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Christian burial

Article by jekky

History and antecedents of Christian burial rites Early historical evidence Fourth century Christian burial depicted in relief at the Shrine of San Vittore in ciel d oro Basilica of Sant Ambrogio Milan Among the Greeks and Romans both cremation and burial were practiced However the Jews and most of the nations of antiquity buried their dead Even God himself is depicted in the Torah as performing burial And God buried him Moses 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 Early Christians used only burial as can be demonstrated from the direct testimony of Tertullian and from the stress laid upon the analogy between the resurrection of the body and the Resurrection of Christ 1 Corinthians 15 42 In the light of the dogma of the resurrection of the body as well as of Jewish tradition the burial of the mortal remains of the Christian dead has always been regarded as an act of religious import It is surrounded at all times with some measure of religious ceremony Very little is known with regard to the burial of the dead in the early Christian centuries The first Christians likely followed the national customs of the people among whom they lived as long as they were not directly idolatrous St Jerome in his account of the death of St Paul the Hermit speaks of the singing of hymns and psalms while the body is carried to the grave as an observance belonging to ancient Christian tradition Several historical writings indicate that in the fourth and fifth centuries the offering of the Eucharist was an essential feature in the last solemn rites These writings include St Gregory of Nyssa detailed description of the funeral of St Macrina St Augustine references to his mother St Monica the Apostolic Constitutions Book VII and the Celestial Hierarchy of Dionysius the Areopagite Probably the earliest detailed account of funeral ceremonial which has been preserved to us is to be found in the Spanish Ordinals of the latter part of the seventh century Recorded in the writing is a description of the Order of what the clerics of any city ought to do when their bishop falls into a mortal sickness It details the steps of ringing church bells reciting psalms and cleaning and dressing the body 15th Century monastic funeral procession entering Old St Paul s Cathedral London The coffin is covered by a blue and gold pall and the grave is being dug in the foreground Traditionally the Christian Church opposed the practice of cremation by its members While involving no necessary contradiction of any article of faith it is opposed alike to ancient canon law and to the usages praxis of antiquity Burial was always preferred as the method of disposition inherited from Judaism and the example of Jesus burial in the tomb During times of persecution pagan authorities erroneously thought they could destroy the martyrs hope of resurrection by cremating their remains Though the church always taught that the destruction of the earthly remains posed no threat to the bodily resurrection many Christians risked their lives to prevent this desecration of the relics of the saints Furthermore the bodies of Christians were considered to have been sanctified by baptism and the reception of the sacraments and thus were to be treated with dignity and respect as befits a Temple of the Holy Spirit I Corinthians 3 16 17 6 19 In reaction against the Christian opposition to cremation some have deliberately instructed that their remains be cremated as a public profession of irreligion and materialism The revival of cremation in modern times has prompted a revision of this opposition by many Christian churches though some groups continue to discourage the practice provided there is no intent of apostacy or sacrilege During the Middle Ages a practice arose among the aristocracy that when a nobleman was killed in battle far from home the body would be defleshed by boiling or some such other method and his bones transported back to his estate for burial In response in the year 1300 Pope Boniface VIII promulgated a law which excommunicated ipso facto anyone who disembowelled bodies of the dead or boiled them to separate the flesh from the bones for the purpose of transportation for burial in their native land He further decreed that bodies which had been so treated were to be denied Christian burial The wake Main article Wake ceremony The custom of watching by the dead the wake is an ancient practice Its origins are not entirely known It may have been a Christian observance attended with the chanting of psalms or it may have been adopted from paganism with the singing of psalms introduced to Christianize it In the Middle Ages among the monastic orders the custom was practiced in a desire to perform religious duties and was seen as beneficial By appointing relays of monks to succeed one another orderly provision was made that the corpse would never be left without prayer Among secular persons these nocturnal meetings were sometimes an occasion of grave abuses especially in the matter of eating and drinking The following is found in the Anglo Saxon canons of lfric addressed to the clergy Ye shall not rejoice on account of men deceased nor attend on the corpse unless ye be thereto invited When ye are thereto invited then forbid ye the heathen songs haethenan sangas of the laymen and their loud cachinnations nor eat ye nor drink where the corpse lieth therein lest ye be imitators of the heathenism which they there commit In the earliest Ambrosian ritual eighth or ninth century which Magistretti pronounces to be derived from Rome the funeral is broken up into stages at the house of the deceased on the way to the church at the church from the church to the grave and at the grave side But it is also clear that there was originally something of the nature of a wake vigilioe consisting in the chanting of the whole Psalter beside the dead man at his home Absolution The Absolution became common in the second half of the eleventh century It involves laying a form of absolution upon the breast of the deceased This is enjoined in the monastic constitutions of Archbishop Lanfranc Occasionally a leaden cross etched with a few words was used for this purpose Many such crosses have been recovered in opening tombs belonging to this period Offertory The medieval ritual also included an offertory in the funeral of well known and distinguished people Generous offerings were made in money and in kind in the hope of benefiting the soul of the deceased It was also usual to lead his war horse up the church fully accoutered and to present it to the priest at the altar rails It would later be redeemed by a money payment Catholic burial ritual The various Catholic religious observances surrounding mortal remains can be divided into three stages Conveyance of the body to the church Archbishop John Hughes prepared for burial St Patrick s Old Cathedral New York 1864 The first stage involves the parish priest and other clergy going to the house of the deceased One cleric carries the cross and another carries a vessel of holy water Before the coffin is removed from the house it is sprinkled with the holy water The priest with his assistants says the psalm De profundis with the antiphon Si iniquitates Then the procession sets out for the church The cross bearer goes first followed by members of the clergy carrying lighted candles The priest walks immediately before the coffin and the friends of the deceased and others walk behind it Funeral procession from the Healing Window at Canterbury Cathedral As they leave the house the priest intones the antiphon Exsultabunt Domino and then the psalm Miserere is recited or chanted in alternate verses by the cantors and clergy On reaching the church the antiphon Exsultabunt is repeated As the body is placed in the middle of the church the responsorial Subvenite is recited Historical precedence provides that if the corpse is a layman the feet are to be turned towards the altar If the corpse is a priest then the position is reversed the head being towards the altar The earliest reference to this is in Johann Burchard s Diary Burchard was the master of ceremonies to Pope Innocent VIII and Pope Alexander VI A rule also exists that both before the altar and in the grave the feet of all Christians should be pointed to the East This custom is alluded to by Bishop Hildebert at the beginning of the twelfth century and its symbolism is discussed by Guillaume Durand A man ought so to be buried he says that while his head lies to the West his feet are turned to the East The idea seems to be that the bishop or priest in death should occupy the same position in the church as during life facing his people who he taught and blessed in Christ s name Ceremony in the church A Funeral Service Les Trs Riches Heures du duc de Berry Folio 199v Muse Cond Chantilly The second stage is a cycle of prayers the funeral Mass and absolution Candles are lit around the coffin and they are allowed to burn throughout this stage Prayers The prayers offered are the Office of the Dead Throughout the prayers certain omissions are made For example each psalm ends with Requiem aeternam instead of the Gloria Patri Mass for the Dead See also Requiem Mass As in the case of the Office the Mass for the Dead Missa de Requie is chiefly distinguished from ordinary Masses by certain omissions Some of these may be due to the fact that this Mass was formerly regarded as supplementary to the Mass of the day In other cases it preserves the tradition of a more primitive age The suppression of the Alleluia Gloria in excelsis and the Gloria Patri seems to point to a sense of the incongruity of joyful themes in the presence of God s searching and inscrutable judgments In the early Christian ages however it would seem that the Alleluia especially in the East was regarded as especially appropriate to funerals During the Mass it is customary to distribute candles to the congregation These are to be lit during the Gospel during the latter part of the Holy Sacrifice from the Elevation to the Communion and during the absolution which follows the Mass As already remarked the association of lights with Christian funerals is very ancient and liturgists here recognize a symbolical reference to baptism whereby Christians are made the children of Light as well as a concrete reminder of the oft repeated prayer et lux perpetua luceat eis In the ordinary form of the Roman Rite the Mass of Paul VI the funeral Mass is a Mass of the Resurrection The priest wears white purple or black vestments and the coffin is covered by a white pall In the Tridentine form of the Roman Rite the funeral Mass is a Requiem In a Requiem Mass the priest always wears black vestments and the pall is black There are also slightly different ceremonies of the Mass and slightly different texts Absolution Main article Absolution of the dead The absolution of the dead was removed from the ordinary form of the Roman Rite and replaced with the Commendation when the Mass of Paul VI was promulgated following the Second Vatican Council However the absolution of the dead continues to remain part of the funeral service of the Tridentine Mass The absolution of the dead is a series of prayers for pardon that are said over the body of a deceased Catholic following a Requiem Mass and before burial The absolution of the dead does not forgive sins or confer the sacramental absolution of the Sacrament of Penance Rather it is a series of prayers to God that the person s soul will not have to suffer the temporal punishment in purgatory due for sins which were forgiven during the person s life During the absolution the Libera me Domine is sung while the priest incenses the coffin and sprinkles it with holy water The prayer for absolution is said by the priest and then the In paradisum is sung while the body is carried from the church Ceremony by the graveside Burial at Ornans 1850 Gustave Courbet Louvre Paris After the absolution the body is carried to the grave The tomb or burial plot is then blessed if it has not been blessed previously A grave newly dug in an already consecrated cemetery is considered blessed and requires no further consecration However a mausoleum erected above ground or even a brick chamber beneath the surface is regarded as needing blessing when used for the first time This blessing is short and consists only of a single prayer after which the body is again sprinkled with holy water and incensed Apart from this the service at the graveside is very brief The priest intones the antiphon I am the Resurrection and the Life after which the coffin is lowered into the grave and the Canticle Benedictus is recited or sung Then the antiphon is repeated again the Lord s Prayer is said silently while the coffin is again sprinkled with holy water Finally after one or two brief responses the following ancient prayer is said Grant this mercy O Lord we beseech Thee to Thy servant departed that he may not receive in punishment the requital of his deeds who in desire did keep Thy will and as the true faith here united him to the company of the faithful so may Thy mercy unite him above to the choirs of angels Through Jesus Christ our Lord Amen The final petition made by the priest is May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace At that point the graveside ceremony and the burial is complete Eastern Orthodox burial ritual Grave of an Orthodox Christian in Lazarev Cemetery Alexander Nevsky Lavra The full burial service of the Eastern Orthodox Church is lengthy and there are several features unique to the Eastern Church

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