The Burial of the Dead / Funerals / Memorial Services


In the Episcopal Church three liturgical rites are celebrated for the Burial of the Dead. They are the Mass of the Resurrection, the Commendation of the Departed and the Committal of the Body. The liturgy for the dead is an Easter liturgy. It finds all its meaning in the resurrection. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we, too, shall be raised. This joy, however, does not make human grief unchristian. The very love we have for each other in Christ brings deep sorrow when we are parted by death. Jesus himself wept at the grave of his friend. So, while we rejoice that the one we love has entered into the nearer presence of our Lord, we sorrow in sympathy with those who mourn. The liturgy is also an expression of our belief that nothing can separate us from each other in Christ. We still love, care and pray for those who have died, and we believe they still love, care and pray for us.

We hope this these words might help you in the stewardship of your life and death and, in that stewardship, honor your relationship with God. The clergy and staff at Saint Mary’s are available to speak with you about any questions you may around funerals, burials, death and dying.

About death and burial

Christians often speak of joy at the time of death because we believe that death is an entry into life everlasting, a life lived fully with God. Grief has its place and the tears we shed are an important part of our prayer at the time of death. Christians give thanks for the lives of those we mourn and we honor them even in our grief.

A part of living faithfully means that we try to be good stewards or caretakers of all that God has given us. But stewardship does not end with death. As Christians, we take seriously what happens to our bodies and we take special care with those who we no longer see. Good stewardship of God’s gift of life includes having a legal will. Good stewardship includes our declaring what limitations we might wish to place on acute medical care. Good stewardship includes helping others know how we would like for our body to be honored.

In the Episcopal Church cremation is an acceptable alternative to the interment of the body. The cremated remains of a body are now called “cremains.” Cremains may be placed in the burial vault at Saint Mary’s, located just opposite the Lady Chapel in the church. There are shelves inside the vault where urns may be placed. When urns are placed in the vault, families make a contribution toward the eventual building of a more permanent columbarium.

The liturgy for the Burial of the Dead is also a place to acknowledge outwardly a sense of thanksgiving for the life we are given. The liturgy is also an expression of our belief that nothing can separate us from each other in Christ. We still love, care and pray for those who have died, and we believe they still love, care and pray for us. It is extremely helpful if you let the parish know if you would like particular arrangements regarding the liturgy. These plans are then kept on file in the parish office. Plans for musicians and participants in the service can be made in advance.

Other items to be considered are where and when your family and friends might gather. Plans can be made in advance for the kind of reception or gathering you might find appropriate. For example, instead of the funeral home, you may wish to have the coffin in the Mercy Chapel of the church and receive your family and friends there on the evening before the liturgy. Saint Joseph’s Hall might be an appropriate location for a reception after the liturgy on the day of the funeral.

At the time of death

An important way to prepare is to have a “call list” both for yourself and for those who will have to deal with your death when it occurs. This is especially important if you live alone. Members of your family should be aware of this list and know where you keep it. We suggest that the list include the names and telephone numbers of the following people:

1.  Family members or friends

2.  The clergy
Please remember that all of the Saint Mary’s clergy have publicly listed phone numbers and are available through directory assistance.

3.  An undertaker or funeral home
Saint Mary’s normally uses
Morehead-McKim & Gallaher Funeral Directors
424 West 51st Street
New York, New York 10019

4.  Three close friends (or include the clergy of the church)

5.  Your attorney

Preparatory arrangements

Enclosed in this pamphlet is a form for the preparatory arrangements you may make with the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin. This form should be returned to the parish office where it will remain in your parish file until needed. We suggest that members of your family keep a copy of the preparatory arrangements and the call list.

Remember: Do not include requiem or funeral service arrangements in your will, since the legal will is probated sometime later.

The Saint Mary’s Burial Vault

If you choose to inter your cremains at Saint Mary’s, fees for this are normally taken care of at the time of the requiem. The current fee schedule is included below.  Requests to lower or waive fees may be made to the rector. 


As an alternative to flowers, you may ask mourners to designate a gift to the memorial fund of Saint Mary’s. The capital of this fund is held as an ongoing memorial: the interest used to further the mission of the church. In addition, you may also be interested in establishing a specific memorial fund endowed by you and your family.

The specific language for including Saint Mary’s in your will is to be made in this form:

“I hereby give, devise, and bequeath to the Society of the Free Church of St. Mary the Virgin, a corporation organized and existing under the laws of the State of New York, and having its principal office at 145 West 46th Street, New York City, [here state the nature or amount of the gift.]”


One gift that the dead give the living is the opportunity to gather in fellowship, to share stories and memories and to draw strength from one another. Saint Mary’s invites you to use Saint Joseph’s Hall as a place to gather after the liturgy. The parish office will be happy to help you locate an appropriate caterer or to help coordinate volunteers for a simple affair.

After the funeral

Grieving is a long-term process. As each holiday is marked and memories are sorted out, there may be times when the clergy may be of help. We hope you will not hesitate to call.

We pray for the dead every day at Saint Mary’s. At the daily Mass we include the names of departed members of the parish during the week of their yearly anniversary of death.


Last Published: June 19, 2009 11:29 AM
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