Funeral Discourses

Funeral Discourses

(1) addresses delivered either at the house of mourning or the grave; (2) funeral sermons or panegyrics.

I. We see, in Ac 8:2, that certain ceremonies were observed in the early Church on the occasion of funerals. The apostolical constitutions prescribe certain services in cases of Christian burial (book 8, cap. 41, 42, Celebretur dies tertius in psalmis, lectionibus et precibus, ob eum, qui tertia die resurrexit; item dies nonus, etc.). But these services did not all take place at the time of the funeral, since it is known that bodies were not kept for three days in the East before burial. Of addresses delivered at funerals there is no mention made until after Basil, the two Gregorics, and Chrysostom had introduced Greek rhetoric into the Christian Church. The funeral addresses of that age are mostly panegyrics delivered on the deaths of distinguished persons, such as martyrs, bishops, princes, etc. In the Middle Ages, funeral services were chiefly masses and prayers for the dead. The Reformation, while abolishing masses for the dead, instituted in its stead the practice of proclaiming the Word of God by the side of the open grave. The objects of this practice were stated, as early as 1536, in the Church Discipline of Wurtemberg, to be (1) public recognition of the Christian's hope of resurrection; (2) a public testimony of Christian affection; (3) an earnest memento mori. Since the introduction of Rationalism, addresses at the grave have lost much of their general religious character in Germany, and have become, to a certain extent, panegyrics of the deceased. In other Protestant countries usages vary: sometimes there is simply a liturgical service at the house or at the grave; sometimes simply the reading of the Scriptures and prayer; sometimes an address of consolation or warning is added. This latter is generally the usage of the churches which do not make use of forms of prayer.

II. Funeral Sernons. — These are generally delivered from the pulpit. The funeral sermon differs from the simple funeral address, inasmuch as instead of being, as the former originally was, a mere exhortation, or, as it afterwards became, a personal panegyric, it is a regular sermon, preached from a text, which, however adapted to the circumstances, reminds the officiating minister, as does also the place from whence it is delivered, that he addresses a congregation, not a mere circle of family or friendship, and that his whole discourse should consequently be more objective than personal. The funeral sermon proper, as contrasted with orations and panegyrics, may be considered as having originated with Protestantism, in the place of the Roman Catholic ceremonial, which was necessarily rejected with the doctrine of purgatory (see Klieforth, liturgische Abhandlungen (volume 1, page 275 sq). The earliest Protestant discipline made the principal part of the funeral ceremony the Word of God, either as a simple-lesson, or as a regular sermon (see Hallische Kirchenordnung, A.D. 1526; Richter, 1:47). "At the following church-service after the burial of the party he shall be remembered and his death announced; his friends shall be comforted by the Word of God, and others reminded to hold themselves in readiness, with strong faith and hope, to obey God's call at any time and in any way." The reformatio ecclesiarum Hassie, 1526 (ib. page 61), says: "Laudandum autem, si in funere habeatur aut sincera praedicatio verbi Dei, aut saltem juxta ipsum brevis admonitio." In those days liturgy and homiletics were not so distinct from each other as they have become since. In some places texts were prescribed for funeral sermons, and even sermons were given as models for similar productions. Luther himself gives two such in his Hauspostille. The sermon was gradually made more like the panegyric. Hunnius says, in the preface of his twenty-seven funeral sermons: "Men are no longer simply buried with the customary Christian ceremonies, but by request of the survivors there are sermons preached on the Word of God, and testimony rendered of the life and especially of the end of the dead, in what faith and hope they ended their life." Added to these, comparison with similar persons, reference to other members of the family, etc., furnished much material for discourses as acceptable to the hearer as to the preacher. From the middle of the 16th century to the beginning of the 18th, funeral sermons were either mere eulogies, or utterly objective and speculative discourses. A.H. Francke gave in 1700 a funeral sermon of 40 pages fol., with a long appendix. In the Roman Church some of the most brilliant sermons of the 16th and 17th centuries were funeral discourses; e.g. the oraisons funebres of Bossuet and other French orators. In modern Protestant churches (England and America) funeral sermons are generally preached only on the death of somle person distinguished for piety or position. Still, in some parts of the United States they are in rmore frequent use; sometimes they are even preached with regard to the debease of children. See Herzog, Real- Encyklop. s.v. Grabreden. SEE BURIAL; SEE HOMILETICS.

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