“Grave was center of family”

November is considered the month of remembrance of the dead. On All Souls' Day, or Sunday of the Dead, the dead are remembered especially. Manfred Becker-Huberti explains how the culture of burial has changed over the years in an interview with our site.

Interviewer: Older people often talk about how beautiful a funeral was. In the past, people used to say "That was a nice leich"!" How is that meant?

Prof. Dr. Manfred Becker-Huberti (theologian and customs researcher): This is not about the corpse as such, but about dignity, about the honorable escort. It is about the agreed, ritual procedure at the funeral. "The beautiful Leich" refers to a funeral that is conducted – "rite et recte" the Latin would say – that is, according to the rite.

It used to be that there was no funeral director, but the neighborhood, which then stood up for such things. It was regulated in which coffin someone would be buried or who had to bring the body to the cemetery. These were always people from the neighborhood. And if it all worked and worked out, then it was a "nice leich".

our siteWhat is the difference between a dignified funeral, as modern people imagine it today, and the way it used to be in the Catholic sense??

Becker-Huberti: In the catholic sense it belonged to the funeral that the body was laid out at home. The coffin was brought to the church and then stood in front of the communion bench during the service. After the service, the congregation accompanied the coffin to the cemetery. Today, a funeral often happens much more privately and is no longer so closely associated with the congregation.

our siteThis can also be seen in the urn burials, which are more common today. But that wasn't always the case from the Catholic side, was it??

Becker-Huberti: It has not been self-evident for so long. Urn burial was a characteristic of those who rejected the resurrection. Cremation was supposed to be a sign that people did not believe in the resurrection. The church reacted brusquely to this: Whoever lets burn, will not be buried ecclesiastically. This is no longer the case. It wasn't like that in the past either, if you look far back into Roman times. At that time there was also cremation and the church then preferred burial in the ground because people should be buried as Jesus was buried. This has changed a little in the meantime. Not because this is to deny the resurrection, but because our social conditions have changed.

Interviewer: What exactly has changed?

In the past, the grave was the center of the family. It was the meeting place and also a place of representation. There it was shown whether the family functioned or not. Decorating the grave was a sign that everything was going well with the family. Nowadays, this is no longer possible, because the survivors usually no longer live in the same place. Also, the cost of a grave and the care of the grave itself are no longer possible for many people. An urn burial is therefore still somewhat cheaper than burial in the ground.

A lot of people have the idea that you can make the corpse into a diamond ring to carry with you. But the dignity of the dead contradicts this. It's a funny thought to think of your grandma as a diamond ring.

Interviewer: Many also bury their loved ones in cemetery forests. What is behind it?

Becker-Huberti: People want to connect the dead with nature and not bury them in any cemetery. This is a romantic idea, however another idea goes too far for me. Many think that the dead person then becomes part of a tree and lives on in the trees. There would be a limit for me. But these new types of cemeteries are becoming more and more common, because many people take advantage of them.

The interview was conducted by Hilde Regeniter.

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