“The burial of a Christian is an occasion of both sorrow and joy” and “The Book of Common Prayer has always admonished Christians to be mindful of their mortality” (BCP 246).  Thus the minister should give due consideration to the older custom of black vestments for the Burial Rite instead of the modern practice of white vestments.  Both carry appropriate symbolism for the occasion and both can be misconstrued, but the recommendation is to prefer black for funerals over white.

Consider this article for more: https://leorningcniht.wordpress.com/2016/02/26/funeral-colors-black-or-white/

When possible, the Burial service should be prepared by the minister with the person who is dying, such that when the time of death comes the funeral is already planned, reducing stress and contention among other members of the family.

The Reception of the Body

In many instances this rite will be used right before the Burial Service, the body being delivered to the church a short time before the funeral begins.  As the rubric indicates, these prayers are to be said by the officiant “at the door of the church” – traditionally in the narthex.

At the conclusion of the prayers, the casket is covered in a pall – a simple white linen cloth.  This should also be done for urns; the point is that the simplicity or elegance of the casket is covered up with a white cloth to show the equality of rich and poor in death.

Procession of the Body

The anthems on BCP 249-250 are best read in full by the priest officiating the Burial rite, leading a slow and solemn procession into the place of worship, the casket or urn being carried behind.  Other hymns, psalms, or anthems are permitted in the rubrics but the anthems provided are the most appropriate words to say.  If a particularly musical Burial service is desired, a hymn or other appropriate song may follow.  If a particularly short Burial service is desired, the anthems can be reduced to the traditional material: paragraphs 1, 2, and 4.

After the procession is ended and the casket or urn is placed on a table in the front of the worship space, the officiant “may greet the Congregation and briefly introduce the purpose of Christian Burial.”  This is primarily a pastoral and catechetical need – many Christians have become accustomed to the non-religious “celebration of life” or “memorial service” instead of a funeral or burial, and need to be drawn back into the biblical conception of mourning the departed and expressing the Christian hope.  The officiant is advised, if saying anything at this point, to make use of the explanatory texts on BCP 246 and 248.

A eulogy, speaking of the life of the deceased, is commonly expected, but does not properly belong to a Burial service.  Rather, it is best to reserve the personal memorials for the wake or post-funeral gatherings.  But if a eulogy is unavoidable, it is at this point in the liturgy that a short eulogy may be given, introducing the congregation to the departed one last time.

The Collect and Lessons

This part of the liturgy works the same as in the rite of Holy Matrimony, copying the Communion liturgy but without the same requirements.  The Collect is chosen according to the age of the deceased; a teenager may be buried either as an adult or a child, as the minister and family find appropriate.  The following collect should normally be used.

The 1662 Prayer Book offers Psalms 39 and 90 to choose from, followed by 1 Corinthians 15:20-58.  The 1928 Prayer Book adds Psalms 27, 46, 121, and 130 to the list of Psalm options, and Romans 8:14-39 or John 14:1-6 as alternatives to 1 Corinthians 15.  These lessons should be given first consideration, though the family and minister should still feel free to make use of any of the selections offered in the Prayer Book, taking care to follow the order directed:

  1. Old Testament or Apocrypha
  2. Psalm
  3. Epistle or Revelation
  4. Psalm
  5. Gospel

As in other rites, a Gospel lesson must be included if Holy Communion is to follow.

For the burial of a child, the lessons ought to be Lamentations 3:22-26, 31-33, Psalm 23, 1 John 3:1-2, and John 6:37-40.

The Sermon

The preacher should take care to preach on the Scripture lesson(s), not eulogize the departed.  At this moment, the congregation needs to hear the Gospel of repentance and hope more than they need to reminisce about the departed.

The Apostles’ Creed

Even if Holy Communion is to follow, this one should be said, not the Nicene Creed.  The Apostles’ Creed has the explicit line of hope “the resurrection of the body,” and also serves as a hat tip to the Baptismal rites, bookending a life with this Symbol of the Faith.

The Prayers

If Holy Communion is not included, the Burial Rite proceeds with

  • The Lord’s Prayer
  • The Prayers of the People concluding with the prayer on BCP 255
  • The Commendation (BCP 256, see below)

The Prayers of the People may be replaced with “other appropriate prayers.”  This should not be taken as a license to replace with it extemporaneous prayer, but an authorization of previous Prayer Book material or the use of the Additional Prayers on BCP 263-265.  The classical Prayer Books moved straight from the lesson to the Committal at the graveside because historically the cemetery would be right outside in the churchyard.  This being a rarity today, the Burial service benefits from further prayer before concluding, especially as the Committal at the gravesite is often more sparsely attended.

At the Eucharist

Care should be taken, in funeral planning, whether to include Communion or not.  Like in the case of weddings, there may be many participants who do are not Christians or who do not adhere to Anglican teaching regarding the Sacrament.  The celebration of Holy Communion may cause more division than is desirable.  It should be noted that even the traditional Burial rite did not include it.

When Holy Communion is included, the Apostles’ Creed is followed by the Prayers of the People on BCP 253-255 (which should not be edited in this case), and then the Peace and the Offertory.  Like in the case of the Baptism and Wedding liturgies, there is not obvious place to add the customary Confession and Absolution.  The rubrics here don’t technically permit a Confession and Absolution between the Prayers and the Peace, though such a parallel to the Communion service would likely be permitted if the Bishop were to be consulted.  Using the rubrics for the 1662 Order, however, the following could be done:

  • The Prayers of the People
  • The Peace
  • The Offertory (with hymn or anthem if desired)
  • The Confession and Absolution of Sin
  • The Sursum Corda through The Ministration of Communion (taking care to use the Preface of Burial on BCP 156)
  • The Post Communion Prayer on BCP 255
  • The Commendation

The Commendation

In rare cases where neither body nor ashes are present for the Burial rite, the commendation is omitted and the liturgy moves straight to the Blessing and Dismissal (at the bottom of BCP 256).

The Commendation is held with the officiant and “other ministers” at the body.  This typically includes members of the family who were readers for various lessons and prayers, pall-bearers, or other roles in the liturgy.  Regardless of who has gathered at the front of the worship space by the body, the whole congregation joins in the responses.

The Anthem at the procession was not included in the classical Prayer Books because the expectation was that the congregation would continue outside for the Committal immediately.  Those two rites now normally separated, the set of anthems on BCP 257 are provided to bring the funeral to a fitting close.  Like the anthem at the procession, this should not normally be replaced by another hymn or canticle unless there is special reason to do so.

The Blessing and Dismissal

No text for the blessing is provided here, but the following has been offered in previous Prayer Books:

The God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you, and remain with you always.  Amen.

The Dismissal (and the Commendation) includes “alleluia” even during the season of Lent.

The Committal

The Anthem

The first set of anthems on BCP 260 are the traditional words upon arrival at the gravesite, and are to be preferred over the second set.  The roughly penitential tone of the traditional anthems may chafe with modern sensibilities and burial expectations, yet play an important role in the overall Burial tradition of the Church.  In the classical Prayer Books, the part of the Burial service in the church was more focused on the promise of the resurrection of the dead, and the second half at the gravesite was somewhat more sober about the inevitability of physical death.

The officiant should take care to strike a similar balance between hope and mourning over the course of the Burial and Committal.

The Blessing of the Grave

This blessing is only to be used by a Priest or Bishop.  Many graveyards have already been consecrated, rendering the blessing of the individual grave unnecessary.

The Committal

The two sets of words from the officiant while casting earth upon the coffin are similar, both containing the famous “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” phrase.  From the classical Prayer Books, the traditional use of these two choices are:

  • The first statement “In sure and certain hope…” is to be used for the burial of children.
  • The second statement “Forasmuch as it has pleased Almighty God” is to be used for the burial of adults.

The Lesson and Homily

The classical Prayer Books included the reading or singing of Revelation 14:13 immediately before the Kyrie and Lord’s Prayer.  Thus the Additional Directions permit a lesson from the Burial service and a brief homily to be added to the Committal if it is long delayed from the time of the Burial.  This is especially important to consider if many of the people attending the Committal were not present for the funeral, lacking the ministry of the church at that time.

The Prayers

The dialogue and Lord’s Prayer are followed by one set prayer and up to eight Additional Prayers.  The following notes may help the officiant choose an appropriate set of prayers.

  1. O God, the King of saints” bears thematic similarities to a prayer from the 1928 Prayer Book.
  2. Lord Jesus Christ, by your death” is drawn from the 1928 Prayer Book and Evening Prayer.
  3. Father of all, we pray to you for those we love” evokes the prayers of the Vigil.
  4. Merciful God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” was appointed in the 1662 Prayer Book as the second prayer before the Blessing.
  5. Grant, O Lord, to all who are bereaved” is a theologically rich comfort for those in mourning.
  6. Almighty God, Father of mercies” is a simpler comfort for those in mourning, from the 1928 Burial of a Child.
  7. O God, whose days are without end” is a robust prayer for our awareness of our own mortality.
  8. O Ruler of the universe, Lord God” is specifically for a veteran of the armed forces.

The Blessing and Dismissal

The blessing given here is the traditional Prayer Book blessing, and ought to be said, though only by the Priest or Bishop.

The Dismissal is a modern addition, but one that many people expect; the Priest or Bishop should consider the customs of those gathered before using or omitting it.  If a Deacon or lay person is officiating the Committal, the Dismissal ought to be used, in lieu of the Blessing.