Differences Between Catholic Funeral Rites & Buddhist Funerals

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Though our world has a diversity of cultures and religions that celebrate unique festivals and beliefs, some rituals are universal to us all. Funeral rites, which seem to be as old as humanity itself, can be traced back to the Neanderthals around 60,000 B.C., who used flowers and antlers to decorate the dead. All religious and cultural funerals have three things in common: a ceremony, a special place for the dead, and memorials for the departed. The Catholic and Buddhist religions share those similarities, but their funeral rites differ.



The Order of Christian Funerals (OCF) lists the Catholic Church’s various funeral rituals. Catholic funerals typically have three separate rituals, the vigil (the wake service), the funeral Mass with the body present, and the committal, which are spread out during several days. These separate events involved communal prayer and are designed to help the decedent’s survivors transition from grief to healing. During the rituals, Catholics pray to Jesus Christ and remember the deceased person and how that person influenced them when the deceased was alive.

In the Catholic tradition, the vigil (which is held in a funeral home, the church where the funeral Mass will take place or the decedent’s home) precedes the funeral mass. Vigils include an opening rite, Scripture readings from the Bible, a reflection, a blessing, and prayers. The caskets are often open at the wake but closed at the other services. The funeral Mass led by a Catholic priest in a church follows. Typically, during the Mass, the coffin is sprinkled with holy water and covered with a white pall to symbolize baptism and the deceased getting ready to enter heaven. After that, the remains of the decedent are usually brought to their final resting place — often a Catholic cemetery — right after the funeral Mass. The final prayers are said during the concluding ritual.


Traditionally speaking, Catholics have buried their dead. However, Catholic cremations are becoming more common. Cremations are considered Catholic when Order of Christian Funerals is celebrated in its liturgical fullness. Therefore, a vigil, funeral Mass, and rite of committal must follow the cremation process.


Cremation reduces the human body to calcium fragments by burning it in 1,800-degree heat for two to three hours. In the United States and many other countries, cremations are done in licensed crematoriums.


Buddhism, unlike Catholicism, believes in reincarnation. Catholics believe the soul of the departed goes to heaven. Buddhists believe that the soul of the departed shall be reborn into a new person over and over again until nirvana (a state of bliss beyond the world of suffering, reached when the soul is purified after practicing right understanding, right thought, right speech, right mindfulness, right livelihood, right action and right concentration) is achieved. Hence, at a Catholic funeral, Catholics see the deceased as leaving the Earth permanently for heaven, whereas Buddhists see the deceased as leaving one life for another and wish the departed a safe journey to the next life. Members of both faiths mourn their dead and show grief.

Traditionally, the Buddhists cremate their dead, though some Buddhists bury their deceased love ones. The Buddhist belief in reincarnation makes cremation symbolic by severing the soul’s last body as it prepares to enter a new one.


At the funeral service, the body’s head faces west and an oil lamp is placed next to the coffin, which is draped by a white cloth (mataka vastra) measuring 6 yards. Buddhist monks pray for the departed and the chief monk speaks at the day of the funeral, performs a Pansakula (a blessing for the dead) and comforts the mourners. A relative or close friend of the departed typically performs a eulogy at the crematorium. Afterward, the mourners get together at the funeral home after the cremation to share a meal and alms-giving. The following day, the ashes are either spread out over a river by the decedent’s loved ones or brought to a cemetery.


Catholics believe that when people die, their souls go to heaven and their bodies remain on Earth. Buddhists believe that when people die, their souls go to new bodies to start new lives. Catholics typically bury their dead, whereas Buddhists typically cremate their dead. Their beliefs and practices differ. However, both Catholics and Buddhists mourn the loss of their loved ones, believe in a higher power, and seek out clerics to preside over the funerals and comfort the families and friends of the departed.

Charles Infosino, Demand Media
Source: people.opposingviews.com