More than 13 million followers, referred to as Mormons, belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Founded by Joseph Smith during the 19th Century, the religion tends to have conservative political and social beliefs, as members support traditional family values and oppose abortion and same-sex marriages. Although Mormon beliefs about the afterlife depart significantly from those of other Christians, LDS memorial services tend to be similar to many Christian funeral services.
Views on Death and the Afterlife
For Mormons, death is perceived as a necessary step in one's progression towards salvation. Death disembodies the spirit from the body, and in the first stage of the afterlife, the spirit either goes to paradise or a kind of limbo where the spirit is afflicted by shame and guilt. However, both groups suffer because their spirits have been separated from their bodies. According to the Book of Mormon, it is only after Jesus Christ's Second Coming that these spirits will be reunited with their bodies in one of the three levels of heaven. Although death is approached solemnly by Mormons, family members and loved ones commonly view it as a temporary, rather than a final, separation.
Before the memorial service, family members of the deceased commonly participate in a prayer service, which is frequently led by a family member. It is at this time when family members pay their last respects to the deceased. Viewings take place during this time, as the casket is left open; during the funeral service, caskets are usually closed.
Preparation of the Body
Although Mormons are encouraged to bury the dead, cremation is not explicitly banned by the church. For burial preparation, bodies are commonly embalmed. Female LDS members who have been endowed -- that is, they have successfully taken part in an initiation ceremony where convenants are made to the church -- are dressed in all-white temple garments, which include a slip and a long-sleeved, ankle-length dress, shoes, nylons and ritual temple clothing. Endowed male members are also customarily buried in their temple garments and in all-white attire: a long-sleeved shirt, tie, pants, socks and shoes.
Customarily, a Mormon memorial service takes place in a Latter-Day Saints chapel and is directed by a bishop. The service opens with a song, followed by an opening prayer. After the prayer, the bishop welcomes the deceased's family and loved ones and proceeds with talks, which frequently include a eulogy. During the memorial service, family members of the deceased LDS member are not required or obligated to talk. The funeral service then ends with a closing prayer. Traditionally, music is not played in the beginning or the end of services and is only played during the middle of the service. All music must also be approved by the bishop before the service. Before the deceased is buried, a male LDS church member of the Melchizedek Priesthood -- the greater of the two priesthoods in the LDS church -- dedicates the gravesite.
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