After a death, the mourners need comfort and spiritual direction. This rite is a pastoral and liturgical provision for that need. As the introductory rubric on BCP 243 explains, this can be used in a church as a prelude to the Burial Service, at a funeral home during a Wake, or even at a house, as occasion requires.
While the priest is the normal officiant for this rite, it may also be led by a deacon or licensed lay minister.
There may be concern about the wording of this statement: “Let us pray, then, for our brother/sister that he/she may rest from his labors and enter into God’s eternal Sabbath rest.” The idea here is not that the deceased is in a state of limbo, or purgatory, unable to rest until our prayers carry them to heaven. First of all, the prayer that the deceased “may rest” is in the present tense: it is a prayer for God’s present will, and thus akin to the majority of other liturgical prayers which ask God to accomplish that which he has already promised to do. Thus it is also very much a prayer for our own comfort and assurance. The second part, that the deceased may “enter into God’s eternal Sabbath rest”, is a pointer towards eternal life in the resurrection, for which even the sleep of death is only a stop on the way.
Psalm 23, especially in its KJV form, is a familiar favorite at times of death. But the minister should keep in mind the larger scope of ministry: if Psalm 23 is planned for the Burial service then Psalm 121 should be used here instead. If another psalm is desired by the family, the minister should give it due consideration; there many psalms that express grief and trust in God.
If at all possible, the people should read the Psalm also, either in unison with the minister or responsively. The Gloria Patri is not necessary at the end.
The Burial rite is where the primary Scripture lessons to teach and comfort those who mourn, but even a brief vigil should not be bereft of the Word of God. As with the Psalm, the minister should choose a text that is different from the lessons at the upcoming Burial, to provide those who mourn with a wider scope of biblical instruction and comfort.
The rubric also notes that more than one Lesson may be read. If neither 1 Thessalonians 4:13-15 nor John 14:2-3 are appointed for the Burial Rite, the minister should read both here.
Since this is a liturgy of particular devotion rather than a formal Office, the lesson does not need an introduction or a concluding statement.
Unless there is special cause to omit one, the minister should read both collects on BCP 244.
As the rubrics suggest, the Litany at the Time of Death may be used. Unless there is a special need for brevity, that litany ought to be used here. This can be implemented in two ways, at the minister’s discretion:
- The Two Collects (BCP 244)
- Litany (from BCP 237 through “That it may please you to raise him up at the last day”)
- The Lord’s Prayer without introduction (BCP 244)
- Litany (from BCP 237 through all of BCP 239)
- “Let us pray.”
- The Two Collects (BCP 244)
Two benedictions close this rite: one for the worshipers (from Romans 15:13) and one for the deceased.