When someone close to us dies, whether at the end of a long illness or without warning, we are deeply affected. Often we are in pain and have searching questions about the meaning of life, about death, and about our faith. At this time the Anglican Church offers support in your bereavement and a hope which points beyond death to resurrection and a new life.
A funeral is used to mark the end of a person's life here on earth. Family and friends come together to express grief, give thanks for the life lived and commend the person into God's keeping. These can be a small, quiet ceremony or a large occasion in a packed church.
Everyone is entitled to either a burial service (funeral) or to have their ashes buried in their local parish cemetery by their local parish priest regardless of whether they attended church or not.
Because the Church is a caring community, it knows something of the hurt felt when a member of the family dies. Death may have been preceded by a long and draining illness. It may have come suddenly. The deceased may have been young or old. The hurt is there, and the Christian Community is eager to ease something of that hurt.
The Church lives in hope because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and we see a sense of victory underlying death. Both the hurt and the hope find expression in the Church's rites at the time of death and after.
Your parish priest will assist you in the planning of the funeral that will give thanks to God who is the Lord of the dead and the living. He/She will do everything possible, in consultation with you, to help in making the funeral service a dignified expression of caring love and Christian hope.
The Québec provincial government has a website entitled "What to do in the event of a death" which has information on
- Planning in the event of death
- Declaration and registration of a death
- Successions, procedures and interventions
- Benefits, pensions and other survivors’ benefits
as well as a personalized itinerary to obtain a list of steps adapted to your situation.
" To those who believe in thee, O Lord, life is but changed, not taken away."
What is Death?
In death the body ceases to function. Nevertheless the Christian faith asserts that life goes beyond what we observe. We do not consider death as an end because of our belief that Jesus Christ overcame death to live again. We are promised in the Bible that through the resurrection of Jesus we may anticipate life after death for ourselves and others.
How does the Church Provide Care and Support?
Society avoids talk of dying and death and we are often ill prepared for the ultimate stage in living. However our Christian experience teaches us the power of faith, hope and love. After death, life continues for both the deceased and the survivors — although in a separate and different way for each. This separation results in grief — experienced by anticipation before the death, and realized most fully afterwards. Grief is a loss, a wound, an amputation which is deeply felt in a very physical way. It is natural, acceptable and very human. The grieving process commonly lasts two years. It can't be avoided; one can only delay it. Survivors, often without realizing, are "out of balance" for long periods of time.
A trusted "outside" person can be of immense value:
- to listen with patience
- to reflect feelings
- to help keep life in perspective.
Clergy and laity will find themselves called to this role again and again.
The Bible repeatedly illustrates the appropriateness of working out emotions. Crying is okay. Tears, laughter and the safe venting of anger, are to be encouraged and accepted as a divine gift in the healing of grief.
Reality must be faced; the fact of death experienced by sight and — preferably — by touch. All survivors including children, should be allowed some physical contact with the deceased body as soon as possible after death. A touch, a hand clasp or a kiss, will seal the reality of parting and allow full healing to begin.
What is a Funeral?
A funeral service is a rite offered by the Church to:
- Mark the passing of those who have died
- To give thanks for their life
- To comfort those who mourn.
The Anglican Church of Canada offers two forms of services.
- The Book of Common Prayer — The official prayer book of the Church offers a traditional service which expresses the confidence and hope of our faith in the Risen Christ.
- The Book of Alternative Services — This is a more contemporary service which provides more opportunity for involvement by family and friends of the deceased.
Both books assume the presence of the body, and the priest needs to be consulted if it is the wish of the family to exclude the body from the public service. If the case of cremation of the body, the family may request a memorial service without the presence of the body. However, the purpose of the rites and customs of a funeral service is to help mourners face death and move through grief to healing. The presence of the body or the ashes confirms the reality of death.
The Funeral Service
The church service provides opportunity for those present to:
- Express the joy of the resurrection, even in the face of tragedy
- Explore the meaning of life, death and internal life
- Express sympathy, grief and forgiveness
- Affirms faith - in God the Father who gives life, in Jesus Christ his Lord and Saviour, and in the Holy Spirit as guide and sustainer.
Service structure, readings, music, readers, lay leaders are all arranged with the priest. Families may wish to celebrate Communion at the time of the funeral as a means of affirming faith in a God who identifies with humanity in both life and death. In recognition of the equality of all in death, the coffin is covered with a "pall" or a large white cloth. The offering of eulogies or statements of praise of the deceased is not part of the Anglican tradition. We place our emphasis on the love and mercy of God and on the ultimate joy of the resurrection of Jesus. The priest will be pleased to discuss the service arrangements with you.
The Committal of the body to burial or to ashes has a two-fold significance.
- The commending of a person into the hands of God
- The committing of the body to the elements.
The parish priest is always willing to accompany the family and friends if the ashes are to be interred at a later date. Following the committal, the family, now separated physically from the deceased, joins with friends for comfort and support. Telling stories about the person who has died, whether as an eulogy or over a cup of tea, is an important aspect of the funeral and which proclaims the continuity of life in the face of death. Some parishes can provide space and catering services for this event.
Other rites may include:
- visits to the grave site
- disposal of ashes
- in some cases, the establishment of suitable memorials.
The Role of the Parish Priest
At the time of death the parish priest acts on behalf of the Christian community in expressing faith and compassion. The priest should be called immediately by the family when a death occurs. He/she will be able to offer consolation, pastoral support and practical help in making funeral arrangements. By means of this ministry, those bereaved are helped to:
- Express feelings of grief
- To affirm Christian faith and love
- To renew hope in the light in the resurrection.
The Role of the Funeral Director
The funeral director should be called after the priest has been notified. The family can then draw upon the professional services offered. We recommend that the parish priest be called upon to support the bereaved in the proper ordering of these affairs.
Thank Offerings and Fees
The ministry of the Church is offered freely to all people. At the same time it is appropriate that a thank offering be made for this ministry wherever possible, particularly in the case of those who are not currently active in the life of the Church. In addition, parishes normally set fees for organists and custodians.
In the days following the funeral service the priest, and in some parishes lay pastoral workers, remain available to the family. Friends from the congregation can offer love and encouragement in the days, weeks, and months ahead.
Contact with others enables the mourners to find new avenues for life and support in the period of adjustment as they seek to come to terms with their grief and find new purpose and direction for the future.
"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me lie down in green pastures, and leadeth me beside the waters of comfort. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall not fear; for thou art with me."