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 Issues | Liturgy | Common Worship Funerals

Funeral Service

The provision relating to 'funerals' can be found on pages 214 to 404 of the Pastoral Services book.

The changes in the provision for funerals are arguably the most significant and extensive in Common Worship.

The range of material covers:

  • Ministry at the Time of Death
  • At Home before the Funeral
  • For those Unable to be Present at the Funeral
  • Receiving the Coffin at Church before the Funeral
  • A Funeral Vigil
  • On the Morning of the Funeral
  • The Outline Order for Funerals
  • The Funeral Service
  • The Funeral Service within a Celebration of Holy Communion
  • Supplementary Texts
  • Sentences
  • Some Texts which may be Used by the Minister
  • The Blessing of a Grave
  • The Outline Order for the Funeral of a Child
  • The Outline Order for the Funeral of a Child within a Celebration of Holy Communion
  • Resources for the Funeral of a Child
  • Theological Note on the Funeral of a Child Dying near the Time of Birth
  • At Home after the Funeral
  • The Burial of Ashes
  • An Outline Order for a Memorial Service
  • An Outline Order for a Memorial Service within a Celebration of Holy Communion
  • Memorial Service: A Sample Service
  • Prayers for Use with the Dying and at Funeral and Memorial Services
  • Bible Readings and Psalms for Use at Funeral and Memorial Services
  • Canticles for Use at Funeral and Memorial Services

 

The fundamental questions:
There are two fundamental questions to ask in relation to Funeral services:

What happens when you die?
Who is the funeral service for?


There is no common view in the Church of England today to these fundamental questions, yet they centre on the very heart of the Christian gospel. Consequentially there is no clear view represented within Common Worship. This means that the services fall a long way short of providing what is required in a proper funeral service. It is not easy to see how the service could be adapted to be useful.

What happens when you die?

What Reformed Christian (ie. Anglicans) believe:

  • Those who die in the Lord are with the Lord when they die.
  • There is no waiting, the soul or spirit is with Christ in paradise 'today'.
  • The body remains.
  • At the last day the dead in Christ will rise, with resurrection bodies.
  • Traditionally Christians have buried their dead, or collected the bones in caskets.

Therefore part of the funeral process is to lay to rest the body until Christ returns. Aside from this the service is for the benefit of the living, not the dead.
We are

  • offering comfort to those left behind
  • giving thanks for the deceased's life
  • expressing our joy that they are with Christ
  • facing up to our own mortality
  • proclaiming the gospel - sure hope in the face of death.

Denying faith
To the above the ASB and CW add the further purpose:

  • to commend him/her to God our merciful redeemer and judge

Our eternal destiny rests on our response to Christ; whether we truly put our faith and trust in him. Therefore this addition to a Christian funeral serves only to mislead and confuse.

The problem is compounded when intercession for the departed is introduced. Before the production of the ASB the Church of England came to an uncomfortable compromise about what was acceptable language in relation to the dead.

The ASB uses the language of 'entrusting' and such expressions as 'grant to him and all who rest in Christ, refreshment, light and peace...'

In the early stages of CW far stronger intercession for the departed was introduced:
'May the heavenly host sustain you and the company of heaven enfold you' GS1298C p16
'Acknowledge, we pray, a sheep of your own fold...enfold him/her in the arms of your mercy' GS1298C p16

This language has been removed from the final funeral service.

The language of 'entrusting' remains and such prayers as
'Remember for good this your servant N...' Pastoral Services p266
have been introduced.

Whilst this language is not as blatant as many would want it is intended to be intercession for the departed.

 

Chips with everything
One of the features of CW is the prevalence of Holy Communion. Indeed in many cases in the earlier stages Marriage and Funerals within the context of 'The Eucharist' was to be the norm.


It should be remembered that Thomas Cranmer deliberately removed Holy Communion from the funeral service because of abuse. Sadly many still believe that saying a mass for a dead person can gain them time off purgatory.  Much in Common Worship will tend to propagate this error further.

False comfort
It can be very difficult to know what to say about the dead person and their eternal destiny. The ASB and CW services generally get around this by a 'charitable assumption'. However, this can give false comfort and be a denial of the gospel.

he BCP by contrast avoids the problem by making no clear assumptions about the dead person (merely a hope). Instead it states clear the destiny of those who die trusting in Christ.

Confusing signs
At one stage in the revision process the reading of scripture at the beginning of the service had been done away with and instead a number of symbolic actions had been introduced.
The problem with symbols is that if people understand what they mean then they are strictly unnecessary. If people are ignorant of the meaning then the symbol needs to be explained which makes the symbol unnecessary. If it is not explained it will be misunderstood and most likely mislead.

Therefore, it is said that sprinkling the coffin with water is a sign of baptism. Even if this were so it seems unnecessary. However, in medieval practice 'holy water' was sprinkled left, right and centre, because it was erroneously believed that this purified things. In this biblically illiterate age the error is what will be understood.

 

Word and prayer
In addition to the main funeral service the new provision covers a vast range of occasions and has a large number of alternative prayers. Why is all this necessary? What has happened to the minister who could open the scriptures and pray with people when the need arose? Now, it seems, we need a service and authorised prayers for every possible eventuality.

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