Catholic Funeral Traditions And Alterations Due To COVID-19 Pandemic: Implications To Compliance Of Health Protocols

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Helen B. Boholano, Ed.D. , Remedios C. Bacus, PhD


The concept of death and burial practices vary across time and culture. Cultural changes in death, such as burial rituals and expressions of mourning, loss, and sadness, have influenced the view of death as a transition to other forms of being. This study explores how health protocols due to the COVID-19 pandemic impact funeral practices among Catholics. Using ethnography and interpretive phenomenology, 30 purposively selected participants from Cebu, Philippines were interviewed on the cultural background of burial, the alterations of funeral practices, and their personal experiences of bereavement and mourning when health protocols on the management of the dead due to COVID-19 were implemented. The thematic analysis of field notes from in-depth interviews led to the emergence of themes. Traditional funeral practices include long vigil and public viewing, massive gatherings, and the giving of ‘abuloy’ to the bereaved family. With the imposition of health protocols, there were restrictions on mass gatherings, and virtual funeral services became popular. With the alterations of funeral traditions, Cebuanos yearned for communal mourning and human connection, holding of mourning ceremonies, and in-person goodbye rituals. At the onset, they felt deprived of conveying love and respect for the deceased but were then educated on their beliefs about a good death. The dignity of the dead and the cultural-religious rights remain respected despite the adaptations of bereavement and funeral practices to prevent the danger of contagion. Implications to compliance with health protocols were advanced in strengthening adaptations of services to the deceased, forging closer partnerships with the local government units, and raising awareness on the influence of religious traditions in one’s culture. Hence, an in-depth understanding of community culture, beliefs, traditions, and values ​​is vital to design effective dead management plans during a pandemic.

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