A. Bortle- Week 3- Description of a Ritual

Unfortunately, the ritual I attended was a funeral on July 22nd, 2016 for my grandmother Mary Lou. The funeral took place in  a Catholic Church that my grandmother had incorporated as a large part of her life. The church itself was very small but ornate, with stained glass windows and a great organ in the back. Large collages of pictures were set up on multiple stands, showing major events in my grandmother’s life as well as all the people she loved. At the end of the aisle was my grandmother in an oak casket and bouquets lined the walls with cards from people expressing their greatest sympathies. Almost everyone was dressed in black, semi-formal, conservative clothing, as is custom. Most of the men wore suits and most of the women had long black dresses. When the priest  came out everyone took their seats, signaling the ceremony was about to begin. He asked everyone to join in a traditional Catholic prayer. The sadness in the room was unbearable. My grandfather looked completely lost and defeated. A few of the grandchildren went up to recite some of my grandmother’s favorite bible psalms. Two of us, myself included, broke down crying once up in front and ended up letting someone else speak.  The priest then went on to explain that God had shaped my grandmother’s personality, that she was being accepted into Heaven, and explained the death of Christ for our sins and his resurrection. We engaged in a small luncheon where everyone was much more cheerful and shared stories. Shortly after we followed the hearse to the graveyard where my grandmother would be buried. My grandfather and a few others took front row seats while the rest of us gathered around. Holy water was shaken around the casket and incense waved around it while the priest sang in Latin. My grandfather was asked if he would like to watch the casket drop and while a few family members contested his decision he was adamant on watching the casket being lowered. I went up with a few others to lift the casket so we could pull the beams out from underneath. Ever so slowly, the casket was lowered into the ground.

While the the way in which funerals are performed vary, funerals are fairly common rituals since death is a rite of passage for everyone. The funeral was very religious, mostly because religion was a large part of my grandmother’s life. It brought everyone together to mourn and to pay respects to my grandmother one last time as well as paying respects to her family. Religion was how my grandmother, the priest, and many others that attended made sense of their place in the world and it is where they got their morals from. My grandmother had a great belief in the supernatural, most of all in God and in angels watching over us. The priest talked about Heaven, which I perceive as a way for us to cope with death, thinking that our loved one will be going to a better place and that we will one day see her again. A few family members mentioned how we have another guardian angel watching over us, reducing our fear and anxiety of the after life. Sharing communion as well as shaking the holy water were ways for the priest to have an influence on supernatural power. He did not believe that he could directly control the power, but instead that we could enlist the help of God by partaking in activities such as praying. He acted as a mediator between us and God.

4 thoughts on “A. Bortle- Week 3- Description of a Ritual

  1. I can relate to your blog post completely. I as well wrote about a funeral experience about my grandpa who past away. Death in a family can be celebrated in many different ways. It can be celebrated in a happy manner, where everyone is expressing more gratitude and showings respect for who has past away. Or, it could be celebrated by sadness. This could be by mourning. I find that it is ultimately important to find closure however it works for you. I thought your blog post showed a lot of emotion. Based on your religion, I found similarities. My family and I are also Catholic too, so the rituals you were describing I could relate to. I find that faith helps a lot for one to move on. It’s ultimately important to have family at your side so heel. Family and love is very important to help cope with a main issue.

  2. I’m sorry to hear about your loss, but this post that you have made in analyzing the ritualistic aspects of Catholic funeral ceremonies was very well done.

    You correctly identified the two main contributors to the ritual as the priest and the family of the deceased, and you made clear anthropological distinctions about both parties. For example, you noted that the procession only began when the priest entered the room and ordered for the traditional Catholic prayers, then spoke on behalf of Heaven’s acceptance, and then closed the ceremony by waving incense and sprinkling holy water over the casket, all the while singing in Latin, before it was to be lowered into the ground. Clearly, you have identified that this rite of passage centered around closure hinged upon the Catholic priest’s position within the religious institution your family communed at; he was responsible for the separation stage, liminal stage, and reintegration stage for communal mourning of the deceased. Also you noticed that he was a mediator, rather than a controller, of the supernatural which is an important distinction to make. For your family, I think you absolutely understand the cultural purpose for the ritual in supporting closure and decreasing tensions about the afterlife.

  3. Your blog post is very interesting in many ways. First, your grandmother’s beautiful funeral centers around a theme of reminiscing who she was. Displaying pictures of her and talking about her are all great common funeral rituals around the world, regardless of religion. Also, it would have been better if you could explain why people wear black during funerals. Is it globally universal? Or is it only true in Western culture? Christianity plays a big role in people’s understanding of death. Yet, your mention that the grandmother will be watching over your family as a guardian angel is not only a Christian belief but also an element of some other religions.

  4. Your ethnography of the funeral shows what was performed and why. The funeral for your grandmother, and like most funerals, focused on who she was and what she valued in life. While it might not seem obvious for a death to be a rite of passage, by looking at the variety of functions associated with this rite, one can see that closure, aid in readjustment, and enhancing solidarity all describe event that take place at a funeral. The act of lowering the casket is probably the most emotional part of this ritual. This is because the situation can be seen as either seeing your loved one for the last time, or being able to find a form of closure by being with that person as long as they can. Another thing to note is that the ritual seems to begin and end with the presence of a priest, signifying the importance of a religious being in the ritual.

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