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Burial Rituals of Select Religious Traditions
Thursday, October 02, 2008


Baha’is believe the purpose of human life is to know and love God through acquiring virtues and spiritual qualities that will empower an ever-advancing civilization. They view life as a preparation for life in the next world. The soul comes into existence at conception and is immortal. Life and death are part of an eternal process of growth in which the soul develops and evolves as it draws nearer to God. Heaven is described as nearness to God; hell is separation from God. Baha’u’llah said that death is union with God.

Baha’is are required to observe the following burial laws:

1. The body is not to be embalmed unless required by law

2. Autopsy is permitted as long as respect for the deceased is maintained

3. Cremation is forbidden

4. Interment must take place within one hour’s travel time from the city or town where death occurs

5. The length of time between death and burial is unspecified in Baha’i writings, though Baha’u’llah says that "the sooner the burial taketh place, the more fitting and preferable"

6. If the Baha’i community own a cemetery, this is the ideal location for burial. If there is no Baha’i cemetery, the deceased may be buried in any cemetery

7. After death, the body is carefully washed and wrapped in a shroud

8. The body should be placed in a wooden coffin and buried with feet pointed toward the Holy Land

9. At the funeral there is only one ceremonial requirement: recitation of the Prayer of the Dead (CLXVII in Prayers and Meditations of Baha’u’llah). If there is a local community, they may be contacted to provide service or guidance

10. The prayer is recited by one believer at the gravesite


There are no restrictions on autopsies. Most Buddhist traditions place high importance on their funeral rituals although they can vary greatly. A Buddhist funeral generally includes the following: a procession, ritual prayers, a water-pouring ritual, cremation, final prayers, and a communal meal. In cultures where wood is too expensive, burial in the ground is an acceptable alternative. On the sixth night after death, a dharma-preaching service is held in the home. On the morning of the seventh day, a dana, which means giving, often of food to the monks accompanied by prayers, is held at the house. After three months, other memorial dana rituals are held at the home. The monks may be invited to chant all night long. This ritual is repeated after one year as well as on the anniversary date in future years.

Eastern Rite Catholicism

The detainee will follow the Roman Rite unless an Eastern Rite priest is available to the institution.


There are no restrictions on autopsies. Cremation is the preferred method rather than interment. It is customary to read Chapter 1-2 of the Bhagavad-Gita as part of the burial ritual, especially if no Hindu priest is available.


Burial requirements include the full washing of the body, shrouding, funeral prayer service, and burial. Autopsy is not allowed unless required by law. Cremation is not allowed. The presence of any Muslim or Muslims at the moment of death is desirable. Burial should take place within 24 hours, if possible. The casket should be wood.

Jehovah’s Witnesses

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the dead are asleep in the grave awaiting the resurrection to life. While the majority will be raised to life in an earthly paradise, a small number - 144,000 - will be raised as immortal spirit creatures to rule with Christ in the heavenly kingdom of God.

With regard to death rituals, each individual decides on the type of burial. Otherwise there is no specific guidance.


Judaism views this life as a corridor that leads to still another existence. The belief in an afterlife – where a person is judged and where the soul continues to flourish – is a cornerstone of Jewish thought. The religious laws and practices relating to death and mourning are based upon two fundamental principles: honor due a deceased human being and the need to respect and honor the mourner.

The following are only a few basic Jewish regulations. Cremation is forbidden. Burial must take place as soon as possible following death. To delay interment is permissible only for the honor of the deceased such as awaiting the arrival of close relatives from distant points or if the Sabbath or a holy day intervenes. Caring for the dead, preparing them for burial, watching over them, and participating in the burial are all important religious tasks. Tearing a garment is the religiously proper way to express grief for the dead.

The consensus of Rabbinical rulings over the last several centuries has been that post-mortem examinations are generally forbidden, since they result in desecration of the dead. Nevertheless, two specific allowances have been made. When there is a reasonable prospect that such an examination would produce information that could save the life of a seriously ill patient. When an investigation is required by civil or criminal statutes.

When the general prohibition against autopsies is set aside, it is vital that the following safeguards be followed. Only the minimum of tissue samples needed for examinations should be used. All organs and tissue removed from the body should be returned to and accompany the body for interment. Blood from the body must be collected and returned for burial and must not be discarded as waste. Every effort should be made to notify religious authorities before any autopsy is done. It is the chaplain’s responsibility to see that appropriately reverent measures are in place and the rabbi or his representative is present. A religious authority should be in attendance when the autopsy is performed so as to insure that all religious requirements are followed. As noted above, embalming is forbidden.

Jewish law provides for three successive periods of mourning following the burial. The first period is known as shiva, which means seven, and refers to the seven-day period of mourning following the burial. An individual should observe shiva for one’s father, mother, wife, husband, son, daughter, brother, or sister. Ordinarily, a family observes shiva in the home where the deceased lived. However, this is not mandatory and shiva may be observed at any location. The practice of observing shiva is often referred to as sitting shiva. Detainees requesting to sit shiva should be allowed to do so, following community customs as closely as is practical.

Practices observed during shiva are numerous. Some shiva observances are not washing, not wearing leather footwear, not sitting on a regular chair, and abstaining from work. Accordingly, a requesting Jewish detainee should be permitted to be absent from his work assignment for the shiva period. It is customary for friends and acquaintances to visit with a mourner during the shiva period. Wherever possible and consistent with security considerations, condolence visits by other detainees to the living quarters of the bereaved may be considered. Similarly, visiting room privileges may be extended to outside family and friends to the fullest extent possible.

The funeral service is designed primarily for the honor and dignity of the deceased. The service consists of selections from the Psalms, a statement of the deceased’s finer qualities which his survivors should seek to implant in their own lives, and a memorial prayer. A mourner recites a special prayer called Kaddish at every daily service for a period of eleven months.

The Kaddish is recited only in the presence of a quorum of ten Jewish males over the age of thirteen.

The sending of flowers is considered a non-Jewish custom and should be discouraged. It is much better to honor the deceased by making a contribution to a noble cause. This method of tribute is more lasting and meaningful.

Upon the death of an detainee, the family should immediately be contacted. The rabbi should be contacted as soon as possible after the death of a Jewish detainee. Personal behavior in the room of the deceased should be consonant with the highest degree of respect.

Yahrzeit refers to the anniversary of the day of death according to the Jewish calendar, not the Gregorian calendar. Loved ones light a special memorial candle on the eve of the Yahrzeit to be allowed to burn undisturbed for twenty-four hours. These candles are available from the appropriate vendors. Yahrzeit candles can be lit only in the chapel area, and not in the housing units. Arrangements will need to be made with the safety Department to ensure that all required safety procedures are followed. Correctional services should also be informed

Some suggested safe areas may be a sink in the utility closet or staff rest room, a pan or other metal container with sand on the bottom in one of the chaplain’s offices. The detainee should be allowed to visit the chaplain’s office for this purpose.

Tradition regards this day as commemorative of both the enormous tragedy of death and the abiding glory of parental heritage. It is a day set aside to contemplate the quality and lifestyle of the deceased, and to attempt to emulate the deceased’s finer qualities. The day of Yahrzeit is particularly suited for personal fasting, giving charity, performing acts of kindness, praying, and studying Torah. Yahrzeit may be observed for any relative or friend although the observance is meant primarily for parents.


There are no documented burial rituals, but there are local customs such as a bell ringing to notify the community of a death. Most in the tradition believe in some form of reincarnation. There is a nine day grieving ritual that consists of reading prayers and singing a combination of African, Ladino, and Christian hymns to offer spiritual aid to the deceased. Daily, a small amount of water and a candle are moved closer and closer to the heavens and final judgment.

Orthodox Christianity

The bodies of deceased Orthodox Christians must never be cremated. They should be buried according to the rite of the Orthodox Church.

Protestant Christianity

Traditional funeral services are held when an individual dies. These might include a preaching and grave side or internment (for cremation) service. Memorial services are another appropriate way to provide grief ministry to family and friends unable to attend the formal services. Services may differ based on denominational, ethnic and cultural customs associated with the deceased’s faith background.


There are no specific burial rituals to be followed.

Roman Catholicism

When a detainee is dying, the Catholic priest should be called for the Anointing of the Sick, if this sacrament has not already been given. The dying person, if able, should also receive Viaticum (Holy Communion). Only the Catholic priest may administer the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. The Catholic priest is also the normal minister of Viaticum. If the Catholic priest is not available, then a deacon, Catholic chaplain, or other designated extraordinary minister of Holy Communion may give Viaticum to the dying detainee.

When a Catholic person has died, the Catholic chaplain/contractor should be called to pray for the dead person. One who is already dead should not be given Anointing of the Sick. In the absence of a priest after the death, any Christian, preferably a Catholic, may pray at the bedside and perform a sacred ritual returning the baptized to God, from whence he or she came.

The chaplain, following the death of a person, should be available to help in whatever way possible. This may involve ministering to staff or detainees. It may involve trying to contact the immediate family. The chaplain should work closely with the executive staff in the notification process.

Celebrating a memorial Mass or other memorial service for the deceased detainee is important, for this helps others to better process the death of the person. The memorial service should be done as early as the next day.

Wherever possible, a Catholic detainee should be buried in a Catholic cemetery. If this is not possible, the individual grave should be blessed.

Cremation is permissible as long as it is not used as a symbol denying the resurrection of the body.


The burial ritual is cremation within three days of death. Sikhs prepare the body for cremation through a ritual bath, prayer, dressing the deceased in new clothes, and adorning the body with the five symbols of the Khalsa. There are no prohibitions concerning autopsies in the Sikh tradition. A congregational prayer service, usually led by a Sikh minister, is held throughout the cremation. Ashes must be handed to the nearest family member for later disposition.


All information in this section has been compiled from the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Technical Reference for Inmate Religious Beliefs and Practices.