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Question 114

Hello Pater. I would like to ask a question concerning funerals. All the funerals I have been to in Cyprus have had the coffin lid removed and placed on the side. Is this necessary? I found this quite traumatizing, especially seeing my own mum buried like this, I thought that this is the way it's done by all priests. But recently a relative of mine attended a funeral which took place in Nicosia and she said they never took the lid off. Also is it necessary for the burial plot to be filled in in sight of the relatives, as this is not done in English funerals. It is done after the relatives leave. The soil is covered usually with artificial grass whereas ours is left there for the relatives to use to cover the grave. Again this was not done at this one funeral in Nicosia, the relatives threw in handfuls of soil on top of the closed lid and the plot was filled in after most of the relatives departed. By the way the person who died was not disfigured in any way so that the coffin would have to be kept closed. Is there a wrong or right way or is it left to the discretion of the priest? This question has bothered me for a while as I think it's unnecessarily barbaric on top of the grief people suffer at a time like this.      


Answer to Question 114


I totally agree with you. This is a custom that has continued in Cyprus from the times they didnít use coffins to bury people in, but only a sheet. In Older times when people died, the church had a coffin which was used to lay the person in Church for the Funeral service. This was then carried to the grave and the person was removed from the coffin and laid in the grave covered in a sheet. The coffin was then reused for the next burial. Nowadays we buy a coffin for our departed, but it is believed by many that the person must still be buried so that the earth comes into direct contact with the departed because as they say it helps for the body to decompose quicker.  I have never buried anyone in this way as I believe it is macabre. At the graveside I do open the coffin to let those of the family who wish to say their goodbyes. I then say the necessary prayers. Before lowering the coffin I cover the face and pour oil crosswise on the body and place a shovel of earth towards the feet to oblige the custom of the body coming into contact with the earth, then cover the coffin and lower it down to the ground. People can then throw in the customary handful of earth and flowers. At this point the people can leave, but for some reason they stay until the undertakers fill in the grave and place the flowers on top.  You found leaving the coffin opened barbaric, but there are many people who insist that the coffin must stay opened and even cause arguments when it isnít. I have had my share of people telling me what is right and wrong, but most people who know me have accepted that that is how I do funerals. The Bishop has also instructed priests to perform the burial as I do, but very few have followed his instructions and persist in continuing with this archaic and unthoughtful way of burying people because that is the only way they and the people consider as the correct way.