Since the celebration of the funeral bring together family and friends who are experiencing deep grief, the ritual itself should minister to these people. Therefore, the ritual should be attentive to all the senses; be marked by beauty, dignity, and reverence; and with simplicity invite the participation of the assembly.
The Word of God ministers to the grieving as it proclaims the paschal mystery and comforts the sorrowful. Although nonbiblical readings should not replace Scripture, they can be used in addition to biblical readings. John Donne’s sonnet “Death Be Not Proud” and Anne Sexton’s “Awful Rowing Toward God” are two examples of religious poetry suitable for a funeral. The Psalms are particularly responsive to the needs and moods of the community, expressing the depths of grief as well as the heights of praise. These ancient songs cut through time and culture to touch the core of human longing. Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd”) is often prayed or sung at funerals because of its comforting pastoral motif.
Because of its power to evoke strong feelings, music has an important place in all funerals. Songs can console and uplift the mourners by their references to the paschal character of Christian death and the community’s share in Christ’s victory.
There is also a place for reverent silence in the funeral rites which can evoke awe as the community stands in the face of the mystery of death.
Other Christian symbols can be used effectively, although local custom will dictate the degree to which each speaks in the funeral rites:
Processions, with pallbearers carrying the coffin, have a significance as the family and friends of the deceased go from one ritual to the next, from funeral home to the place of burial. They recall not only early Christian funerals, but also the journey that is human life and the Christian pilgrimage to the heavenly Jerusalem.