Catholic funeral customs in the area of Biržai from the mid-20th century to the early 21st century

Rimutė Garnevičiūtė

Based on new field investigation data, the rites of Catholic funeral, changes in its traditions and their potential reasons in the area of Biržai from mid-20th century to the early 21st century are described in the article. A wide field of relationships with the death has been analysed, including death-predicting signs, actions at the dying person, an attitude towards the death, and protection from potentially negative impact of the deceased. The influence of Evangelic and Latvian culture resulted in formation of funeral rites specific of the Biržai region (the deceased is preserved for several days before the wake; the coffin is covered with a bedspread; beer is the imperative during the funeral dinner), some of these rites survived by the end-20th century, and some of them in a modified form remain in the mortuaries, i.e., the wake tradition, when the coffin is covered by a yearly woven webbing. The custom of invitation to the funeral did not change. The tradition of singing wake remained with a typical canticle repertoire, including songs of funeral meals and those of farewell with the deceased, as well as the songs of the deceased’s name. The ceremonies of singing also changed. A joint singing during a wake under the lead of one singer turned into a hearing of singing singers. Thus, the singing of professional singers now has a typical concert mode. The trends in funeral ceremony changes in the area of Biržai are the same as in the rest of Lithuania. The changes depend on a transfer of funeral space from the deceased’s living place to the community space, and the funeral services have turned into business. This weakens the responsibility of community for proper burying of its member and his life after the death. Catholics are still against such a novelty of burial as the cremation.