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Ecclesiological significance of grief – or forbidden feelings in the funeral

Kristín Þórunn @ 09.15 24/2/10

Kirkja og kista

A Christian who bids farewell to a deceased beloved one in a church funeral, is faced with an emotional dilemma. On the one hand death has surely left its mark and changed the life of those who are bereaved of their loved one: a cognitive fact that leads to an affective state. On the other hand the Christian message proclaimed in the funeral is that death‘s power has been broken by the risen Christ who is joined by the dead one in resurrection: an affective state, leading to a cognitively acknowledged fact?

How can these opposites of affection and cognition be met together in the context of the funeral? Will conflicting emotions be able to embrace each other, or are some feelings doomed forbidden? What is the significance of grief for the ecclesiology of the funeral?

By viewing the funeral liturgy as a church practice, it becomes both an object and a resource for ecclesiology.  The liturgy carries with it certain statements about the community that has gathered to commit the dead into God‘s hands. It is a community of mourners who have gathered. Grief is thus constitutive for the funeral communio.

How well is this fact reflected in the funeral liturgy? Are the emotions of grief, despare and sorrow honoured in the ritual – or are we only met by a comforted church who is in sure and certain hope of the resurrection and the coming life?  How can a griefing individual be incorporated into this community?

From a ritual studies perspective, a good funeral does a few things: it celebrates a life, comforts the bereaved and facilitates working through grief.  Luther‘s (from Bernard de Clairvaux) image of the church as God‘s carriage that carries the believer from this life to the other, is maybe helpful here. Not only does it acknowledge the different emotions that hold up the funeral community, but it also includes the movement embedded in the mourner‘s passage from grief to acceptence,  as well as the church‘s journey from this life to life eternal.


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