It is important to understand that many of the funeral and embalming practices that have become common currency among Americans at large are totally at odds with Christian teaching. For this reason, Episcopalians should call their priest before the funeral director is called (ideally, by the priest). It is also assumed that in requesting the services of a priest of the Episcopal Church, families accept the discipline and worship of the church in which the priest is ordained to serve.

In the Episcopal Church, a funeral is primarily an act of worship, and the Book of Common Prayer Book states that “baptized Christians are properly buried from the church” (i.e. not from funeral establishments). Episcopalians should also bear in mind that the Prayer Book unequivocally states, “The coffin is to be closed before the service, and it remains closed thereafter.” The three possibilities concerning the body and the funeral liturgy: first and best, to have the funeral with the uncremated body present; second, to have the funeral with the cremated remains present; third,  a memorial service may be held with neither the body nor the ashes present.

The Body: A Christian View of Burial

While the corpse ought to be handled reverently, the resurrection of the body connotes transformation and new creation: efforts to preserve and enhance the mortal body, such as are provided by morticians, are unnecessary for Christians-who may also, and quite properly, opt for cremation. “Viewings” in the funeral home, moreover, are neither necessary nor required. Accordingly, Christians ought to choose simple burial and should hold vigils (“wakes”) in the church.