Catholics and Lutherans may not always be in agreement about what happens in the afterlife, but both celebrate the life of a church member who has died by holding a funeral service. The funeral liturgy for both Catholics and Lutherans contains Scripture readings, music, prayers, a homily or brief sermon from a clergy member and words of remembrance about the deceased church member. Catholics and Lutherans give funerals both at the church and in funeral homes.
Beliefs About Afterlife
Historically, there has been a disagreement among Catholics and Lutherans about what occurs after a person dies. Catholics have traditionally believed in three possibilities: heaven, purgatory and hell, while Lutherans have rejected the notion of purgatory. Catholics believe that few souls are so pure as to go directly to heaven; therefore, they are sent to purgatory, an intermediate location where the soul is purged and eventually sent to heaven. Lutherans and Catholics both agree that sinful souls are sent to hell, but some more liberal Lutherans view hell as a separation from God, rather than a literal place.
Catholic funerals have three parts: the wake, the funeral liturgy and the rite of committal. The vigil or wake is presided over by a priest, deacon or layperson and consists of readings from scripture, songs, psalms and intercessions. The rosary is often said at the wake. A brief homily or reflection is also delivered at the vigil. Family and friends can also tell stories about the deceased. The funeral liturgy is the main liturgical celebration for the deceased' s life. The deceased's body, which is in a casket, is sprinkled with holy water and has a pall placed upon it to recall the deceased person's baptism. The body is carried toward the altar and placed near the Easter candle for the Mass. A homily is delivered regarding the death and resurrection of Christ. After Communion, a prayer of commendation is spoken, offering the body to God. A farewell song is sung to affirm hope in eternal life. The body is carried to the burial place for the rite of committal. Scriptural verses are read, the prayer of committal is offered together with intercessions, the Lord's Prayer and a blessing. A song is sung and the body is lowered into a grave, placed in a tomb or sent to a crematorium.
Lutherans funerals do not have a prescribed formula for the liturgy. Nevertheless, the Church encourages celebration of funerals with the body of the deceased, whenever possible. The body is placed in a casket, which remains closed throughout the liturgy, and a candle is lit nearby to signify the death and resurrection with Christ. A white cloth, called a pall, is placed over the casket to recall the white garment of holy baptism. During the funeral, the hope of resurrection is to be the central message because the service is viewed by the Church as worship to God through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Lutheran liturgy also provides for the celebration of Holy Communion with the participants of a funeral.
Other Funeral Traditions
Lutherans do not view the body of the deceased or hold vigil in the mortuary, funeral home or the family home. Catholics and Lutherans modify funeral practices for cremations, but prefer the body to be present at the funeral service. Lutherans also recognize other forms of disposal of the corpse, including commendation to the sea or donation to medical research. Both Catholics and Lutherans are flexible about where a funeral can be celebrated and allow the rites to be offered at funeral homes, in nursing home chapels and at churches.
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