Multicultural Funeral Practices
Home
 (source: Ontario Funeral Service Association: www.ofsa.org.)
1. Buddhist
2.  Catholic
3.  Islam
4.  Judism
5.  Protestant

Buddhist

Buddhist funeral services vary considerably, depending on which country the believer is from. Most Buddhist funerals take place in a funeral home, not a temple.

Ritual canting may begin at the place of the deceased’s death and continue throughout the services. The evening before the day of the funeral, visitation (viewing the body) is held inside the funeral home, a table is set up with candles and incense which will burn until the body is moved to a cemetery for burial or cremation. Food and incense are left on the table as an offering to the deceased and to the gods.

The family sits at the front of the room in which the casket is placed. Visitors greet them, offer their condolences, then go to the casket and bow. Well-wishers can then either stay and sit for a while, or they may choose to leave. Although sending flowers and donations are not a Buddhist custom, it is acceptable to do so. There may be white cloth or carpet on the floor in front of the casket. While the family wears white (the color of grieving), friends often wear black. In the funeral home, shoes can be left on. Footwear is removed only in temples.

Some funeral homes are equipped with special fireplaces in which people burn pretend money and/or paper images of material objects particularly meaningful to the deceased. This is to help the deceased on his or her journey.

The funeral service is held the following day and is traditionally conducted by a monk or a nun. Visitors are not expected to participate in prayers and chants. Men and women can sit together and are not required to wear a head covering. At the conclusion of the service, visitors come forward in groups and bow before the casket as a way of showing their final respect.

Either at the funeral home or at the cemetery, guests may be given a envelope which contains a coin, for good luck, and a candy to help take away the bitter taste of death. It is usually preferred that the casket not be lowered at the cemetery in front of the family members. 

After the service at the cemetery, family and close friends usually gather at a restaurant, where they share a meal.

Catholic

There are many cultural variations in the practice of Catholicism, but there are also some constants. Anointing of the sick prior to death is usually considered important. The body of the deceased is usually viewed in a funeral home and then transported to a church for a funeral mass.

At the funeral home, a Priest, or other designate, officiates over prayers. Visitors may join in or sit quietly; it is considered disrespectful to talk or leave. The prayers last about 15 minutes. 

In church, Catholics genuflect before entering their pew. This is a gesture which non-Catholics should not imitate. The casket is usually closed at church and may be draped with a religious pall. The funeral pall emphasizes the fact that we are all equal in the sight of God. During the funeral mass the priest will extend an invitation to those who should take communion. Everyone should rise and sit at the appropriate times. Also if visitors are familiar with the hymn being sung, they may join in.

It is appropriate to send flowers, cards and to make donations to charitable organizations behalf of the deceased. It is also customary for Catholics to obtain mass cards, which are displayed at the funeral home. These signify that a mass will be said in memory of the deceased. It is requested that those obtaining mass cards include a stipend to the church. 

A procession to the cemetery will follow the mass, where a burial customarily takes place. While the Catholic church does not forbid cremation, it strongly recommends burial.

A reception at the church hall or a community center usually follows the burial.

Islam

Muslims try to bury the deceased as soon as possible after the death has occurred. Typically, this is within 24 to 48 hours. Cremation is strictly forbidden.

A purification ritual takes place immediately. This cleaning ceremony is performed in private by appointed specialists who are of the same sex as the deceased. The body of the deceased is washed, wrapped in a shroud and will be placed in a simple wooden casket. The funeral service may take place at either a mosque or a funeral home. It is a simple ceremony and because of the Islamic belief that one comes into the world with nothing and should go out of the world with nothing, it is completely free of gifts of any kind. 

At the mosque, men and women sit in separate areas. It is appropriate for a visitor to do so also. You may be expected to remove your shoes. Visitors are not expected to participate in prayers. As for dress, all parts of the body should be covered. This applies to both men and women. 

Women are not obligated to attend the graveside service. They attend the graveside every week until the forty day morning period is complete. An Imam (Islamic priest) conducts the service at the cemetery to insure that deceased is properly placed in the grave. The head of the deceased must be facing East so that the deceased may complete the directives of Allah. 

After the burial, there is no formal reception, but it is appropriate to offer condolences to the family, though not necessarily right afterwards (the time varies with the wishes of the family). It is not appropriate to send flowers. However, memorial donations are acceptable. 

Judaism

Jewish funerals take place as soon as possible after death, sometimes the same day. Embalming of the body is considered disrespectful and the body is not put on public display. Well-wishers pay their respects by attending the funeral service at the synagogue or chapel, participating in the burial at the cemetery, and supporting the family during the week of shiva following the burial. Shiva is a time when the family can withdraw from its social and communal responsibilities in order to grieve.

While the observance of Judaism covers a wide range of practice (orthodox, conservative and reform), the actual funeral services are very similar. Until burial, the focus of the funeral service is centered around the deceased. As a result, it is not appropriate to approach the family to offer condolences until the body is buried. (Cremation is not permitted in traditional Judaism and, while it is tolerated by reform Jews it is not encouraged.)

The funeral service may be conducted by a Rabbi and Cantor, although family and friends might also participate. The service, which lasts 12 to 15 minutes, starts and ends with readings from Psalms, The main part of the service is the eulogy recounting the life and good deeds of the deceased.

At the cemetery, there is another short service. Visitors might be asked to participate by helping to shovel earth over the casket. 

Sending flowers is not a Jewish tradition. Instead a donation to the family’s favorite charity or cause is considered to be a sign of honor and respect for the memory of the deceased. 

Following the burial service, friends and well-wishers are invited to the family’s home, where they may partake in a meal symbolizing the notion that, even at this darkest time, life is precious and must be nurtured. During the week of sitting shiva, friends are expected to visit the family to bring comfort and to share in the grief. On the anniversary of the death (Yahrzeit), a memorial lamp will be lit and the family will participate in prayers and acts of charity. A ceremonial unveiling of the memorial marker generally takes place within the first year after the death.

Protestant

There are a multitude of denominations within the Protestant faith. All revolve around the Christian theme that there is life after death.

Funeral services most commonly take place at a funeral home, though they may be held in a church. Mourners can visit the funeral home and pay their respects prior to the day of the funeral, usually within three days after the death. The casket will probably be closed prior to the service. 

It is appropriate to send flowers, cards and to make charitable donations in the name of the deceased. Although it is unnecessary for guests to dress in black or to cover their heads, it is expected that visitors dress respectfully. Dress is becoming more casual.

A Minister usually conducts the service; however, participation by family and friends is increasing. Visitors are not expected to participate, although some services allow for spontaneous eulogies to be given. The service may include sacred music, prayers, readings, a sermon and benediction. 

At the cemetery or crematorium, another shorter service, called the committal, is given. Afterwards, guests may be invited to a reception at the family’s home, a community hall or the funeral home.