Beliefs about death and dying, and life after death

Christians believe in an afterlife and resurrection, but the beliefs around the afterlife vary within the different denominations, as do the rituals.

Treatment of the body of the person who has died

When someone dies, their body is usually taken to an undertaker who will carry out the necessary preparations for the body to be laid out. This is to enable those who wish to view the body to do so. 

Funerals and other ceremonies 

The funeral, organised by an undertaker, is usually within a few weeks of the death. This usually takes place in a church but sometimes a crematorium or a combination of the two. 

Wreaths or flowers may be placed on the coffin and it is traditional for attendees to wear black at a funeral, but this custom varies. 

The body will either be buried or cremated, dependent on the wishes of the person who has died and their family. A churchyard grave is often marked by a headstone, but for a cremation the family may choose a more informal way to mark where the ashes are buried or have been scattered. Some families keep the ashes, and some decide to scatter or bury them at a later date. 

They’re right with you but you just can’t see them but they’ll be there for the rest of your life watching after you and they’ll be with you forever.

Shinobi, 11, who was supported by Child Bereavement UK after his grandmother died

Catholic funerals

Some families hold a Prayer Vigil also known as the Reception of the Body. This involves the coffin being taken to the church on the evening before the funeral. People gather together at the church to pray, including praying the Rosary. There may be music, readings and memories shared. Prayer vigils can also take place at home. 

A Catholic funeral is usually held in a church and includes a funeral mass which can include a requiem mass, eucharistic prayer and Holy Communion. In some cases, the funeral will take place without a mass. 

If the body of the person who has died was not received into the church the night before the funeral, the priest will greet mourners at the door and sprinkle the coffin with holy water before walking in front of the coffin to the altar. 

At the altar, family members may place a white cover called a pall on the coffin or put a cross or Bible on top. They may also add a photo or memorial card of the person who has died on a table close to the coffin. 

Prayers will be led by the priest and the funeral can last between 40 mins to two hours depending on what mass is said. At the end of the funeral there is a Final Commendation in which prayers are said. The priest will sprinkle holy water and pass incense over the coffin.

While cremation is now acceptable in the Catholic faith, the Catholic church says it best for ashes to be buried rather than scattered. 

A wake takes place after the funeral at home or at a pub, restaurant or hotel. There may be a display of photos of the person who died and people will share memories. 

Support organisations and further information

Our grateful thanks for their input into this resource to:

The Art of Dying Well

Visit our page: How we can support you for more on our services.

You can also call our Helpline 0800 02 888 40, email [email protected], or use Live Chat on our website.