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Death Rituals

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Christian Death Rituals Modern Christian death rituals have changed over time. Previous customs are being abandoned for today’s vision of praising the deceased. It can be stated that Christians are some-what celebrating the death of a loved one. A new pattern has developed drifting away from burial, moving towards cremation. Technically there is no set routine for a death, due to the fact that personal modifications and customs can change an arrangement. This new pattern is not firmly fixed (indeed, variations, improvisations and personal customizations are marks of the new rituals) but it generally includes the following characteristics:
• a memorial service instead of a funeral (i.e., a service focused on remembering the deceased, often held many days after the death, with the body or the cremated remains of the deceased not present) (Thomas)
• a brief, simple, highly personalized and customized service, often involving several speakers. (as opposed to the standard church funeral liturgies presided over primarily by clergy) (Thomas)
• a focus on the life of the deceased (often aided by a physical display of photos and other mementos) (Thomas)
• an emphasis on joy rather than sadness, a celebration of life rather than an observance of the somber reality of death. (Thomas)
• a private disposition of the body, often done before the memorial service, with an increasing preference for cremation. (Thomas) Burying the dead is a corporal work of mercy because Christians care for the bodies of humans even though they are deceased. "The dead deserve as respectful a burial as can be provided, this is a minimum," says Father Richard Rutherford of the University of Portland. Although cremation is allowed by the church, the bishops stressed that burial or entombment of the body is still preferred. In cases where families choose cremation, the bishops want the body to be present in the church for the funeral rituals. Cremated remains should be treated with the same respect as corporeal remains and properly disposed of-entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium or buried in a cemetery. (Saunders) The symbols of the Catholic funeral ritual are intended to be messages of hope. Holy water, incense, the lighting of the Easter candle, and the white pall draped over a casket are symbols of Baptism as well as death. "It gives you a sense of the continuity of a person's life--going back to the beginning," says Cippel, who recently completed a master's degree in Christian spirituality from Creighton University in Omaha. Today when he thinks of his mother, he recalls the scripture he read at her funeral: "Behold, I make all things new" (Rev. 21:6). "The Catholic funeral service doesn't deny what has happened, but it says it's a part of a greater reality," he says. What people remember from the funerals of their loved ones is key to the impact of the rituals, says Father Richard Rutherford, C.S.C., chairman of the theology department at the University of Portland, Oregon. (Saunders) The common Christian death rituals are messages of hope and memorizing the death of a loved one. It can be compared to a celebration or praising of the loved one passing. These rituals give us a sense of letting go. The rituals are meant to bring a piece of mind to the family. Personal modifications can alter the practices, but generally a new pattern has developed in today’s world.

Work Cited
Long, Thomas G. "The Good Funeral." Christian Century 126.20 (2009): 20-25. Academic Search Premier. Web. 18 Feb. 2013.
Saunders, Kathy. "At The Hour Of Our Death." U.S. Catholic 63.2 (1998): 32. Academic Search Premier. Web. 18 Feb. 2013.
Saunders, Kathy. "Ritual Rewards: Blessed Are Those Who Mourn." U.S. Catholic 62.3 (1997): 13. Academic Search Premier. Web. 18 Feb. 2013.

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