory, Libera Me. A Kyrie is then chanted, followed by the Pater, during which the priest passes twice around the body, sprinkling it with holy water and incensing it. This is followed by a prayer asking that the holy angels bear the departed to paradise. As the body is carried out of church, the Antiphon In Paradisum is sung (“May the angels lead you into paradise: may the martyrs receive you at your coming, and lead you into the holy city, Jerusalem. May the choir of angels receive you, and with Lazarus, who once was poor, may you have everlasting rest.”)

Burial and Informal After-burial Gatherings

After the Requiem Mass, the coffin is taken to the cemetery. The ground or mausoleum in which the body will be disposed should be blessed by a priest if the cemetery is not a proper Catholic cemetery (which is the ideal) or already blessed. This is done with these words as the grave and body are sprinkled with holy water and incensed.:

O God, by Your mercy rest is given to the souls of the faithful, be please to bless this grave. Appoint Your holy angels to guard it and set free from all the chains of sin and the soul of him (her) whose body is buried here, so that with all Thy saints he (she) may rejoice in Thee for ever. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.


Traditionally, at least in Catholic cemeteries, the body of a layman is buried such that the head faces East, symbolizing their awaiting bodily resurrection by Christ, Who is called “Orient.” Priests are buried in the opposite direction of the laity, symbolizing their having to confront the effects of their pastoring on the souls entrusted to them by God.

After the funeral, it is typical to gather at the house of the one closest to the departed, to eat, drink, remember, console one another, and pray (these informal post-burial gatherings are also sometimes referred to as “wakes.” This isn’t strictly accurate, but common usage). This is when bringing food and drink is especially appreciated, as it is in the days to come when the crowds go home — but the survivors, still grieving, are beginning to confront the sad reality of their temporal loss.

Hindu Funerals

Antyesti or Hindu funeral rites, is an important sacrament of Hindu society. Extensive texts of such rites are available, particularly in the Garuda Purana. There is wide inconsistency in theory and practice, and the procedures differ from place to place. Further, these rites also differ depending on the caste, jati, social group, and the status of the deceased person.


A funeral in Bali

About 4000 years before, in the Indian subcontinent, human bodies were either exposed to the elements of nature, and to the birds, or buried in the earth, in a river, and sometimes a cave or an urn. Centuries later, cremation became the usual mode of disposal of the dead bodies, with certain exceptions – the exceptions being bodies of infants, yogis, sadhus, and a few others. Cremation became popular due to the notion that the soul cannot enter a new body until its former one has totally disappeared, and cremation was considered the fastest way to expeditiously dispose of the dead bodies.

Hindu funeral rites may generally be divided into four stages:

The rituals and rites to be performed when the person is believed to be on the death bed.
Rites which accompany the disposal of the dead body.
Rites which enable the soul of the dead to transit successfully from the stage of a ghost (preta) to the realm of the ancestors, the Pitrs.
Rites performed in honor of the Pitrs.

Procedures for cremation vary from place to place. Immediately after the death, the body is placed on the floor with the head pointing towards the south which is the direction of the dead. An oil lamp is light and placed near dead body, this lamp is kept burning continuously for the first three days following the death. In Hinduism, the dead body is considered to be symbol of great impurity hence miminal physical contact with the dead body is maintained, perhaps to avoid the spread of infections or germs. Most often the dead body is bathed by purified water, and then dressed in new clothes, if the dead was a male or a widow then generally white clothes are used,whereas if the dead was a married women with her husband still alive or a young unmarried girl, then the body is dressed either in red or yellow. Sacred ash (bhasma) is applied on the forehead of the deceased, especially for the worshippers of Lord Shiva (Saivites), otherwise sandalwood paste is applied on the forehead, if the dead was a worshipper for Lord Vishnu (Vaishnava). Further, few drops of the holy Ganges water may be put into the mouth of the deceased so that the soul may attain liberation, also few leaves of the holy basil (tulsi) are placed on the right side of the dead body. The body then may be adorned with jewels, and placed lying on a stretcher, with the head pointing towards the south, which is the direction of the dead. Sometimes the body may be kept in a sitting position too. The stretcher is adorned with different flowers including roses, jasmine, and marigolds, and the body is almost covered with the flowers. Thereafter, the close relatives of the deceased person carry the stretcher on their shoulders to the cremation ground. If it is located at a distance, the stretcher is placed on a cart pulled by animals like bullocks. Nowadays vehicles are also used.

The cremation ground is called Shmashana (in Sanskrit), and traditionally it is located near a river, if not on the river bank itself. There, a pyre is prepared, on which the corpse is laid with its feet facing southwards, so that it can walk in this direction, as this is the direction of the dead. The jewels, if any, are removed. Thereafter, the chief mourner (generally the eldest son) walks around the pyre three times keeping the body to his left. While walking he sprinkles water and sometimes ghee onto the pyre from a vessel. He then sets the pyre alight with a torch of flame. The beginning of the cremation heralds the start of the traditional mourning period, which usually ends on the morning of the 13th day after death. When the fire consumes the body, which may take a few hours, the mourners return home. During this mourning period the family of the dead are bounded by many rules and regulations of ritual impurity. Immediately after the cremation the entire family is expected to have a bath. One or two days after the funeral, the chief mourner returns to the cremation ground to collect the mortal remains and put them in an urn. These remains are then immersed in a river. Those who can afford it may go to select places like Varanasi, Haridwar, Allahabad, Srirangam and Kanya Kumari to perform this rite of immersion of mortal remains.

The preta-karma is an important aspect of Hindu funeral rites, and its objective is to facilitate the migration of the soul of the dead person from the status of a preta (which is akin to a ghost or spirit) to the abode of the ancestors (that is, the abode of the Pitrs). It is believed that if this stage of funeral rites is not performed or performed incorrectly, the spirit of the dead person shall become a ghost (bhuta). The rites generally last for ten or eleven days, at the end of which the preta is believed to join the abode of the ancestors. Thereafter, they are worshipped during the ‘sraddha’ ceremonies.

If a person dies in a different country, in a war, or drowns, or in any other manner that his body cannot be retrieved for the antyesti, his funeral rites may be performed without the dead body, and similar procedures are followed had the dead body been available. If such a person appears (that is, he has in fact not died), then “resurrection” rituals are mandatory before his being admitted to the world of the living. The Hindu communities in the United States have begun to look at streamlining the process of cremation rituals and post-cremation observances, that is practicable for the present age and lifestyle.

Islamic Funerals

Funeral prayer

The Muslims of the community gather to offer their collective prayers for the forgiveness of the dead. This prayer has been generally termed as the Janazah prayer.

The prayer is offered in a particular way. Like Eid prayer, this prayer is also prayed with extra (four[8]) Takbirs, but there is no Ruku’ (bowing) and Sujud (prostrating). Supplication for the deceased and mankind is recited. In extraordinary circumstances, the prayer can be postponed and prayed at a later time as done in the Battle of Uhud[5]. It becomes obligatory for every Muslim adult male to perform the funeral prayer upon the death of any Muslim, however when it is performed by the few it alleviates that obligation for all.


Grave of a Muslim: The deceased is then taken for burial (al-Dafin). The style of the grave and that of the burial may vary from place to place due to different methodologies surrounding funeral proceedings. The Islamic directive is restricted to a respectful burial in the ground.

The grave itself should be aligned perpendicular to the Qiblah (i.e. towards Mecca). The wrapped body is placed directly into the ground, without a casket. Graves should be raised, up to a maximum of twelve inches above the ground. Graves markers are simple, because outwardly lavish displays are discouraged in Islam. Many times graves may even be unmarked, or marked only with a simple wreath. However, it is becoming more common for family members to erect grave monuments.

Only men are allowed to attend the actual graveside service.[10] The body is laid such that the head is facing the Qiblah. Those present at the grave each take their turn in pouring three handfuls of soil into the grave while reciting “We created you from it, and return you into it, and from it we will raise you a second time”, [Qur’an 20:55]. More prayers are then said, asking for forgiveness of the deceased, and reminding the dead of his or her profession of faith.

In a Tatar Muslim cemetery after the burial, the Muslims who have gathered to paying their respects to the dead collectively pray for the forgiveness of the dead. This collective prayer is the last formal collective prayer for the dead.


Loved ones and relatives are to observe a 3-day mourning period. Mourning is observed in Islam by increased devotion, receiving visitors and condolences, and avoiding decorative clothing and jewelry. Widows observe an extended mourning period, 4 months and 10 days long, in accordance with the Qur’an. During that time, the widow is not to remarry, move from her home, or wear decorative clothing or jewelry.

Grief at the death of a beloved person is normal, and weeping for the dead is allowed in Islam. It is however prohibited to express grief by wailing (Bewailing refers to mourning in a loud voice), shrieking, beating the chest and cheeks, tearing hair or clothes, breaking objects, scratching faces or speaking phrases that make a Muslim lose faith.

Jewish Funerals

Funeral service

In Israel the Jewish funeral service will usually commence at the burial ground. In the United States and Canada, the funeral service will usually commence at a funeral home (and occasionally a synagogue or temple) for an ordinary Jew, and from there the mourners and their entourage proceed to a Jewish cemetery for the burial. In the case of a more prominent person, such as a well-known communal leader, rabbi, rebbe, or rosh yeshiva, the entire service with eulogies can be held at the synagogue or yeshiva that the deceased was affiliated with.


A hesped is a eulogy, and it is common that several people speak at the start of the ceremony at the funeral home, as well as prior to burial at the gravesite, though some people specify in their wills that nothing should be said about them. On certain days, such as on Chol HaMo’ed (“intermediate days” of Jewish holidays), eulogies are forbidden.


Kevura, or burial, should take place as soon as possible after death. The Torah requires burial as soon as possible, even for executed criminals [1]. This means that burial will usually take place on the same day as death, or, if not possible, the next day. Some Reform and other congregations delay burial to allow more time for far flung family to come to the funeral and participate in the other post burial rituals.

This custom may have originated from the fact that Israel was, and is, a country with a hot climate. In Biblical times, there were few ways of keeping the dead body from decomposing. Not only would this be generally undesirable, but allowing the dead body of any person to decompose would be showing that person great disrespect. Decomposition would have occurred especially quickly in Israel due to the constant heat. Thus, the custom of burying the body as soon as possible. (Although the practice of embalming and mummification had advanced to a high level in Egypt, this, too, is considered disrespectful, since it involves a great deal of manipulation and the removal of bodily organs.) In addition, respect for the dead can be seen from many examples in the Torah and Tanakh. For example, one of the last events in the Torah is the death of Moses when God himself buries him: “[God] buried him in the depression in the land of Moab, opposite Beth Peor. No man knows the place that he was buried, even to this day.” (Deuteronomy 34:6) [2]

Typically, when the funeral service has ended, the mourners come forward to fill the grave. Symbolically, this gives the mourners closure as they observe the grave being filled in. One custom is for people present at the funeral to take a spade or shovel, held pointing down instead of up, to show the antithesis of death to life and that this use of the shovel is different from all other uses, to throw three shovelfuls of dirt into the grave. When someone is finished, they put the shovel back in the ground, rather than handing it to the next person, so that they shouldn’t pass along their grief.

While the grave is being filled in, some Jews may throw in a handful of earth from Israel on the dead body.


Shiva (Judaism)
The mourners traditionally make a tear in an outer garment either before the funeral or immediately after it. The tear should be on the left side for a parent (over the heart and clearly visible) and on the right side for brothers, sisters, children and spouses (and does not need to be visible).

If a son or daughter of the deceased needs to change clothes during the shiva period, he or she must tear the changed clothes. No other family member is required to rend changed clothes during shiva. Neither son nor daughter may ever sew the rent clothes, but any other mourner may mend the clothing 30 days after the burial.

When they get home, the mourners do not shower or bathe for a week, do not wear leather shoes and/or jewelry, men do not shave, and in many communities large wall mirrors in the mourners’ home are covered. It is customary for the mourners to sit on low stools or even the floor, symbolic of the emotional reality of being “brought low” by the grief. The meal of consolation (seudat havra’ah), the first meal eaten on returning from the funeral, traditionally consists of hard boiled eggs and other round or oblong foods. This is often credited to the Biblical story of Jacob purchasing the birthright from Esau with stewed lentils; it is traditionally stated that Jacob was cooking the lentils soon after the death of his grandfather, Abraham.

During this time distant family and friends come to visit or call the mourners to comfort them via “shiva calls”.

Commencing and calculating the seven days of mourning
If the mourner returns from the cemetery after the burial before sundown then the day of the funeral is counted as the first of the seven days of mourning. Mourning generally concludes in the morning of the seventh day. No mourning may occur on Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath), nor may the burial take place on Shabbat, but the day of Shabbat does count as one of the seven days. If a Jewish holiday occurs after the first day, that curtails the mourning period. If the funeral occurs during a festival, the start of the mourning period awaits the end of the festival. Some holidays, such as Rosh Hashanah, cancel the mourning period completely.


Sikh Funerals

In Sikhism death is considered a natural process. An event that has absolute certainty and only happens as a direct result of God’s Will or Hukam. To a Sikh, birth and death are closely associated, because they are both part of the cycle of human life of “coming and going”, which is seen as transient stage towards Liberation, complete unity with God. Sikhs thus believe in reincarnation.

However, by contrast, the soul itself is not subject to the cycle of birth and death. Death is only the progression of the soul on its journey from God, through the created universe and back to God again. In life, a Sikh always tries to constantly remember death so that he or she may be sufficiently prayerful, detached and righteous to break the cycle of birth and death and return to God.

The public display of grief at the funeral or Antam Sanskar as it is called in the Sikh culture, such as wailing or crying out loud is discouraged and should be kept to a minimum. Cremation is the preferred method of disposal, although if this is not possible any other methods such as burial or submergence at sea are acceptable. Worship of the dead with gravestones, etc. is discouraged, because the body is considered to be only the shell and the person’s soul is their real essence.

On the day of the cremation, the body is taken to the Gurdwara or home where hymns (Shabads) from the SGGS, the Sikh Scriptures are recited by the congregation, which induce feeling of consolation and courage. Kirtan may also be performed by Ragis while the relatives of the deceased recite “Waheguru” sitting near the coffin. This service normally takes from 30 to 60 minutes. At the conclusion of the service, an Ardas is said before the coffin is taken to the cremation site.

At the point of cremation, a few more Shabads may be sung and final speeches are made about the deceased person. Then the Kirtan Sohila, night time prayer is recited and finally Ardas called the “Antim Ardas” (“Final Prayer”) is offered. The eldest son or a close relative generally starts the cremation process – light the fire or press the button for the burning to begin. This service usually lasts about 30 to 60 minutes.

The ashes are later collected and disposed by immersing them in the nearest river. Sikhs do not erect monuments over the remains of the dead

After the cremation ceremony, there may be another service at the Gurdwara, the Sikh place of worship, call the Sahaj Paath Bhog Ceremony but this is optional.


Baha’i is a religion with Islamic roots. Baha’is believe that after death, the soul leaves the physical body and world behind for a spiritual one. This spiritual world does not necessarily contain a Heaven or a Hell. Instead, Heaven is being near God, while Hell is being farther away. In addition, the Baha’i religion does not have a particular set of guidelines regarding funeral services. The few practices that they do have are as follows:

Baha’is may wear anything from casual attire to formal wear to a funeral. Flowers and contributions in the deceased’s memory are also appropriate. However, non-Baha’is cannot contribute to a Baha’i fund. Concerning the deceased, they must be buried within a one-hour radius of the place of death. In addition, they are not to be embalmed or shown in an open casket.


According to the Buddhist faith, individuals pass through a series of reincarnations until they are liberated from worldly illusions and passions. Death is a way to reach the next reincarnation and move closer to nirvana, a state of absolute bliss. Buddhist funerals are often more like celebrations, where followers focus on the soul of the deceased as it makes its ascent from the physical body.
The Buddhist funeral services revolve around the concepts of sharing, good conduct and meditation. The first service is held within two days of a death at the home of the bereaved. A second service is held two to five days following the death, and is conducted by monks at the funeral home. The third and final service is held seven days after the burial or cremation and is meant to create positive energy for the deceased as he transcends to the next stage of reincarnation.

The viewing takes place the evening before the funeral. Guests are expected to view the body and offer a small bow in front of the casket to honor the impermanence of life. Guests should also offer their condolences to the family. The funeral ceremony includes chanting and individual offerings of incense. Guests are not expected to join either part of the ceremony, but should sit quietly and observe the rituals. While the family dresses in white, guests usually wear modest black clothing. Loose clothing is advised for ceremonies at temples where guests must sit on the floor to meditate.
Flowers and donations can be sent to the funeral home, but food offerings are discouraged.

Christian Scientist

In 1879, Mrs. Mary Baker Eddy founded the Christian Scientist religion in Boston, Mass. Christian Scientists believe that sin, death and disease do not come from God. Instead, they are created by man. They also believe that funeral services are optional.
If a funeral service is preferred, attendees are encouraged to wear formal clothing in muted colors. Services are typically held in private or in funeral homes as opposed to a church. Since Christian Scientists do not have clergy, a Christian Scientist teacher, practitioner, reader or friend conducts the ceremony. The ceremony does not include personal remarks or eulogies. However, it does include readings from one of Mrs. Eddy’s books or from the King James Bible. Also, funerals are not typically open casket. In addition, food may be served afterward. However, alcohol is not permitted.


Episcopalians find their religious roots in the Church of England. They believe in heaven and hell, with the final judgment being made by Christ. Their funeral services can take place alone or as part of a bigger ceremony, complete with Communion. An Episcopal priest conducts the ceremony, during which the casket is typically closed. During the ceremony, the priest reads from The Book of Common Prayer. Non-Episcopalians are encouraged to join in reciting the prayers if they [the prayers] agree with their faith. In addition, only baptized Christians are permitted to take Communion.

Greek Orthodox

The Greek Orthodox Church has many traditions—many of them surrounding funeral services. Members of the Greek Orthodox religion believe that at the moment of death, the deceased receive a partial judgment—they get a preview of heaven and hell. On the final judgment day, the deceased are sent to either heaven or hell.

At the deceased’s funeral services, mourners are expected to wear navy blue or black, formal clothing. If mourners choose to visit the grieving family before the service, tradition requires that they say, “May you have an abundant life,” or “May their memory be eternal.” In addition, making contributions to a pre-determined charity or fund is appropriate. During the actual services, mourners must stand at the appropriate times and pay respects to the family. Funerals are also typically open casket. As a result, both members and non-members of the Greek Orthodox faith are expected to bow in front of the casket and kiss the object (cross or otherwise) resting on the deceased’s chest. Later, at the internment, each mourner places a flower on the casket. Afterward, family and friends may head to a restaurant, church hall or private home for what is customarily called a “mercy meal.”

Other traditions include that widows wear black clothing for up to two years after the death of their spouse and that a memorial service for the deceased be held on the Sunday closest to the 40-day mark after death. Annual memorial services may follow on the anniversary of the death.

Hindus believe that upon death, an individual’s soul enters another reincarnation. The reincarnation depends on the individual’s karma, which is determined by his actions in his present life as well as his past lives. Once an individual realizes the true nature of reality, the soul will become one with Brahman, the One, All-Encompassing soul. The funeral ceremony serves as a purification process to cleanse the soul for a possible union with Brahman.

After a Hindu’s death, the family prepares the body for the funeral and wraps it in a shroud. The body is then presented at the family’s home for a viewing. Women place flowers at the feet of the body, and everyone joins in chanting to Yama, the god of death.

Following the viewing, the men carry the body to the crematorium. Hindu’s cremate the dead because the burning of the body symbolizes the release of the spirit. Prayers are said at the entrance of the crematorium. The chief mourner, usually the eldest son or male in the family, offers prayers of goodbye from the entire family. Sometimes, the men will shave their heads as a sign of respect for the deceased. Guests are expected to leave as soon as the cremation begins. The ashes, according to traditional Hindu belief, must be washed or placed into a river for final cleansing.

Family and guests come together for a meal and prayers following the cremation. The mourning period lasts for 13 days when friends may visit the family to offer comfort. Visitors are expected to bring fruit.


The Hmong view death as a natural part of the life cycle. All Hmong are given a mandate upon birth that determines the length of their life. When their mandate is up, the soul must leave its body to reside with its ancestors.

When a Hmong dies, the entire family comes to the home to pay their respects. Traditionally, the Hmong prefer to die in their own home and hold the funeral there among family and friends. Due to restrictions in the West, the Hmong must store the body and hold the service in a funeral home.

A typical Hmong funeral lasts three days. The funeral is the most important part of Hmong culture and must be done properly to ensure a prosperous afterlife for the deceased. Family members prepare the body for burial and adorn it with objects to protect its soul from evil spirits as it journeys to the other world. They provide the soul with food, wine, clothing and money. The Hmong will also sacrifice a rooster to accompany the soul on its journey. Musicians play a pipe and set of drums to guide the soul in the direction of its ancestors.

The Hmong will perform a ceremony a year following the death to invite the soul back for a final feast. An animal is traditionally sacrificed at this service to ensure that the soul makes its final ascent to its ancestors.


Supporters of the Islamic faith, called Muslims, believe in an afterlife. Once an individual’s soul is freed from his physical body, he awaits the final Day of Reckoning when he must account for his actions. The Qur’an explains both the rewards of heaven and the punishments of hell. Burials are preformed as quickly as possible after the death in order to free the soul from the body

A Muslim funeral has two purposes: to provide a decent burial for the deceased and to comfort the family. Friends should listen to the family’s grief and encourage them to accept God’s will so they can return to a normal routine. Funerals are simple yet respectful. Women should cover their heads and arms and sit separately from the men.

Following the service, mourners are expected to walk with the casket to the plot. Everyone should remain silent during the procession. The body is buried without a casket, and turned so that the head points toward Mecca, the Muslim direction of prayer.

Friends may bring baked goods, fruits or simple meals that need only to be heated. Do not bring flowers.

Jehovah’s Witness

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that in death, the deceased are unconscious—sleeping in their graves while waiting for the final resurrection, and that exactly 144,000 of them [the Jehovah’s Witnesses] receive eternal life immediately upon their death. In heaven, they will help Jesus Christ in establishing the Kingdom that will bring better conditions on Earth at the time of the final resurrection – Armageddon. The world’s remaining Jehovah’s Witnesses will continue to live forever on Earth in a new, “earthly paradise.”

At a Jehovah’s Witness’ funeral, mourners are expected to wear simple clothing in muted colors. The funeral services last between 15 and 30 minutes and are typically held at a Kingdom Hall – the place of worship for their faith – or a funeral home. A congregation’s elder runs the services. Following the hall or funeral home services are graveside services.


Judaism, like many other religions, is made up of different sects. The four major sects of one of the world’s oldest religions include (in order of liberal to more conservative): reform, reconstructionist, conservative and orthodox. Reform and Reconstructionist Jews believe that there is no bodily resurrection or physical life after death. Conservative Jews believe that there will be a resurrection of the dead. In the physical sense, there will be a resurrection at the coming of the Messiah. Spiritually, the deceased will live on through the memories of the living. Orthodox Jews also believe that there is a type of physical and spiritual life after death at the coming of the Messiah. The resulting lives are lived in heaven and hell-like places. Nevertheless, these sects follow to a degree many of the same customs concerning funeral services and traditions.

Funeral services take place the day after death. Attendees are expected to wear formal attire in subdued colors. Also, non-Jews are not permitted to wear symbols of other faiths (i.e. a crucifix, etc.). Specifically, men must wear head coverings—either a yarmulke or a kippah. At some conservative services, women must also wear head coverings, while at orthodox services, women are expected to cover their arms and legs to the knee in addition to their heads. Mourners should not send flowers. Food, however, is permitted. Although, if attendees send food, it should be kosher—or food blessed by a rabbi.

Rabbis conduct the funeral services. They can be either men or women, except in the Orthodox sect (men only). Funerals are also typically closed casket. Cremation is not permitted (except among some Reform Jews). Additionally, mourners are not permitted to enter during the recessional, processional or reading of eulogies during the services. Funeral services usually last between 15 and 60 minutes. Following the services is internment, where no acquaintances are to be present. At the time of internment, the casket is carried in a slow procession to the grave with seven pauses along the way. After prayers, each person places a shovel-full of dirt on the casket. The immediate family then recites the Kaddish—a prayer about God and His relationship with the mourners. Others in attendance recite only the limited responses. As the immediate family leaves, they walk between two rows—made up of the rest of the funeral procession.

Immediately following internment, the family sits in mourning. This 7-day period is known as a shiva. During the shiva, visitors are expected to stay for a 30-minute visit to eat and express condolences. Visitors must wait for members of the immediate family to eat their meal first, but they [visitors] do not have to say prayers before eating. Visitors must also wait to be addressed by the immediate family before paying their respects. In addition, there are services during shiva—one each in the morning and evening—for 10 to 20 minutes. Non-Jews can silently read English from the prayerbook and stand when necessary.

Also during this time, members of the immediate family sit on small chairs or boxes, wearing a cut black ribbon and slippers or socks to show grief. Additionally, a 7-day shiva candle is immediately lit (following the internment), mirrors are covered, and “luxurious” bathing is prohibited (i.e. no shaving or cutting hair). Conducting business is also prohibited. In this way, family members avoid vanity and express the extent of their grief. Overall, mourners miss work for about a week—social functions with dancing and music, from one month to a year. Family members can mourn (i.e. wear black, attend services, etc.) for up to 11 months after the death of a parent or child with 30 days for other relatives such as an aunt or uncle. During this time (which includes shiva), the Kaddish is recited every day. On the anniversary of the death (yahrzeit), mourners may attend services and light a yahrzeit candle that burns for 24 hours. In addition, there may be an “unveiling” of the tombstone—a simple ceremony that takes place one year later. This ceremony is invitation-only.

Mormon/Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints accepts death as an essential part of the plan of salvation. The followers, commonly known as Mormons, believe that everyone who lived or ever will live on earth is a spiritual child of God because they all lived with God before the existence of man. When an individual dies, the soul leaves the body for the spirit world, a place of learning and preparation. Upon the resurrection of Christ, the body and soul are reunited for eternity.

Since Mormons believe they will be reunited with the deceased in the afterlife, funerals are a time for hope and anticipation. Guests should wear modest clothing and ensure that their hems are near the knees. The service includes sacred music, prayer and a eulogy that remind mourners of Jesus Christ’s Atonement and Resurrection. Close family and friends attend a brief graveside service following the funeral.

The family usually hosts a gathering after the service so that all attendees can offer their condolences. Cards and flowers are appropriate gifts.


When a Pentecostal dies, his body returns to the earth while his soul awaits final judgment. The destiny of the deceased depends on his adherence to the redemptive plan designed by God for sinners. Pentecostals who follow that plan will eventually join God and enjoy eternal life. Ultimately, the soul will reunite with the body during the Resurrection.

The funeral ceremony includes singing, scripture reading and prayer. The minister will offer a sermon and eulogy in honor of the deceased. Guests should wear dark clothing.

Flowers may be sent to the funeral home or church where the funeral is held. Guests may also offer food to the family to help them during their grieving period.


Many European leaders including Martin Luther and John Calvin founded Protestantism during the Reformation of the Roman Catholic Church. Protestants originally differentiated themselves from other Christians by accepting the Bible as the only source of infallible truth. The present-day Protestant Sects include Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalian and Pentecostal.

Protestant funerals have a wide variation of customs and are generally tailored to the wishes of the deceased and his family. Services are meant to comfort the family and guests while also celebrating the life of the deceased. The minister often emphasizes the promise of life after death as a reassurance to the bereaved.

The funeral usually occurs within three days of the death. It is common for the family to host a visitation period prior to the funeral where guests can pay their respects to the deceased and give their condolences to the family.

Guests are not expected to stay for the duration of the viewing. The funeral service usually includes scripture readings from the Bible, hymns and a sermon. A close friend or family member will most likely offer a eulogy in appreciation for the deceased’s life. While black clothing is no longer necessary for Protestant funerals, guests should dress in a respectable manner. Guests can send flowers cards or charitable donations to the funeral home or to the church where the funeral will take place.

The family often hosts a gathering following the funeral. The purpose of the gathering is to share memories of the deceased that help the family deal with their grief. Food can be sent or delivered in person to the family’s home.

Roman Catholic

Catholic funerals are rich with tradition and sacrament, but vary according to individual, family and church. The religion expands many geographic regions, making personal heritage and tradition a large part of the Catholic ceremony. Irish, Russian and Italian are just a few of the cultures that influence the tone and structure of a Catholic funeral, and each heritage has a unique way of dealing with grief.

Typically, the second day after a loved one passes away, friends and family will hold a visitation or “wake,” usually held at a funeral home.

Immediately following the wake or on the third day, a Catholic funeral is held. The funeral service may stand alone, or be part of a bigger ceremony known as a mass. The mass is one of the foundations of the Catholic religion, having been conducted in the same manner with the same words and gestures for hundreds of years. Only recently has the mass been changed from Latin to the language of each local parish’s members.

During mass, the priest reads from Scripture, leads prayers and administers Holy Communion. Non-Catholics are encouraged to stand during appropriate parts of the ceremony. However, kneeling, singing, or reading prayers aloud is optional. Non-Catholics must also refrain from taking Holy Communion during mass. A funeral reception may also be held after the services, where food and/or drink are often served, depending on the deceased’s family’s wishes. Additionally, a mass may be held on the annual anniversary of the death.


Scientology began in 1954 in Los Angeles, under the leadership of L. Ron Hubbard. Scientology is based on eight “dynamics”—self, family and sex, groups, mankind, all life forms, the physical universe, spirituality, and infinity or the Supreme Being. The ultimate goal is for man to reach the greatest level of understanding or success in each of these dynamics. Scientologists also believe that man is immortal and spiritual. Therefore, man lives several lives. Scientology gives its parishioners the “tools” to deal with these past lives and to be happy in their current lives.

As a result, Scientologists conduct memorial services, rather than funerals, after death. At these services, Scientology ministers reiterate that the deceased, as a spiritual being, has moved into a new life.

Seventh Day Adventists

Seventh Day Adventists believe the dead sleep until the Second Coming of Christ. On this day, the deceased and the living face a final judgment to determine their salvation. Those who remain loyal to God will enter the sanctuary of heaven to enjoy eternal life.

The funeral for a Seventh Day Adventist usually occurs within one week of his death. Friends are encouraged to call and offer condolences to the family before the funeral. Seventh Day Adventists provide comfort for the family by saying phrases such as, “I sense your grief and share it with you” or “We look for the coming resurrection.” It is also customary for guests to offer a brief word of encouragement to the family before the funeral service. Women should wear respectable clothing that covers the arms and falls just below the knee. Guests should wear dark clothing and remove all jewelry.

It is appropriate to pay the family a visit several days following the funeral to assist with difficulties and to offer comforting words that may ease the grieving process. Guests may send flowers or food to the house. Do not make any charitable donations.


When a Shinto follower dies, his spirit lives forever under the protection of ancestral spirits and Kami, or Shinto divinities. The Shinto perform daily rituals at shrines in their homes to bring the spirits of the dead back to earth. They offer food, drink and burn incense. These rituals ensure that the dead are always remembered.

While Shintoism is simple in nature, the ceremonies are very complex and do not allow for personalization. Each stage of a Shinto burial is performed according to ancient rituals. A burial contains over 20 procedures. The kich-fuda, koden and bunkotsu are three of the procedures. The kich-fuda is a time of serious mourning where close family and friends wear all black and carry stringed prayer beads. During the koden procedure, friends and family offer monetary gifts to the immediate family to help with funeral expenses. The bunkotsu stage is one of the final steps, where ashes are given to close family members to put in their home shrines.


According to Sikhism, individuals go through a constant cycle of birth and rebirth until their soul breaks free and meets with the supreme soul, God. Sikhs remain continuously aware of death, repeating prayers and performing righteous deeds so they may eventually break the cycle of birth and death. Since death is viewed as an act of the Almighty, Sikhs are expected to keep their emotions under control. Even the closest mourners should appear detached.

Upon the death of a Sikh, the family prepares the deceased with a yogurt bath and dressings that bear the five symbols of a Sikh. The five symbols are a kirpin, the Sikh knife representing compassion and one’s duty to defend the truth, kara, a stainless steel bracelet, kachera, a special Sikh underwear, kanga, a small comb and kesh, or uncut hair. The family recites many prayers throughout the preparations to help the soul leave the body and become one with God.

Once the body is prepared, the family carries it to the crematorium followed by a procession of friends and family. Sikhs continue to recite many prayers. Since all of the prayers are recited in Gurmukhi, the original language of the Gurus, guests are not expected to join. Both men and women must wear headgear during all ceremonies. A scarf covering the head is adequate. There is no requirement for color of clothing.

The Sikh mourning period lasts between two to five weeks. The family may decide to hold a number of ceremonies during that time period. Flowers and cards are appropriate gifts. Foods are also appreciated but nothing with meat, fish, eggs or alcohol.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *