Since there is no belief in purgatory, and since it is believed that the souls of baptized believers go to be with God and to wait in his presence for the resurrection of the dead and the glorious life of the age to come, the Order for the Burial of the Dead is both a proclamation of the Gospel and as such a pastoral means of grace and of comfort to the mourners.
First there is the procession into church led by the Minister as various scriptural verses are said or sung.
Secondly there is the singing of one or more Psalms (1662 has Psalm 39 and 90; 1928 has these and others to choose from).
Thirdly, there is the reading of the Lesson (1662 only has 1 Corinthians 15:20ff., while 1928 also offers Romans 8:14ff., or St John 14:1ff.)
[Here the 1928 allows for but does not require the singing of a hymn, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, another Prayer and the Blessing. There is no provision for a sermon.]
Then there is a procession from church to the grave where the Anthem (from the Sarum Compline Service or a medley of Scriptural verses) is said or sung while preparation is made for burial. When the body is in the grave, the Committal is said. The dead body is committed to the ground in sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the body at the last day when the soul and body will be reunited in a body of glory to be with Christ in the kingdom of heaven.
With the body in the grave the second Anthem (Revelation 14:13) is said or sung, and this is followed by the Kyrie (“Lord have mercy”), the Lord’s Prayer, and Prayers (of which the 1928 has a large selection). One of the 1928 prayers, which is optional (and based upon a Latin collect from a Sarum Requiem Mass) actually prays for the soul of the departed Christian in these words: “Accept our prayers on behalf of the soul of thy servant departed, and grant him an entrance into the land of light and joy, in the fellowship of thy saints…” Such prayer for the departed is found nowhere in the 1662 edition; however, it may be said to be present in minimal form in Prayer for “the whole state of Christ’s Church” in 1928. At the end the Minister prays for those who have died and says: “grant them continual growth in thy love and service.”
The Order for the Burial of the Dead is truly a proclamation of the Gospel and the Christian Hope and as such gives true comfort to those who mourn. It is not in any way whatsoever a memorial service, where the virtues of the deceased are celebrated, nor is it a requiem mass where the soul of the departed is prayed for. It is a celebration of the Christian Faith in which the baptized believer has died and which all present also hope to live and die in order to be with Christ for ever in glory. Thus it does not need a sermon for there is proclamation of the Gospel all round.
The Revd Dr. Peter Toon M.A., D.Phil (Oxford)