A ritual, by its nature is a set of common actions – performed in a common circumstance.
Intrinsic in the shared actions are a recognition that they are carried out due to a shared experience.
They serve as a recognition and response of communal experience.
Thomas Long observes that attempting to fully personalise the elements of a ritual untethers the acts from their intended function.
Rather than confirming commonality, shared experience, and shared response, striving for the unique narrows the focus from commonality to a sentimental confection that lacks substance and the capacity to connect.
I encourage people, especially those not familiar with the life of the church, to organise a service in which they can recognise the one who they are grieving.
I seek to do that within the framework of a liturgy that emphasises that we give thanks to God and seek his comfort in a circumstance that all humanity share.
For all that I’ve shared many conversations with folk who are more concerned that I do their funerals the way that funerals should be done, rather than a more performative review show style gathering that they view with a sort of bemused disdain. They believe that their funerals should be a response to their death rather than a sentimental and sanitised survey of their lives.
From Thomas Lynch, co-author of The Good Funeral with Thomas G. Long.
Lynch contrasts modern impulses to substitute the sentimental for the substantive with the older practice of funerals and how their modern counterparts offer a satisfaction that is passing, at best.
Puritan minister Cotton Mather would never have dreamed of asking his flock at Old North Church in Boston what they would like to have done in their funerals. The question would have been preposterous, the very idea that someone could own “my funeral” would have struck them as vain. It would be as if Mather had asked, “What would you like your weather to be today?” or “Would you prefer that your sun rise in the east or the west?” Funerals in the past were not vehicles of personal choice. They were what people had learned over time to do when there was a death. Funerals were like farm-to-market roads – born of necessity, carved out and maintained by the community, designed to get people where they needed to go when the time came to go, and traveled by everyone. But today, ministers and funeral directors conspire as interior decorators to help consumers fashion improvised, throwaway ceremonies of self-expression.
Herein lies my deepest complaint against funeral directors. a grievance I also have with my fellow reverends. Having lost sight of the main purposes of a funeral, we have replaced those purposes with half-baked ideas of choice, personalisation, and hyped emotion, thus offering people a confused tangle of myths about death and memorials, a mess of pottage instead of the birthrate to which they are entitled.
Several explanations have been suggested.
Thomas G. Long and Thomas Lynch, The Good Funeral, Westminster John Knox Press, 2013, pg. 168.