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Bible Dictionaries

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary

Funeral, Rites

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Ceremonies accompanying the interment or burial of any person. The first people who seemed to have paid any attention to their dead were the Egyptians. They took great care in embalming their bodies and building proper repositories for them. This gave birth to those wonders of the world, the Egyptian pyramids. On the death of any person among them, the parents and friends put on mournful habits, and abstained from all banquets and entertainments. This mourning lasted from forty to seventy days, during which time they embalmed the body. Before the dead were allowed to be deposited in the tomb, they underwent a solemn judgment. If any one stepped forth, accused them, and proved that the deceased had led an evil life, the judges pronounced sentence, and the body was precluded from burial. Even their sovereigns underwent this judicature; and Diodorus Siculus asserts, that many kings had been deprived of the honours of burial, and that the terrors of such a fate had a salutary influence on the virtue of their kings. The funeral rites among the Hebrews were solemn and magnificent. The relations and friends rent their clothes; and it was usual to bend the dead person's thumb into the hand, and fasten it in that posture with a string, because the thumb then having the figure of the name of God, they thought the devil would not approach it. They made a funeral oration at the grave, after which they prayed; then turning the fear of the deceased towards heaven, they said, "Go in peace." The Greeks used to put a piece of money in the mouth of the deceased, which was thought to be the fare over the infernal river: they abstained from banquets; tore, cut, or shaved their hair: sometimes throwing themselves on the ground, and rolling in the dust; beating their breasts, and even tearing their flesh with their nails. The funeral rites among the Romans were very numerous.

They kept the deceased seven days, and washed him every day with hot water, and sometimes with oil, if possibly he might be revived, in case he were only in a slumber; and every now and then his friends, meeting, made a horrible shout with the same view: but if they found he did not revive, he was dressed and embalmed with a performance of a variety of singular ceremonies, and at last brought to the funeral pile, and burnt: after which his ashes were gathered, inclosed in an urn, and deposited in the sepulchre or tomb. The ancient Christians testified their abhorrence of the pagan custom of burning their dead, and always deposited the body entire in the ground; and it was usual to bestow the honour of embalming upon the martyrs, at least , if not upon others. They prepared the body for burial by washing it with water, and dressing it in a funeral attire. This was performed by near relations, or persons of such dignity as the circumstances of the deceased required. Psalmody, or singing of psalms, was the great ceremony used in all funeral processions among the ancient Christians.

In the Romish church, when a person is dead, they wash the body, and put a crucifix in his hand. At the feet stands a vessel of holy water, and a sprinkler, that they who come in may sprinkle both themselves and the deceased. In the mean time some priest stands by the corpse, and prays for the deceased till it is laid in the earth. In the funeral procession the exorcist walks first, carrying the holy water; next the cross bearer; afterwards the rest of the clergy; and, last of all, the officiating priest. They all sing the miserere, and some other psalms; and at the end of each psalm a requiem. It is said, that the faces of deceased laymen must be turned towards the altar when they are placed in the church, and those of the clergy towards the people. The corpse is placed in the church, surrounded with lighted tapers. After the office for the dead, mass is said; then the officiating priest sprinkles the corpse thrice with holy water, and as often throws incense on it. The body being laid in the grave, the friends and the relations of the deceased sprinkle the grave with holy water. The funeral ceremonies of the Greek church are much the same with those of the Latin. It needs only to be observed, that, after the funeral service, they kiss the crucifix, and salute the mouth and forehead of the deceased; after which, each of the company eats a bit of bread, and drinks a glass of wine in the church, wishing the soul a good repose, and the afflicted family all consolations. Bingham's Antiqu. b. 2. Enc. Brit.: Buxtorf's Synag. p. 502.

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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Funeral, Rites'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. 1802.

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