A Religious Background
Mormons believe that the human body and spirit separate at death. Afterwards, the spirit is judged and is either sent to paradise or prison in the spirit world. Eventually, body and spirit are resurrected at the Final Judgment and – based on the goodness of the individual – the individual will be sent to either the Celestial, Terrestrial or Telestial Kingdoms for all eternity.
Emotional Tone of Mormon Funerals
Mormons see death as something to mourn, but it is also seen as a time of great hope because it is a critical transitionary step to the next life and, ultimately, to an eternal life with God. For this reason, Mormon funeral ceremonies can be upbeat events. This is especially true if the deceased was a committed Mormon that lived an exemplary life.
There are no particular Mormon deathbed traditions that need to be performed when death is imminent, but if possible, family and friends should gather to pray and to say goodbye to their loved one. The bishop from the local Mormon congregation should also be contacted as soon as possible so that he can begin making the proper funeral preparations. Bishops play a lead role in Mormon funerals and make sure that church traditions are followed appropriately throughout the proceedings. One of his first duties is to contact a Melchizedek Priesthood holder, who provides support for the bereaved family. If the deceased received their temple endowment while living, special funeral rites will be organized on their behalf – including a proxy baptism, endowment and sealing. These sacred rituals are performed exclusively behind closed doors at Mormon temples in order to protect the sanctity of the acts.
Views on Organ Donation and Embalming
The Mormon Church approves of organ donation and has referred to it a “a selfless act that often results in great benefit.” According to the Church, the decision to donate is a personal decision that should be made by the individual before death, or by the family of the deceased. Embalming is acceptable also, as there is no official Church doctrine for or against it.
Method of Body Disposition
Cremation is not prohibited, but it is discouraged. The religion prefers burial because it believes that the practice of interring the body in the earth better symbolizes the return of dust to dust, which is an important concept to Mormons.
Those who have received their temple endowment while living are usually buried in the sacred, all-white clothing given to them at the ceremony. For men, this wardrobe consists of a long-sleeve shirt, a tie, pants, socks and shoes. For women, the wardrobe features a floor-length dress with long sleeves, stockings and shoes. An endowed family member of the same gender should dress the body. If one is not available, the bishop will usually assign a same-gender temple member to perform the task. And if local law stipulates that only a funeral director may handle the body, then an endowed family member should supervise the task. If the deceased did not receive temple endowment, they are usually buried in their best suit or dress.
What to Wear to a Mormon Funeral
Modest, dark-colored formal clothing is appropriate for guests to wear at Mormon funeral ceremonies. Men should wear a suit and tie and women should wear a long dress or a blouse and skirt. No cross symbols should be worn since Mormons believe that the earthly body of Jesus is now united with his soul in the Celestial Kingdom.
Views on a Viewing or Visitation
A brief open-casket viewing is traditionally held before the funeral service at the same location as the service, at either a funeral home or a Mormon chapel. Alternatively, a visitation may be held in its place. The viewing is usually open to all funeral guests, but sometimes it is reserved for family and close friends only. When the viewing is open, there is usually a family-only segment that takes place at the end. The bishop will say a couple a prayers for the departed at this time, and then the casket is closed.
The Mormon Church primarily sees the funeral service as an opportunity to emphasize basic church beliefs and share them with any non-practitioners that may be in attendance. The event usually takes 60 to 90 minutes and has a serious, but celebratory tone to it. The service often takes place at either a Mormon chapel or a funeral home, and the bishop of the congregation conducts it. Aside from the main sermon, the service also features opening and closing prayers, scripture readings, and songs. It may also feature eulogies from family members. This optional eulogy segment is the only part of the service centered squarely on the departed, and not on the preaching of Mormonism itself.
Burial usually takes place at a family burial plot after the service and it is open to all funeral guests. A brief graveside service is presided over by a Melchizedek Priesthood holder. Usually, he will give a brief prayer and dedicate the grave. The tone of a Mormon burial is more upbeat than most other Christian burials since it touches on the reunification of the family in the Celestial Kingdom. If the actual burying of the grave is not part of the ceremony, the holder will stand guard graveside until the interment is completed.
After the burial there is typically a reception held open to all funeral guests. This event offers a good opportunity for guests to interact with one another and remember the deceased in an informal atmosphere. The reception features a “mercy meal” which is usually planned by the Relief Society, an auxiliary Mormon women’s organization. Traditional food dishes include “funeral potatoes,” Jell-O salad, and ham or turkey.
Extended Mourning or Memorial Traditions
There is no traditional Mormon mourning period or memorial for the deceased. That said, the gravesite – once it has been dedicated – is considered a sacred place for the family to visit and tend to regularly.