As a fairly new religion -- it was officially established in 1836 -- confusion and misrepresentation of actual Mormon beliefs often exists. When it comes to death and burial, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that it's simply a temporary separation of body and spirit. By understanding the general beliefs on death and burial, you'll be better prepared to attend a Mormon funeral, and understand the proceedings and rituals included.
Body and Spirit
Mormon teachings indicate that the body and spirit are two separate parts that work together throughout life. When someone dies, it's an indication of the spirit leaving the body, where the body can then be buried according to custom. In fact, an often-used LDS metaphor likens the body and spirit to a hand and a glove. When the hand is removed from the glove -- symbolizing the body -- the glove can no longer move. The beliefs surrounding the body and the spirit dictate much of Mormon funeral proceedings.
Mormons believe in the literal resurrection -- that is, the reuniting of Christ's body with his spirit three days after his crucifixion. Mormons also belief that they will enjoy the same literal resurrection upon the Second Coming of Christ, where the bodies of the dead will reunite with those spirits who have passed on before in perfection. While you'll find tears shed at a Mormon funeral, you may also hear assurances that a family will see their loved one in perfect form once again.
Mormon burial ceremonies and funerals aren't much different from other Christian funeral proceedings. Prayers, songs and memorial speeches are all part of a traditional funeral. However, one difference does exist. Members who have successfully been endowed and attended the temple have specific white ritual clothing worn for burial. Members are usually dressed in regular clothing for an open casket memorial, but are later changed into white ritual clothing before the sealing of the casket. While it's not a saving ordinance -- an ordinance that Mormons believe is required for exaltation, such as baptism -- it's a traditional custom that many Mormons choose.
In general, the church discourages against cremation as a policy, but not a requirement. Since the members believe in a literal resurrection and rising from the grave, the symbolism of being buried is usually the norm. However, the Church Handbook doesn't forbid cremation. Instead, members are given leave to observe cultural norms and laws in their burial proceedings, which may require cremation in some countries and cultures. Still, the vast majority of Western-culture Mormons choose traditional burial as part of their final resting wishes.
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