Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Saturday, March 25, 2006

On Lutheran funerals and other rituals

I am including here parts of note from Anni about the Lutheran funeral service.

"There is something reassuring about those kinds of formal rituals, I
find. But then the Lutheran funeral is always the same, always very
formal, everybody dressed in black, the music consists of hymns only

"It is about participating (the dust to dust bit), isn't it? That is the
bit I remember from the funerals in my childhood - first the priest
takes his little shovel, and drops some earth on the coffin, three
times. The Finnish translation is slightly more concrete, it goes "From
Earth you have come, to Earth shall you again return. Jesus Christ the
Saviour will wake you up on the last of days."

And then the family and friends do the same thing after him, one by one."

Anni added this note: "I remember my shock when I attended my first Anglican funeral service in Sydney a few years back, and there were people dressed in pink, and they played Dean Martin when the coffin was carried out from the church. I just wasn't used to that sort of thing and kept thinking how shocked my Mum would have been!"
My family didn't go that far. We stuck with recognised hymns, but rather than playing a dirge, we finished with the Schubert "Ave Maria". I accept that, strictly speaking, it is not a natural fit with the liturgy. But, it left everybody feeling pretty calm, and uplifted.

Someone suggested "Amazing Grace", but I just asked: "Have you ever listened to the words"?
Apparently it was sung at the funeral of Ronald Regan. I say no more!

Incidentally, I vividly remember a funeral of a friend, who was an avid "Aussie Rules" supporter. His family sent him off to the sounds of "Up there Cazaly". This song became the unofficial anthem of Aussie Rules Football. But the lyrics are strangely appropriate, when you examine the chorus:

"Up there Cazaly, in there and fight

Out there and at 'em, show 'em your might

<>Up there Cazaly, don't let 'em in

Fly like an angel, you're out there to win

"Up there Cazaly, you're out there to win

In there and at 'em, don't let 'em in

Up there Cazaly, show 'em you're high

Fight like the devil, the crowd's on your side"

I'm sure that would have scandalised Anni's Mum.

But I knew the guy concerned, and his family, and it went over well!


Miss Eagle said...

My husband died sixteen years ago of a brain tumour and one of the first symptoms was the scrambling of his language. This together with the fact that he also had very little short term memory made communications very difficult. I tried to discuss with him funeral arrangements. What did he want? If he didn't have any ideas, I did, His words were "No church boxes". I knew what he meant. My husband was not a Christian. I am. You could have the Sally Army band with tamborines & ribbons at mine. But I believe that death should reflect the life that was lived. As well, we had always talked about simplicity in the funeral service - no silver handles on the coffin or haunting was threatened. So this is what we, who were left behind, did. I remembered when my father died how we said we wished we could have gone straight from the hospital to the funeral instead of waiting for long distance relatives to turn up. So I warned people of what would happen. The funeral was for immediate family only - not uncles, aunts and cousins. His family was large. It would happen quickly and many of them would not get there in time. He died at 9pm on a Sunday night and was buried at 4pm the next day with great simplicity at the graveside. I think the funeral director was a bit surprised. Minister- no. Flowers - we are bringing our own from our garden. At the graveside, we placed a basket of flowers picked with love and thoughtfulness from our garden. Set among the flowers was a family photograph and hanging from the handle of the basket was a set of keys from his beloved Ford Fairlane. We had a period of silence and then the funeral director was given the nod to lower the coffin. The two mothers were too upset to come. We few at the graveside adjourned to a favourite waterhole for a drink. A few days later was the memorial service where everyone could turn up. We lived on an acre of ground so there was plenty of room for a huge marquee. Pride of place was his antique chess table, his favourite painting, and an arrangement of beautiful red carnations from the union. A friend who is a minister of religion was Master of Ceremonies. I knew my husband wouldn't object to Jim doing this. My sister-in-law wrote about his life before me and her daughter read that. I wrote about his life since and my daughter red that. Then there was an opportunity for others to contribute their thoughts. My son opened and closed with the first and last verse of his favourite poem. The one song had meaning for us - Bette Midler's "The Wind beneath my wings". As that played I had young friends, dressed in their black and white waiters' gear, emerge with silver trays of sherry for everyone - then the wake began in the best Irish tradition. Non-religious people found this refreshing. People spoke of going to Christian funeral services which did not reflect the life of the person. This was an alternative - and so many people are finding their own alternative these days - which was simple, celebratory, reflective, and reverent. These are the qualities, I believe, that we all try to achieve as we say farewell to those we love.

Andy said...

I always think that the Funeral Sentences are where Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer comes into its own. Anni's reference to "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust" is part of that, of course. The sentences are stark yet very beautiful, I think. And not much mention of God, either: "In the midst of life we are in death"; "Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live and is full of misery. He cometh up and is cut down like a flower." I might have the odd word wrong there, I haven't looked them up. When you've done with Berlioz and Mozart, try Purcell's settings of the Funeral Sentences. Sorry about your mum, Denis.

Denis Wilson said...

Welcome comments indeed.
Andy, I may need to consult the local "lending library" to find the Purcell.
I didn't realise that the Book of Common prayer was written by Cranmer. It contains some wonderful language, I agree. No doubt the reason it has continued to be used, and loved, for so long.

Miss Eagle, I have occasionally visited your blog, but not for some time. Welcome. My father wanted a religious service, in keeping with his (and Mum's) traditions. But he also said: "Keep it simple". So we followed the liturgy of his choice, but we balanced that with simple readings, simple prayers, and simple hymns.

The rituals of funerals are terribly important, psychologically, or at least "getting it right" is. We have all been to awful funerals, I am sure. The interesting point for me, is that you remember the details of your husband's funeral and commemoration so clearly, after 16 years. Obviously you did it right. Well done.

Andy said...

Have finally got around to checking the Funeral Sentences, I feel I should quickly add that while I was correct, give or take a comma or two, about the words I quoted, I appear to have been rather selective about them. The lines I quoted cerainly do not mention God, but ALL of the other lines in the Sentences do! And there was me thinking that this bit of the Prayer Book was like Song of Songs, which is the one book of the Bible where you'll find no mention of God at all. It's my favourite book, too, though not only for this reason.

Denis Wilson said...

Andy, it is selective memory at work, I suspect. However, if it works for you, then even Cranmer would be satisfied, I trust. After all we are here debating the fine points of something written between 1544 and 1552, according to Wikipedia. Not a bad effort.

He was a very "flexible" Archbishop (on matters theological), notably regarding the celibacy for the clergy, which he endorsed, while quietly maintaining his relationship with his German wife. At the end, he decided to take a stand and denounced the Pope, when it was apparently obvious that Mary was going to execute him anyway. I like his style in going out with a flurry of invective, instead of reading the prepared speech "recanting his heresy". So, in the end he did stand firm on one principle. I hope that Mary's Papists allowed him a "dust to dust" ritual. He deserved it, for his nearly immortal prose. Denis