To commemorate the Easter holiday on March 31st, this installment of the Diverse Expressions of Grief series will cover various Christian scripture and rituals that address loss and grief. After a brief background on Christianity, it will explore selections from songs, rituals, and scriptures intended to comfort both those who are deceased and those who grieve the deceased.
Background on Christianity
Christianity, like Judaism and Islam, is an Abrahamic religion, or a religion that traces its origins back to Abraham. Its foundational belief is that Jesus is the Son of God as well as the Messiah, due to the fact that the Holy Spirit, or God, conceived him. As an adult, he founded the Christian Church through his ministry. His life is upheld as a model for a virtuous life for Christians and is referred to as the gospel.
Because of his ministry, Jesus was tried, arrested, and crucified for religious crimes. It is believed that he rose from the dead three days after his execution and ascended into Heaven. His crucifixion and resurrection are seen as his atonement for human sins that thus granted all non-divine humans the ability to be with God after they die. While many associate the Easter holiday primarily with egg hunting and the Easter Bunny, the Christian celebration of the holiday is meant to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus.
Christian scripture is contained within the Christian Bible, also referred to as the Holy Bible. It is primarily divided into the Old Testament and the New Testament, with slight variations in the inclusion, exclusion, or rearrangement of religious texts between different Christian branches and denominations. The Old Testament consists of the Tanakh, or Hebrew Bible, plus additional deuterocanonical books, all of which contain stories also associated with Judaism and Islam. The New Testament consists of the four Canonical gospels, Acts of the Apostles, 21 Epistles, and the Book of Revelations.
Christianity is currently the most prevalent religion globally, with about 1/3 of the world’s population identifying as Christian. Because of global colonialization and missionary efforts, Christianity can be found in virtually every country of the world, with the heaviest concentrations in North America, Central America, South America, Central and Southern Africa, Europe, and Southwest Asia. It is divided into three main branches: Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity, and Protestantism.
Christian Scripture and Rituals for Those Who Grieve
Christian scripture and rituals repeatedly address loss and grief through stories, prayers, songs, and tradition ceremonies. Below are selections from Christian scripture and rituals that address grief:
Psalm 130, which is more commonly known as De Profundis or A Song of Ascents, is a song from the Old Testament that is sometimes used in guided prayers for those who have died. A translation from the Hebrew text is as follows:
From the depths I have cried out to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplication.
If you, Lord, were to mark iniquities, who, O Lord, shall stand?
But with you is forgiveness, that you may be revered.
I trust in the Lord;
My soul trusts in his word.
My soul waits for the Lord.
More than watchmen wait for the dawn, let Israel hope in the Lord.
For with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption.
And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.
The psalmist is in deep misery, as evident from the imagery of crying out “from the depths,” evoking the ocean and its historical symbolism for death. The psalmist begins from this place of misery by pleading with God for mercy, but then resolves by the end that he/she has eternal trust in God’s forgiveness. Additionally, he/she also states that this forgiveness is provided to more than just him/her, implying that God’s forgiveness is for everyone. With this inference, God’s mercy is also implicitly granted upon any deceased person the prayer is recited for.
The Requiem Mass, or Mass for the Dead, is the Catholic ceremony for the repose of souls of the deceased. It is frequently carried out within the context of a Catholic funeral.
A Catholic mass is a worship service that draws from both Christian scripture and Catholic tradition. The Requiem Mass can be found in the Roman Missal, one of many liturgical books that contain prayers and instructions for Catholic mass services.
The Requiem Mass has been set to music frequently throughout history. One of the most popular musical compositions of the mass is Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem in D Minor, a short 35-minute choral-orchestral piece completed in 1890. “In Paradisum”, the final movement of the piece, corresponds to the final text from the Requiem Mass that is sung as the body of the deceased is carried out of the church. Translated from Latin:
May Angels lead you into paradise;
may the Martyrs receive you at your coming
and lead you to the holy city of Jerusalem.
May a choir of Angels receive you,
and with Lazarus, who once was poor, may you have eternal rest.
An audio recording of “In Paradisum” from Fauré’s Requiem can be found here.
There are many answers to the most common questions and fears of those who grieve contained within the scripture of the Bible. One recurring answer is that those who are hurting deeply from grief will find comfort:
“The Lord is near to those who are broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)
Another recurring message is that even if the pain of grief feels as if it will never end, like everything else, it too shall pass:
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-4)
“Blessed are those who weep now, for you will laugh.” (Luke 6:21)
And lastly, there are reminders for people to hold each other up, in both good and bad times:
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:15)
A recurring theme in Christian scripture and rituals that address loss and grief is trust. There is the reminder to trust in God for mercy; to trust that the souls of the deceased will journey safely to eternal rest; and to trust that the pain of grief does not last forever. Whether taken within the context of the Christian faith or simply taken as universal truths, the messages within Christian scripture and rituals can remind grievers in even the deepest of pain that while there is anguish in grief, there is no need to suffer further anguish from fearing what may come. This appeal to simply have trust that it will be alright is a comforting message for any griever, regardless if they are a Christian or not.
About the Author:
Hilary Dockray came to know The Christi Center through her full-time field internship as a graduate student from The University of Texas at Austin’s School of Social Work. Her favorite hobby is writing, so she is delighted to continue to advocate for the understanding of grief and those who grieve as a guest blogger for The Christi Center.
Here are just some of the links that I used to research for this installment of the DEG series, and where you can learn more about Christian scripture and rituals related to loss and grief:
Psalm 130 (De Profundis):
Scripture Selections on Grief: