A series of articles by Geneviève Otis-Dionne in the daily Le Devoir (Aug. 23-26, ) examines changes taking place in Quebec in the ways of confronting death in recent years.
Baby boomers are increasingly looking for new rituals associated with death and fewer celebrate funerals in churches. Since the 1960s, the previously dominant Roman Catholic Church in the French-speaking population of Québec has lost much of its strength. Adjusting to those new realities, an official representative of the Catholic diocese of Québec stated that priests increasingly show a willingness to lead services at funeral parlors instead of churches.
According to the representative, if people are no longer willing to go to churches, priests should make an effort to reach them where they are. He also said parishes should also be open to the possibility of allowing non-Catholic funerals to be celebrated in church buildings. Not only parishes, but cemeteries too feel the need to adopt new rituals: due to the spread of cremation. They have to take into account the demands of a growing number of people to have a place for ashes to be dispersed, which involves changes in the role and functioning of cemeteries.
A further step in the secular direction is taking place in Sweden as clergy are gradually being replaced by funeral home directors at funeral services, according to a recent study. In a paper presented at the recent conference of the Association for the Sociology of Religion, Anna Davidsson Bremborg of Lund University finds that while clergy of the Church of Sweden still conduct more than 85 percent of all funerals in the country, their role is becoming marginalized.
To avoid the Swedish stigma of dealing with dead bodies, funeral directors in Sweden have in the last decade professionalized and diversified their occupation. This means that funeral directors today are involved in bereavement preparation and counseling, as well as handling legal matters (such as wills and estates).
Davidsson-Bremborg adds that funeral directors are also gradually taking over the viewing of the dead body, often praying or reading a religious text at the family’s request. The viewing can easily replace the funeral service, especially if only a few funeral guests are expected. In this way, “the ministers are getting a more and more marginal role, and the funeral directors may even take over the ceremonial role as well as the therapeutic.”
There is also a growth in secular, “civil” funerals, which may further blur the line between clergy and funeral directors.
—By Jean-Francois Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of the website Religioscope (http://www.religioscope)