What Is a Befitting Burial

There is something I am learning from Malawians, which is, that the respect we owe the dead is to put the body in the ground AS SOON AS POSSIBLE (ASAP).
If I die today in Malawi, my body will be buried within two days. A popular Malawian artist died yesterday (Monday)…and he will be buried tomorrow (Wednesday).
In truth, most of the things we do in the name of respecting the dead that make us prolong burials are merely to MASSAGE OUR EGOS. If we sincerely look at it, the respect is not for the dead, rather it is for our ego. The greatest respect we owe the dead is to: PUT THE BODY IN THE GROUND ASAP, and keep them in our prayers.
I strongly believe that once someone dies, we should bury the person immediately, every other celebration can be done later.
I have seen people keep a dead body in the mortuary for one year, others for six months, or three months, etc simply because they are preparing to give their dead what they called a “befitting burial”. What is more, befitting to a dead body than to allow nature to take its course as soon as possible?
We want to print brochure. . . Well, the brochure is not for the dead, the dead don’t read. The number of those that sent their condolence messages is not also for the dead. We want to print posters and write “Exit of the Mighty Iroko.” The one you refer to as the “Mighty Iroko”, will not read it and it will not change the fact that the body will still decay.
The type of casket used is not to make the dead happy, NO! It is to make us happy. A casket is nice, but strictly speaking, the dead don’t need a casket. Or the uniform (aseobi) during the funeral, the cows killed or drinks consumed, etc, they are not for the dead. What belongs to the dead is the ground. . .six ft.
Keeping the body for months in a mortuary because you are waiting for the grandson in Malaysia to return is not for the dead. What does the son want to do with the body? If he comes back anytime and visits where the body was buried, does it make the burial less valid? Why so anxious to see the corpse yet when the person was alive, you did nothing?
It is important we also know that burial is not a sacrament that MUST be celebrated by a priest. What makes it a “Christian burial” is not because the body was brought to the church and mass said. No! What makes it a Christian burial is that the person died as a baptized Christian and the people burying him or her have the belief that death is not the end of the person and that there is life after death.
It is good that most burials are celebrated in the context of the mass because, for us, mass is the highest prayer. But we should not forget that it must not be. It is not the physical presence of the body in the church that makes the prayers heard even though it is a good practice.
We all must remember that burying the dead is one of the seven corporal works of mercy.
The seven corporal works of mercy are: to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to give shelter to travelers, to visit the sick, to visit the imprisoned, and to bury the dead.
I am saying this because there are some ministers who think they are doing their parishioners a favor by burying their dead. Also, I am saying this because there are some people who think burials are times to show wealth or who is who in the community.
Let us not use the unnecessary to water down the necessary. Burial should be the cheapest ceremony. The only thing very necessary to spend money on is digging the grave, and I am sure there are people that can do it for free.
Fr. Kelvin Ugwu
Fr. Kelvin Ugwu
Fr Kelvin Ugwu MSP is an influential Nigerian Catholic priest on a mission in The Gambia.

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