on Saturday, 4 November 2017 at 11.00 am by Peter Owen
categorised as Opinion
Kelvin Holdsworth The Episcopal Way of Death
Mark Clavier Covenant ‘Time makes ancient truths uncouth’
“Reflections of a Former Theological Educator”
Lois Lee Church Times Take the beliefs of the non-religious seriously
“It is not the case, I think that most people come to this service thinking that they can somehow by praying for the dead in this way liberate them from hell or punishment or limbo…” – Holdsworth
Am I so very old-fashioned then, because that is why I pray for the dead? If it isn’t, then what is the purpose of a funeral service?
That, Kate, is a very good question. My experience FWIW is that people come to funerals (a) to deal with their own issues, and (b) to support the bereaved. End of. If they have a belief in an afterlife – IF – it’s not one that can be influenced by a few mutterings in a church or by a graveside. That may not be the view of many churchgoers, but then they are increasingly few and far between.
An old Australian Episcopalian, I do not believe in hell or limbo or punishment after death and have my doubts about heaven regarding which I remain agnostic – i.e. I do not know or can imagine anything about it – we see only in part and “through a glass darkly” . However, whether there is a heaven or not would change how I live – and it is not easy to make any sense of it, or to imagine a heaven that is more wonderful and marvellous and making more sense than this world, despite all the suffering of humans… Read more »
Alas – the word “Funeral” very rarely appears nowadays on the front cover of an Order of Funeral Service. It is more likely to be “A Celebration of the Life of ……”
Perhaps this is one reason why more and more are opting for secular “Celebrants” to officiate at the ceremonies rather than Christian ministers. However, in my limited experience of attending such celebrations – there is an awful lot of looking back but the aspect of looking forward is non existent which rather limits the element of celebration.
Father David – Why are you putting the word “celebrant” in inverted commas. It is as patronising as people who put gay “marriage” in them. I am a properly trained civil celebrant who takes a lot of funeral ceremonies. My role is to preside at the ceremony, and the content is shaped entirely by the wishes of my client. So it may be entirely non-religious, or it may have religious music, hymns, readings or prayers included. It is usually shaped around telling the story of the life of the deceased, but elements of future hope may be in there. Or… Read more »
I have always been taught that one shouldn’t pray for the dead, because their fate is already decided. Nor do I see any precedent in the Bible for such prayers, but I might be overlooking something. I’d be genuinely grateful if someone could explain to me the reasoning behind this practice? I have always seen funerals as an honouring of the deceased and committal of them into God’s hands. Of course in reality they will have been in God’s hands since their death, but it’s necessary for the bereaved to participate in a personal and communal letting go. It’s a… Read more »
Sorry Jeremy I am completely befuddled. Yes I have a healthy respect for all who officiate at a funeral. I am sure they do so from a genuine care for people. But what is the difference between a funeral service conducted by a priest, retired or otherwise, and a civil funeral ? A relative of mine has been a pastor in the free bretheren, and has officiated at very many funerals of members of their congregation, and a wide circle of members of the community. Taken with dignity, and sincerity. Respected by all over the many years of his ministry.… Read more »
“I have always been taught that one shouldn’t pray for the dead, because their fate is already decided.” @Janet Fife I would guess that following that logic we shouldn’t pray for anything or anybody because God already knows what we/they need (and everything else besides). Perhaps it’s only from our non-eternal perspective that everything is decided when someone dies. God’s perspective might be different. It is, after all, a little arrogant of us to assume that we know God has already decided someone’s fate. Is perhaps praying is more building a relationship with God than reciting a list of things… Read more »
This is one of those fascinating debates where I find myself agreeing with everyone, even those who disagree with each other. I agree with Jeremy that we need to be guided profoundly by the needs and wishes of the family; I also agree with Kelvin in his original contention (and expanded in comments on his website) that there is a core part of our offering to those families that should be held to if at all possible. I agree that many, perhaps most, Celebrants perform a wonderful service, and given the availability of that option, I find it a real… Read more »
Jeremy, I note that you don’t put the words “facile purveyors of false cheerfulness” in inverted commas? Why? because that is a gross misrepresentation of what I was expressing. I wrote nothing about “cheerfulness” nor indeed sadness in the contrast I was making between the life that is past and the absence of future hope.
Fr. Andrew, you make a good point about our non-eternal perspective and God already knowing the outcome. I can see how that would work in praying for the dead. However, we are still inside time, even though God and the deceased are not. For those who have died, time is now over; and all the decisions, attitudes and actions which might influence their eternal destiny already made, For that reason I would still prefer not to pray for the dead. When working in churches with a tradition of praying for the dead, I have always introduced the prayers with something… Read more »
Yes Janet, for the departed time is now over, though not for God because he has never been subject to it. It is him to whom we are praying. There must surely be a sense that though we are bound and limited, we are not praying to someone who is so restricted. Time ending is not the same as eternity. And I’m not sure I could confidently say that a person’s eternal destiny is decided precisely at the point of their death. When Lazarus died the first time, had time ended for him and judgement come? Or the son of… Read more »
Just popping my polemical hat on, I might add that if one thinks praying for the dead is ineffective, the inexorable logical conclusion is that all prayer is.
I often commend the departed to God’s gracious keeping….sometimes adding that in them His will may be fulfilled…and that we join out prayers with the prayers of the Saints and all God’s people living and departed….don’t think there is anything un C of E in that.
Fr. Andrew, I can see your point, but personally I wouldn’t be comfortable with it. God has placed us within time, for this life, and I see it as my calling to pray of those who are also within time. There’s more than enough of that to keep me occupied! I’m reminded of G.K. Chesterton’s comment that limitations are necessary, and without them we couldn’t create poetry (he put it so much better than that, of course). However I do often think of the departed with gratitude (or concern) while consciously spending time with God (again, I’ve put that very… Read more »
Meant of course UN Church of England….
[Ed: this has now been corrected in the earlier comment]