Obviously, in some Anglican circles one runs very quickly into the ongoing reformation disputes over the efficacy and the validity of prayers for the dead; we won't resolve that issue, yet whatever one's tradition, the increasing absence of a 'God-centred' funeral liturgy is surely another sign of the Christian faith's fading influence on the lives of many, not only just 'occasional' worshippers but including some of those who would number themselves as committed Christian believers. The work of catechesis is never ended, and some direct teaching on this subject from the pulpit is absolutely essential. Do we as clergy do enough to encourage the saying of funeral masses, for example? Do we promote in the parishes the work of the Guild of All Souls?
It is possible, of course, to combine in a sensitive way both the need (from the perspective of bereaved families) for some kind of public recognition of the lives of those who have died with a clear proclamation of the hope that looks beyond death and judgement to eternal life. What worries me, is that all too often, we tend now to err on the side of a mere recitation of the significant events of a past life rather than to offer needed prayers for the departed soul. - Not only, then, 'what is a funeral for,' but for whom is it really meant?
"...The usual answer given is that a funeral is a ceremony (and this can cover non-religious funerals too) for the dignified disposal of the body of the deceased. It goes further: a funeral is an occasion to mark the end of a life, allowing for reflection and thought. After all, death is a major event in all our lives, or ought to be. For a Christian, a funeral would be a moment for prayer, and for a Catholic, a moment of prayer for the repose of the deceased’s soul.
What bewilders me about modern funerals is the concept of “paying one’s respects”. I know what this means, but I simply do not understand it. Allied to this is the idea of making a funeral into “the celebration of the life of X”. Again, I am at a loss to understand this. When I die, as die I must, I do not want my life celebrated, and I want no eulogies; I just want prayer, and more prayer. Neither do I want people to pay their respects – at least not to me; I would like them to show respect for God, however, by behaving properly in church.
In fact a funeral should be, horrid phrase, God-centred, just like any other act of worship. A non-religious funeral can hardly be that, but if it is to be existentially meaningful it should, to my mind, involve a deep long look into the abyss of nothingness that is death: it should honestly face up to the reality of personal extinction, if that is what the non-religious believe. It should not resemble an episode of ‘This is Your Life”..."