O level Notes : FRS - Religious rituals in Christianity - Death rituals

Death is when the spirit separates with the body. Christians carry out some procedures on this occasion. Prayers for the dead are carried out. Christians  sing  and dance  at funerals.

Death ritual


Death is when the spirit separates with the body. Christians carry out some procedures on this occasion. Prayers for the dead are carried out. Christians  sing  and dance  at funerals. Some  Christians  wear their uniforms at funerals. The church pastors or elders lead the proceedings of a Christian funeral. For the Roman Catholic Church a mass is done at a funeral.

The ritual begins by church members bathing the corpse of their fellow Christian with permission of course from the relatives of the deceased. The body is then dressed in the church’s attire (his or hers). A sermon is conducted  and prayers are done. The pastor or the leaders of the church lead the ceremony. The church members carry the coffin to the grave and they bury the body, the church members are expected to take care of all the activities of the funeral, be it cooking, fetching water among others.

Johanne Masowe eChishanu Apostolic Church: Case Study

Death happens without one knowing. The spirit guides and instruct people of what happens in their lives. As such, death marks the appointed  time of God and this is the reason why in Johanne Masowe eChishanu  people  do  not  lament  strongly  upon the death of an individual. Firstly, death in Johanne Masowe is marked by people gathering at the deceased’s home. They then sing a song “hosanna” to dedicate the dead to God. One of the songs which they  sing  is Mutungamiri Gabriel meaning  Gabriel the leader. In Johanne  Masowe eChishanu, Gabriel is the arch of angel  of God who carries important messages of God concerning human life and destiny.

 The  body  of  the  deceased  is  ritually  washed  by male elders “vadare” if he is male and female elder “Vasadare” if she is a woman. An unmarried person is not allowed to wash the deceased and carry the coffin. The body  is shrouded  by a garment  called munembo which covers all parts of the body.

They conduct a night vigil where they sing songs “mavhesi” which were liked by the deceased as well as celebrating his or her life. On the day of burial, the deceased is carried to the grave site on a carrying panel known as banda by vadare which literally means elders. Burial is done without a coffin but they use panel (banda) which is derived from the fact that Jesus was never buried with a coffin. The person is buried with a white four cornered garment called munembo, white short, white shirt with a belt (mushwede) and garments. White is symbolic as it represents purity. Munembo is used to cover the whole body. The old garments used by the believer are placed in a Batimaya which means a bag used to put clothes to make a pillow. A pillow carries the prayer for the deceased. People who are not part of the belief system are privy of the things which happens from the house to the burial place and burial is done according to instruction from the spirit.

The body is lowered in a grave. If the deceased is a woman, it is placed on the left side enclosure of the grave while a man is placed on the right-side of the enclosure. The reason why men and women are buried on the right side and left side is spiritual as well as giving respect to men and women along gender binaries. There is separation of gender in burial.  To add on, the deceased is buried facing upwards to enable to rise when the dead are raised by God in the enclosure found in the grave. The head of the deceased is placed facing towards the west and the legs stretching  to the east. Burial ends with the enclosure in the grave being closed with stones as well as filling the grave with soil.

After the burial of the deceased, a memorial (nyaradzo) is conducted  after three weeks to dispose all the clothes and property which belong to the deceased. It is during this period that one is determined whether he or she has gone to heaven or not. Three weeks gives other people ample time for others to come and mourn the deceased. Three weeks is a religious tradition that had been given by the spirit to all the apostolic followers. During nyaradzo, prayers are made to make sure the dead does not come back to haunt the living. It is done to pacify the dead. People do lament because the person is loved by God. Death is a sign of being loved by God.  From the day of the passing on of the follower up to the end of the mourning period, Johanne Masowe eChishanu members are not allowed to eat meat. This is because it is prohibited to lose two souls at one time. The animal should not be killed because of the death of a human being but should not die on its own.

Importance of death rituals


  • Funeral proceedings give preachers an opportunity to preach. Funeral ritual ensure that the living repent from the preaching done at the funeral. Christians believe that the living can learn from the way one would have died. They make sermons to guide the living to prepare for the next life by making them repent from sin as well as copying the good works that would have been done by the deceased.


  • Funeral proceedings comfort of the relatives the  deceased.   Death   is   associated   with pain and grief. As such, funeral ritual in Christianity enable Christians to comfort those who are mourning and grieving. Comforting   those  mourning   and  in  pain after losing their beloved one is an attribute of Christian ethics.


  • Rituals give hope for the living. Funeral rituals enable Christian leaders to tell those left behind that there is still a chance to see their relatives in the next life. So, funeral rituals give hope to Christians of the unknown future. Christian life is characterised by uncertainties of the future which  are only cleared  by  funeral  rituals.  Funeral  rituals give  hope to the living  on the possibilities of meeting  their beloved  one lost through death. This shows that death is not final but passing phase which enables Christians to graduate into the next life.
  • Funeral rituals enable the burial of the deceased to commence. Burying the deceased can only be done after proper Christian funeral rituals have been done. Without proper funeral rituals burial cannot commence because this ritual enables the dead to rest in peace as well as giving the living hope for the life to come.


Some denominations like the Johanne Masowe Vadzidzi VaJesu led by the late Aaron Mhukuta known as Madzibaba Wimbo, also has a type of a grave that the deceased follower should have.