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"Life is eternal and love is immortal; And death is only a horizon, And a horizon is nothing Save the limit of our sight."

Rossiter W. Raymond


Perspectives on Funeral Services

Religious Customs and Cultural Traditions

The following sections describe some aspects of funerals across various cultures and religions. These are general aspects - some families may choose to follow the traditions, others may not. However, should you be attending a funeral associated with one of the various cultures or religions, this information may help to see what you should expect, or explain why certain things were done. We hope that you find this information useful.

Religious CustomsStapleton Family Funeral

Catholic: Catholic funerals vary according to individual, family and church. Typically, the second or third day after a loved one passes away, the family will hold a "wake" or "calling hours," usually held at a funeral home. Immediately following the wake or on the third or fourth day, the funeral is held. The funeral service may stand alone, or be part of a bigger ceremony known as a mass. It is important to explain the difference between the two basic masses. If the body is present the mass is called a Mass of Christian Burial. If the body is not present or if the cremains are present, the term used is a Memorial Mass. During mass, the priest reads from Scripture, leads prayers and administers Holy Communion. 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.

Protestant: Commonly the family hosts a visitation period prior to the funeral where guests can pay their respects to the deceased and give their condolences to the family. The funeral usually occurs within three to four days of the death. Protestant funerals have a wide variation of customs and are generally tailored to the wishes of the deceased and his/her family. The service is meant to comfort the family and guests while also celebrating the life of the deceased. It usually consists of scripture readings from the Bible, hymns and a sermon. The minister often emphasizes the promise of life after death as a reassurance to the grieving.
Buddhist: Buddhists believe that 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. Therefore, Buddhist funerals are often more like celebrations. A Buddhist funeral service revolves around the concepts of sharing and meditation. 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; they are expected to view the body and offer a small bow in front of the casket to honor the deceased. The family members are distinguished by their white attire while the guests wear black clothing. 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 help create positive energy for the deceased as he transcends to the next stage of reincarnation.

Jewish: Generally speaking, funeral services take place either the day of death (if it's before sundown) or the day after death. The Rabbis' conduct the funeral services which are typically closed casket because cremation is generally not permitted. 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, so as not to appear to be rushing burial, along the way. After prayers, each person places a shovel of dirt on the casket. (The shovel is to be used with the blade upside-down, again, not to give the appearance of rushing the burial.) The immediate family then recites the Kaddish, a prayer about God and His relationship with the mourners.

Cultural Traditions

Italian: In the Italian-American family, death is a great social loss and brings an immediate response from the community. It means sending food and flowers, giving money, and congregating at the home of the deceased. The funeral remains very much a family and community event. Within the context of fatalism in Catholicism, it is explained that the death was inevitable, and many Italian-Americans view death as "God's will." More traditional families hold anniversary masses for the deceased and wear black for months or years. This is not as common among younger generations. Emotional outpourings can be profuse and the activities around a funeral provide distinct examples of the Italian-American way of ritualizing life events. Family members may moan and scream for the deceased throughout the church. Screaming is an effort to ensure that Jesus, Mary, and the saints hear what the bereaved are thinking and feeling. Family members get up constantly to touch and talk to the deceased loved one. Then, the priest intones the farewell: "May the angels take you into paradise, may the martyrs welcome you on your way." While men mourn, they do so in the fashion of "pazienza" - patience. Their constant, silent, and expressionless presence may be their only act of public mourning. The real time of sorrow comes at the end of the ceremony when the priest and non family congregation say good-bye to the deceased. At this time, the family is on their own for a time with their loved one.

Hispanic: After the death of a loved one, families set up an altar with photos of the deceased and place candles, flowers and incense around the altars. They fill the house with food for returning spirits, including "pan de los muertos," a sweet bread shaped like human skulls and bones and sugar candy. In the Hispanic culture they celebrate death; it is seen as a part of life and Hispanics learn not to fear it, but accept it. There is a big party, a mariachi band, a priest giving a blessing and everybody cheering, drinking, and dancing.

Irish: The traditional Irish wake consisted of laying out the body of a departed relative in the house where they lived and/or died. All of the family and quite a few of the deceased's neighbors and friends would gather at the house. The body is usually in a coffin in the living room. There is a lot of food and drink to be consumed. People come and socialize and remember the departed person's life. A clay pipe filled with tobacco is given to all. The clocks are stopped as a mark of respect and all the mirrors are turned toward the wall or covered. It isn't considered a time for tears, it is more of a party than a funeral. It is the traditional Irish way of celebrating one's life and ensuring that they had a good send off. The Rosary is recited once or twice - at midnight and then towards morning. A truly traditional wake will have a special rosary for the dead and traditional prayers. The rosary is said around the corpse with those around the house reciting the responses. There are two ceremonies that constitute the funeral. The first, the 'Removal', is when the remains is taken from the home to the local church. The second is when the body is taken to the graveyard for burial after mass on the next day.

Chinese: Chinese funeral practices were guided by tradition and custom, but it usually stems from their respective religions. Usually the family invites monks to chant prayers for the sick person when he/she is seriously ill and death is near. This is to allow the sick person to have peaceful and wholesome thoughts. Immediately upon the person's death, one would clean up the body and change the deceased's clothes - a white kebaya and blue sarong for a female and shirt and trousers for a male. Safety pins are used to pin up the clothes. No ornaments, real or imitations, are to be worn by the deceased. Placed by the coffin is the deceased's photograph and/or a copy of the deceased's instructions. On the top of the coffin lies a wreath and tablets of prayers issued by the monk. Inside the coffin joss paper, 'khor chee' and old clothing may be put in for the purpose of absorbing the deceased's body fluid. During the funeral procession a band plays solemn music. The music is merely to indicate to the relatives and friends the various stages of the funeral. Red thread and sweets may be distributed to relatives and friends on the day of the funeral to thank them for attending. A month or so after the funeral, the immediate family of the deceased is expected to visit a temple to say a prayer for their loved one and to ensure that the deceased has found his way to nirvana.

William J. Piacentini
May 16, 2024

Pena B. Alexander
April 29, 2024

Guo En Mei
April 16, 2024



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Deborah Morin

Stapleton Family Funeral Home and Crematorium Center
685 Park Ave Cranston, RI 02910 401-461-5050

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