When honoring someone who has passed away, many of us might participate in reciting funeral prayers at their memorial service. These prayers are often moving passages that provide comfort to those mourning. Depending on the specific passage and congregation, some prayers may ask for forgiveness or eternal peace for the deceased, while others may help make sense of the meaning of life and death.
Although every religion varies, we’ve provided you with some examples of the funeral prayers, chants, and passages you may hear when attending a Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist funeral.
Prayers for funerals and memorial services
Just as there are many religions in the world, there are also many funeral prayers associated with each religion, sect, or denomination. In some faiths, like Islam and Judaism, you may come across specific prayers recited at nearly every memorial service, while in other religions, such as Christianity, there may be more flexibility with which passages are read. What’s more, some religions have different funeral practices and rituals from one sect to the next.
With that in mind, here are some common funeral prayers and passages you may experience at a memorial service when celebrating the life of someone special.
Jewish Funeral Prayers
There are several prayers associated with the mourning period in the Jewish faith, known as a shiva. Mourners will often recite these passages during the funeral but also in the days following the death of their loved one.
The Mourner’s Kaddish
Glorified and sanctified be God’s great name throughout the world which God has created according to plan.
May God's majesty be revealed in your lifetime and during your days, and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon; and say, Amen.
May God’s great name be blessed forever and to all eternity.
Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored, adored and lauded be the name of the Holy Blessed One, beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen.
May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.
May the one who creates peace on high bring peace for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.
Above is the English translation of this Jewish funeral prayer, which is traditionally written in Aramaic. “The Mourner’s Kaddish” is an important chant that is part of the mourning ritual in Judaism. It is recited at the end of the funeral and then daily for a specific amount of time, depending on the mourner’s relation to the deceased. Although you are grieving, saying this passage confirms your faith in God.
Kel Maleh Rachamim
On behalf of a male:
God, full of mercy, who dwells in the heights, provide a sure rest upon the Divine Presence's wings, within the range of the holy, pure and glorious, whose shining resemble the sky's, to the soul of (Hebrew name of deceased) son of (Hebrew name of his father) for a charity was given to the memory of his soul. Therefore, the Holy Blessed One will protect him forever, from behind the hiding of his wings, and will tie his soul with the rope of life. The Everlasting is his heritage, and he shall rest peacefully upon his lying place, and let us say: Amen.
On behalf of a female:
God, full of mercy, Who dwells above, give rest on the wings of the Divine Presence, amongst the holy, pure and glorious who shine like the sky, to the soul of (Hebrew name of deceased) daughter of (Hebrew name of her father), for whom prayer was offered in the memory of her soul. Therefore, the Holy Blessed One will protect her soul forever, and will merge her soul with eternal life. The Everlasting is her heritage, and she shall rest peacefully at her lying place, and let us say: Amen.
Also known as the “Prayer of Mercy,” the “Kel Maleh Rachamim” is another common Jewish funeral prayer, which has two versions based on the gender of the person who passed away. At the end of a Jewish memorial service, attendees will usually stand and sing this prayer to help grant the deceased eternal peace.
Christian Funeral Prayers
There are many denominations of Christianity, and with that comes many different traditions including funeral sermons, prayers, and Bible verses to choose from when honoring someone’s life.
The Eternal Rest Prayer (Catholic)
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen
Many Catholics incorporate “The Eternal Rest” prayer into the memorial service, especially those who are following Catholic funeral traditions. This funeral scripture appeals to God, asking him to care for and watch over their loved one.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.
This Bible verse for funerals comes from the book of Ecclesiastes. The passage references juxtapositions that highlight the good times and the sad times in life. When read at a funeral, it’s a reminder that living and dying are all part of the natural process of life.
Muslim Funeral Prayers
In Islam, there are many specific rituals and prayers practiced at funerals. In order to follow proper Muslim funeral etiquette, it’s important to realize that there may be particular rules as to how to properly perform them.
O Allah, forgive our living and our dead, those present and those absent, our young and our old, our males and our females. O Allah, whom among us You keep alive, then let such a life be upon Islam, and whom among us You take unto Yourself, then let such a death be upon faith. O Allah, do not deprive us of his reward and do not let us stray after him.
The “Salat al-Janazah” is an Islamic funeral prayer (performed in Arabic) that Muslim mourners recite after the death of a fellow Muslim. Mourners believe that it is their collective duty to ask Allah to forgive and pardon the deceased’s sins — and the sins of all Muslims. There are several specific steps regarding how and where you recite this prayer, such as how you stand, where you stand, and when you recite certain phrases.
O Allah, forgive him and have mercy on him and give him strength and pardon him. Be generous to him and cause his entrance to be wide and wash him with water and snow and hail. Cleanse him of his transgressions as white cloth is cleansed of stains. Give him an abode better than his home, and a family better than his family and a wife better than his wife. Take him into Paradise and protect him from the punishment of the grave [and from the punishment of Hell-fire].
In Islam, “du’a” is the act of calling upon Allah. Muslims will call on Allah for a wide range of reasons, from forgiveness to appreciation. The above is a du’a often spoken at the memorial service on behalf of someone who has passed away. Essentially, the passage asks Allah to forgive and protect the deceased.
Hindu Funeral Prayers
Chanting mantras plays a big role in the Hindu faith, as they are thought to help you release positive energy, experience divine consciousness, and reach eternal peace. Because mantras can provide serenity and comfort, funeral attendees often chant them.
Om Namo Narayanaya
Let us bow to the divine.
At a Hindu funeral, attendees may chant the mantra, “Om Namo Narayanaya,” which more specifically translates to “I bow to Lord Narayana.” Lord Narayana is the Supreme God. Chanting this phrase helps give comfort to those grieving and peace to the deceased. In fact, the word “Narayanaya” represents the final resting place for those who pass away.
Burn him not up, nor quite consume him, Agni: let not his body or his skin be scattered, O all possessing Fire, when thou hast matured him, then send him on his way unto the Fathers. When thou hast made him ready, all possessing Fire, then do thou give him over to the Fathers, when he attains unto the life that waits him, he shall become subject to the will of gods. The Sun receives thine eye, the Wind thy Prana (life-principle, breathe); go, as thy merit is, to earth or heaven. Go, if it be thy lot, unto the waters; go, make thine home in plants with all thy members.
In Hindu, “Antyesti” means “last sacrifice” and is part of the funeral rites performed to help encourage the deceased’s body to return to its origins. This passage is often recited at Hindu funerals to console the grieving and help their loved one in the next stage of life.
Buddhist Funeral Prayers
Like in Hinduism, chanting mantras is an important part of the Buddhist religion. Oftentimes, monks will attend the funeral and lead the mourners in prayer and chants. There are several different Buddhist traditions, so these practices may vary from one funeral to the next, depending on the community’s beliefs.
The Heart Sutra
Body is nothing more than emptiness, emptiness is nothing more than body. The body is exactly empty, and emptiness is exactly body.
The other four aspects of human existence — feeling, thought, will, and consciousness — are likewise nothing more than emptiness, and emptiness nothing more than they.
All things are empty: Nothing is born, nothing dies, nothing is pure, nothing is stained, nothing increases and nothing decreases.
So, in emptiness, there is no body, no feeling, no thought, no will, no consciousness.
There are no eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind.
There is no seeing, no hearing, no smelling, no tasting, no touching, no imagining.
There is nothing seen, nor heard, nor smelled, nor tasted, nor touched, nor imagined.
There is no ignorance, and no end to ignorance.
There is no old age and death, and no end to old age and death.
There is no suffering, no cause of suffering, no end to suffering, no path to follow.
There is no attainment of wisdom, and no wisdom to attain.
The Bodhisattvas rely on the Perfection of Wisdom, and so with no delusions, they feel no fear, and have Nirvana here and now.
All the Buddhas, past, present, and future, rely on the Perfection of Wisdom, and live in full enlightenment.
The Perfection of Wisdom is the greatest mantra. It is the clearest mantra, the highest mantra, the mantra that removes all suffering.
This is truth that cannot be doubted.
Say it so:
gone fully over.
So be it!
“The Heart Sutra” is associated with the Mahayana Buddhist tradition. While many Buddhists recite this sutra daily, it’s not uncommon to hear it at funerals as well. The sacred passage addresses important concepts in the Buddhist faith, such as emptiness, existence, and interconnectedness, which provides comfort and support for those who are preparing for death, those who have already passed, and those who are mourning.
Tibetan Dying Prayer
Through your blessing, grace, and guidance, through the power of the light that streams from you:
May all my negative karma, destructive emotions, obscurations, and blockages be purified and removed,
May I know myself forgiven for all the harm I may have thought and done,
May I accomplish this profound practice of phowa, and die a good and peaceful death,
And through the triumph of my death, may I be able to benefit all other beings, living or dead.
This prayer comes from the The Tibetan Book of the Dead, representing the Tibetan tradition in Buddhism. The passage encompasses many powerful themes such as seeking forgiveness and dying peacefully. At one point, it mentions “phowa,” which is the Buddhist “practice of conscious dying.” Like the Heart Sutra, this prayer is not only reserved for funerals, as Buddhists often recite it throughout their lives as a way to prepare themselves for their eventual death.
The above are just a few examples of the many beautiful funeral prayers that exist. When attending a memorial service, reciting these passages provides a deeply meaningful way of celebrating the life of your loved one. However, if you’re unfamiliar with the words or specific prayers, you can always sit quietly and respectfully follow along.