18.6 Funerals and Other Services at a Time of Death
Church leaders and members seek to make the services associated with a person’s death a dignified, solemn, and spiritual experience for all who participate. These services are generally held under the direction of the bishop.
Services for people who die vary greatly around the world according to religion, culture, tradition, and legal requirements. Even services for Church members vary in different areas of the world. This section sets forth general principles that leaders should follow in funerals or other services for deceased members, regardless of tradition or culture. It also provides guidelines for determining which local traditions associated with death and mourning are appropriate to participate in and which are not.
Death and Mourning
Death is an essential part of Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation (see 2 Nephi 9:6). Each person must experience death in order to receive a perfected, resurrected body. Teaching and testifying about the plan of salvation, particularly the Savior’s Atonement and Resurrection, is an essential purpose of the services associated with a Church member’s death.
Death brings a need to comfort the living. As disciples of Jesus Christ, Church leaders and members “mourn with those that mourn … and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:9).
In many cultures, mortician services, viewings of the body, and funerals are customary to help comfort the living and pay respectful tribute to the deceased. Where more appropriate culturally, most of these purposes could be accomplished in a family gathering, a graveside service, or another dignified and solemn setting.
Many religions and cultures have rituals, ordinances, and customs associated with death and mourning for the dead. The restored gospel of Jesus Christ has no such rituals or ordinances. Church leaders should not incorporate rituals of other religions or groups into Church services for deceased members.
Church members should show respect for the rituals and practices of other religions. However, members are counseled not to join in rituals, practices, or traditions that compromise their ability to keep the commandments or to live the principles of the restored gospel.
In connection with mourning and services for people who die, members are counseled to avoid practices or traditions that are so expensive or prolonged that they impose a hardship on the living or impair them from proceeding with their lives. Such practices include expecting excessive travel, wearing special clothing for mourning, making elaborate public announcements, paying money to the family, holding elaborate and prolonged feasts at the funeral, and holding excessive commemorative or anniversary celebrations after the funeral.
Most governments have legal requirements that regulate what occurs when a person dies. Church leaders and members should be aware of these requirements and follow them.
Planning and Assistance
When a member dies, the bishop visits the family to comfort them and offer assistance from the ward. He may ask his counselors to accompany him. The bishop offers help in notifying relatives, friends, and associates of the death. As appropriate, he also offers help in planning the funeral service, preparing a suitable obituary, and notifying newspapers of the death. If there will be a viewing of the body before the funeral service, the obituary should include the times it will begin and end.
The bishop may offer to help make mortuary and cemetery arrangements according to local laws and customs. As needed, he may offer help from the ward in providing local transportation for the family.
The bishop notifies the Melchizedek Priesthood leader who is responsible for the family so he and other brethren, including home teachers, can assist the bereaved family. Such assistance may include dressing the body of a deceased male for burial, safeguarding the home during the funeral, and providing other support (see 7.10.2).
The bishop also notifies the Relief Society president so she and other sisters, including visiting teachers, can assist the family. Such assistance may include dressing the body of a deceased female for burial, helping with flowers, tending small children, safeguarding the home during the funeral, and preparing meals (see 9.10.3).
Viewings (Where Customary)
If a viewing of the body of the deceased is held just prior to the funeral, the bishop should conclude it at least 20 minutes before the funeral begins. After the viewing, a family prayer may be offered if the family desires. This prayer should conclude before the funeral is scheduled to begin so it does not impose on the time of the congregation assembled in the chapel. The casket should be closed before it is moved to the chapel for the funeral service.
Leaders should open the meetinghouse for funeral directors at least one hour before the scheduled times for the viewing and funeral.
If a funeral for a member is held in a Church building, the bishop conducts it. If a funeral is held in a home, at a mortuary, or at the graveside, the family may ask the bishop to conduct it. A bishop’s counselor may conduct if the bishop is unable to attend.
A funeral conducted by the bishop, whether in a Church building or another location, is a Church meeting and a religious service. It should be a spiritual occasion in addition to a family gathering. The bishop urges members to maintain a spirit of reverence, dignity, and solemnity during a funeral service and at gatherings connected with the service.
When a bishop conducts a funeral, he or one of his counselors oversees the planning of the service. He considers the wishes of the family, but he ensures that the funeral is simple and dignified, with music and brief addresses and sermons centered on the gospel, including the comfort afforded by the Savior’s Atonement and Resurrection. Members of the family should not feel that they are required to speak or otherwise participate in the service.
A member of the stake presidency, an Area Seventy, or a General Authority presides at funeral services he attends. The person who is conducting consults him in advance and recognizes him during the service. The presiding officer should be extended the opportunity to offer closing remarks if he desires.
Video recordings and computer or other electronic presentations should not be used as part of a funeral service. Nor should the service be broadcast on the Internet or in any other way.
Funerals should start on time. As a matter of courtesy to those who attend, services should not be too long. Funerals that last more than one and one-half hours place an undue burden on those attending and participating.
Funerals provide an important opportunity to teach the gospel and testify of the plan of salvation. They also provide an opportunity to pay tribute to the deceased. However, such tributes should not dominate a funeral service. Having large numbers of people share tributes or memories can make a funeral too long and may be inappropriate for a Church service. If family members want an extended time to share such memories, they may consider doing so in a special family gathering, separate from the funeral service.
Funeral services are not normally held on Sunday.
Music for funerals might include prelude music, an opening hymn, special musical selections, a closing hymn, and postlude music. Simple hymns and other songs with gospel messages are most appropriate for these occasions. Opening and closing hymns are usually sung by the congregation.
Burial or Cremation
Where possible, deceased members who were endowed should be buried in temple clothing. Where cultural traditions or burial practices make this inappropriate or difficult, the clothing may be folded and placed next to the body in the casket. Additional instructions on temple burial clothing and dressing the dead are provided in 7.10.2, 9.10.3, and Handbook 1, 3.4.9.
If possible, at least one member of the bishopric accompanies the cortege to the cemetery. If the grave will be dedicated, he consults with the family and asks a Melchizedek Priesthood holder to do so according to the instructions in 20.9. If the family prefers, a graveside prayer rather than a dedicatory prayer may be offered.
The Church does not normally encourage cremation. However, if the body of an endowed member is being cremated, it should be dressed in temple clothing if possible. For information about dedicating the place where the ashes are kept, see 20.9.
Church members who conduct or take part in funeral services should not accept fees or contributions, whether the service is for a member or a nonmember.
In some cases, bishops can arrange with morticians to provide respectable burial services at cost when expenses are paid from fast-offering funds.
Funeral Services for Nonmembers
Bishops may offer the use of Church meetinghouses for the funeral services of nonmembers. Such services generally may be held in the manner prescribed by the deceased person’s church. However, rituals of other churches or of outside organizations may not be performed in a Church meetinghouse. If the family desires, the service may be conducted by a clergyman of the person’s church, provided it is dignified and appropriate.