Catholic Activity: Death and Burial
The French have a deep respect for those who have passed away. Consequently, they practice many interesting customs during their long periods of mourning.
Death in the family is accepted calmly and with resignation among the more educated. But among the uneducated in certain sections it is made an occasion for the release of pent-up emotions. Loud lamentations are expected. They are a sign of deep affection for the departed. Clocks are stopped at the exact hour of death. Mirrors are turned toward the wall or are covered. Water found in vases is thrown out. Candles are lit and kept burning during the Veille or wake.
The funeral takes place twenty-four hours after the death of a person. Mourning must be worn. This ranges from full black to half black and white or blue depending on the degree of the individual's relationship and intimacy of friendship. The immediate family goes nowhere for a time. When they do visit again, they go to places at which no music is permitted. Mourning lasts from one year to three months, depending on the degree of relationship. When speaking about a departed member of the family, the word "Defunt" must always precede the name out of respect. In the days when the distance to the Church was too great, and the scarcity of priests was such that they could not take care of outlying districts, the more educated officiated at the funeral, saying prayers for the deceased in the home and at the cemetery. At the burial some still have the custom of dropping a handful of earth upon the lowered casket after the Sign of the Cross has been made over it.
Respect and devotion for the dead is kept alive in the family for many years. No matter how poor a family may be, the anniversary Mass for the departed member of the family is always said. Pictures of the deceased adorn the tombstones. These are fixed on the cross or inserted in the shadow-boxes with small statues, crucifixes or other holy objects. The boxes are peak-roofed, and the front is covered with glass.
Activity Source: Your Home, A Church in Miniature by Compiled by The Family Life Bureau in the early 1950s, The Neumann Press, Long Prairie, Minnesota, 1994