Prayers for a memorial service

Prayer for the Death of a Pet

By Rabbi Barry H. Block

O Lord our God, we come before You this day in sadness. (Pet’s name), who brought us so much joy in life, has now died. (His/Her) happy times in our family’s embrace have come to an end. We miss (pet’s name) already.

Help us, O God, to remember the good times with (pet’s name). Remind us to rejoice in the happy times (he/she) brought to our home. Let us be thankful for the good life we were blessed to give to (him/her).

We are grateful to You, God, for creating (pet’s name), for entrusting (him/her) to our care, and for sustaining (him/her) in our love for a measure of time. We understand that all that lives must die. We knew that this day would come. And yet, O God, we would have wanted one more day of play, one more evening of love with (pet’s name).

O God, as we have taken care of (pet’s name) in life, we ask that You watch over (him/her) in death. You entrusted (pet’s name) to our care; now, we give (him/her) back to You. May (pet’s name) find a happy new home in Your loving embrace.

As we remember (pet’s name), may we love each other more dearly. May we care for all Your creatures, for every living thing, as we protected the blessed life of (pet’s name). May (his/her) memory bless our lives with love and caring forever. Amen.

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prayers for a memorial service

Last Updated on May 29, 2018

Biblical funeral prayers are one important way for Christians to honor God, show their trust and faith in him, and proclaim his goodness and sovereignty over all of life’s affairs. In life and in death our hope is in God and in the saving work of Jesus his Son.

So it is right to pray at a Christian’s funeral service. Prayer is an act of worship, an act of trust, and an act of obedience. As such, funeral prayers are profoundly comforting to believers and a wonderful testimony of the deceased’s faith in Christ.

Additionally, because we believe that the Bible is our rule of faith and conduct, it is good to pray Biblical funeral prayers that are taken directly from the Scriptures. This, again, is a way to honor God by proclaiming his word. The Word and prayer are also means of grace by which the Holy Spirit encourages and comforts his people.

Here are ten beautiful and biblical prayers to pray at a believer’s funeral.

prayers for a memorial service

Biblical Funeral Prayers for a Christian Funeral Service

Any of these biblical funeral prayers can be read by a pastor or clergy, by a close friend or family member, or corporately by all attendees. You can divide these up into call-and-response readings, where the leader reads one or more verses and the rest of the funeral service attendees read the next verse or two. Corporate prayers invite participation and allow mourners a way to express grief and faith.

However, not all who attend a funeral are believers, so unless the funeral is held in a church and officiated by a minister you may want to preface any corporate prayers, readings, or hymns with an invitation to participate but also note that it is not required. This is an excellent opportunity to present the the gospel as you encourage those who cannot pray along with you to at least listen and consider the words of Scripture. See “Example of Call-and-Response Corporate Prayer” at the end of this article for how to do a prayer in this manner.

1. PSALM 23

prayers for a memorial service

King James Version (Traditional)

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil:
For thou art with me;
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
Thou anointest my head with oil;
My cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

English Standard Version (Contemporary)

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
For you are with me;
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

2. THE LORD’S PRAYER

prayers for a memorial service

From Matthew 6:9-13, where Jesus taught his disciples how to pray.

King James Version (Traditional)

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory. for ever and ever.
Amen.

English Standard Version (Contemporary)

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Amen.

3. I CORINTHIANS 15:51-57

prayers for a memorial service

Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in an instant, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet.

For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

For that which is corruptible must clothe itself with incorruptibility, and that which is mortal must clothe itself with immortality.

And when this which is corruptible clothes itself with incorruptibility and this which is mortal clothes itself with immortality, then the word that is written shall come about: “Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

4. PSALM 27:1, 3-5

prayers for a memorial service

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear:
Though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident.
One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after;
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple.
For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion:
In the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me;
He shall set me up upon a rock.

5. ECCLESIASTES 3:1-8

prayers for a memorial service

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,
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
A time to search and a time to give up,
A time to keep and a time to throw away,
A time to tear and a time to mend,
A time to be silent and a time to speak,
A time to love and a time to hate,
A time for war and a time for peace.

6. II TIMOTHY 2:11-13

prayers for a memorial service

This saying is trustworthy:
If we have died with him we shall also live with him;
If we persevere we shall also reign with him.
But if we deny him he will deny us.
If we are unfaithful he remains faithful,
For he cannot deny himself.

7. THE RESURRECTION PRAYER

prayers for a memorial service

This is an ancient burial prayer taken from multiple Scripture passages. Traditional and anonymous, it is included here because it is simply the words of the Bible in prayer form.

I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. John 11:25-26
I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; and though this body be destroyed, yet shall I see God; whom I shall see for myself and mine eyes shall behold, and not as a stranger. Job 19:25-27
For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For if we live, we live unto the Lord. and if we die, we die unto the Lord. Whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s. Romans 14:7-8
Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord; even so saith the Spirit, for they rest from their labors. Revelation 14:13

8. THE BEATITUDES

prayers for a memorial service

From Matthew 5:3-12, where Jesus pronounced this series of blessings for the encouragement of the saints.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.

9. PSALM 116

prayers for a memorial service

I love the Lord, because He has heard
My voice and my supplications.
Because He has inclined His ear to me,
Therefore I will call upon Him as long as I live.

The pains of death surrounded me,
And the pangs of Sheol laid hold of me;
I found trouble and sorrow.
Then I called upon the name of the Lord:
“O Lord, I implore You, deliver my soul!”

Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;
Yes, our God is merciful.
The Lord preserves the simple;
I was brought low, and He saved me.
Return to your rest, O my soul,
For the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.

For You have delivered my soul from death,
My eyes from tears,
And my feet from falling.
I will walk before the Lord
In the land of the living.
I believed, therefore I spoke,
“I am greatly afflicted.”
I said in my haste,
“All men are liars.”

What shall I render to the Lord
For all His benefits toward me?
I will take up the cup of salvation,
And call upon the name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows to the Lord
Now in the presence of all His people.

Precious in the sight of the Lord
Is the death of His saints.

O Lord, truly I am Your servant;
I am Your servant, the son of Your maidservant;
You have loosed my bonds.
I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving,
And will call upon the name of the Lord.

I will pay my vows to the Lord
Now in the presence of all His people,
In the courts of the Lord’s house,
In the midst of you, O Jerusalem.

Praise the Lord!

10. PSALM 121

prayers for a memorial service

I lift up my eyes to the hills;
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
The Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip;
He who watches over you will not slumber;
Indeed, He who watches over Israel
Will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you.
The Lord is your shade at your right hand;
The sun will not harm you by day,
Nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm.
He will watch over your life;
The Lord will watch over your coming and going
Both now and forever more.

ADDITIONAL PASSAGES

Here are some additional biblical funeral prayer Scripture passages ideal for reading or prayer at a funeral.

  • Psalm 32
  • Psalm 34
  • Psalm 46
  • Psalm 130
  • Matthew 11:25-30
  • John 5:24-29
  • 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
  • 1 John 3:1-2

EXAMPLE OF CORPORATE CALL-AND-RESPONSE PRAYER

Here is an example of how to do a corporate prayer (where everyone recites the words of the prayer together) in a call-and-response style. From I Corinthians 15:51-57.

Leader

Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in an instant, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet.

All

For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

Leader

For that which is corruptible must clothe itself with incorruptibility, and that which is mortal must clothe itself with immortality. And when this which is corruptible clothes itself with incorruptibility and this which is mortal clothes itself with immortality, then the word that is written shall come about: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

All

“Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?”

Leader

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.

All

But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

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Jewish mourning is both private and public. When we visit a grave or observe a yahrzeit , we generally do so in private. Yizkor is the public observance for the community of bereaved.

Yizkor means “may remember,” from the Hebrew root zachor. It is recited four times a year in the synagogue: on Yom Kippur, Shemini Atzeret, the eighth day of Passover, and the second day of Shavuot. In Israel, it is recited on the combined Simchat Torah/Shemini Atzeret, the seventh day of Passover, and on the only day of Shavuot.

Originally, Yizkor was recited only on Yom Kippur. Its primary purpose was to honor the deceased by committing to giving tzedakah in their memory, on the theory that the good deeds of the survivors elevate the souls of the departed. It also enhanced the chances for personal atonement by doing a deed of lovingkindness. Since the Torah reading on the last day of the pilgrimage festivals mentions the importance of donations, Yizkor was added to these holiday services as well.

It was the custom in medieval Germany for each community to read a list of its martyrs at the Yizkor service. The practice was eventually expanded to include the names of other members of the community who had died. Today, most synagogues publish lists of those who are remembered by congregants, which are distributed at the Yizkor services. In addition, the lights on all the memorial tablets in the synagogue are turned on.

The Four Parts of Yizkor

1.      A series of readings and prayers, recited and chanted, that sets the mood for the solemn service.

2.      Paragraphs that individuals read silently recalling the deceased. There are paragraphs for a father, mother, husband, wife, son, daughter, other relatives and friends, and Jewish martyrs. During the service, each person reads the appropriate paragraph(s).

3.      The memorial prayer for the deceased, the El Male Rahamim is chanted. This is essentially the same prayer said at Jewish funerals.

4.      A special prayer, Av HaRahamim (Ancestor of Mercies), probably composed as a eulogy for communities destroyed in the Crusades of 1096, is recited by the congregation as a memorial for all Jewish martyrs. Some also add Psalm 23.

Although in its traditional structure Yizkor does not include the recitation of the Mourner’s Kaddishmany congregations do add this as the climax of the Yizkor service.

Non-Mourners During Yizkor

When I was a kid in Omaha, Yizkor always seemed to be the climax of Yom Kippur day. The shul was crowded with people all day long, but it was packed at Yizkor time. There was something about this mysterious, awe-inspiring service that drew people. It was the pull of remembrance.

It was also break time for those of us who were shooed out of the synagogue by our parents. A powerful superstition pervaded the community: If your parents were alive, you didn’t stay for Yizkor. God forbid, you should tempt the ayin ha-ra, the evil eye, by hearing and seeing others mourn for their departed. God forbid, you should sit down while virtually everyone else was standing for the Yizkor prayers, somehow making the mourners feel bad. So, during the 20 minutes or so of Yizkor, the “fortunate” people whose parents were alive sat outside chatting, while the majority of the congregation who had sustained a loss participated in the service.

These superstitions are just that — superstitions, bubbemeises (Yiddish for old wives’ tales). There is no legal requirement for those whose parents are alive to leave the service. In fact, many rabbis today suggest that everyone stay for Yizkor so that the entire congregation can offer the prayers for the martyrs of the Jewish people and offer moral support to friends and family who may be deeply touched by the memorial service. But, as with much of the folk religion, this custom is sure to continue in many communities. Ultimately, it is a matter of personal and family decision-making as to your practice.

Questions About Yizkor

Can I say Yizkor privately?

Since the Kaddish is not recited as part of Yizkor, there is no technical requirement for a minyan . Therefore, the memorial paragraphs can be said privately if you cannot get to the synagogue.

How do I get names listed in the Yizkor book?

Most congregations ask their members to list those who are to be remembered in the coming year as part of the yearly membership survey when you join or renew your affiliation. If someone dies during the year, the names are generally added as a matter of course, unless the synagogue publishes one book for use throughout the year. You may want to check with the synagogue office to spare yourself the unease of the name missing when you expect it to be on the list.

What about donations?

In keeping with the origins of Yizkor, it is appropriate to make a tzedakah contribution to honor those you are remembering. Many congregations appeal for funds at Yizkor services for the synagogue or for Israel. If you don’t belong to a synagogue, consider making a donation to a worthy cause.

Do I light a memorial candle when Yizkor is recited?

Yes. The 24-hour memorial candle should be lit in your home before the fast begins on Yom Kippur. On the other festivals, if your custom is to light a yahrzeit candle, use a flame from a pre-existing candle or other source to light the candle. These memorial candles are widely available in synagogue gift shops, kosher stores, and often in supermarkets. There is no blessing recited when you light the memorial candle, although it is certainly appropriate to reflect upon the memory of loved ones. The candle may be placed anywhere in the home.

Do I observe Yizkor during the first year of mourning?

Contrary to popular belief, yes. Clearly, Yizkor is observed for a spouse, a child, and a sibling and, according to most authorities, for parents during the first year.

Adapted with permission from A Time to Mourn, A Time to Comfort (Jewish Lights).

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A basic explanation of the what, how and why of this meaningful prayer.

Yizkor (remembrance) is the memorial service recited for deceased parents and other relatives at several points throughout the year. The name of the prayer means “May He remember” (“He” being God and “Yizkor” being the first word of the prayer). Not only do many who recite the prayer find it to be a moving, emotional experience, it also has the power to elevate spiritually the souls of the departed.

Yizkor is predicated on the Jewish concept of the immortality of the soul. Although the deceased can no longer perform mitzvot, they can benefit from prayers, acts of charity, and other good deeds that their survivors perform on their behalf. Yizkor is an excellent time for personal reflection and to commit to particular actions or general self-improvement as a source of merit for the departed.

The Yizkor prayer is typically preceded by an appeal in the synagogue. This is not a mercenary attempt to extort funds from a captive audience; committing to give charity is an inherent part of the Yizkor experience. If one says the prayer by himself at home, he should nevertheless commit to donate to an appropriate charity in the deceased’s memory.

What are the Origins of Yizkor? When is It Recited and Why?

There are four holidays on which we recite Yizkor. It is said on Yom Kippur, the last day of Passover, the second day of Shavuot and on Shemini Atzeret (a separate holiday at the end of Sukkot). (In Israel, where there is one day less of Yom Tov, Yizkor is recited on the seventh day of Passover and the only day of Shavuot; Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are the same day in Israel.)

The original practice was to recite Yizkor only on Yom Kippur. This is because as “yom hakippurim” (“the day of atonements” – plural), the day effects atonement for both the living and the deceased. This is especially true through the act of giving charity, which is both an integral part of the atonement process and an important theme of the prayer Yizkor.

The roots of Yizkor are found in the Midrash Tanchuma (Ha’azinu 1), where it cites Deuteronomy 21:8, “Atone for Your people, Israel, whom You have redeemed.” We are told that the first part of the verse refers to the living of Israel, while the second part refers the deceased. The Midrash continues, “Therefore, our practice is to remember the deceased on Yom Kippur by pledging charity on their behalf.” We are then told not to think that charity no longer helps the departed. Rather, when one pledges charity on the deceased’s behalf, he ascends as quickly as an arrow shot from a bow.

Yizkor was extended from Yom Kippur alone to the Three Festivals, which is thematically appropriate. The Torah tells us (Deuteronomy 16:16-17) that when we make our pilgrimage to the Temple for the holidays, we are not to appear empty-handed. Each person was to make a donation according to his ability. We see from this that charity is also an integral part of the Festivals and therefore a fitting occasion for Yizkor with its emphasis on charity as a merit for the departed.

What Is in Yizkor?

Before starting Yizkor proper, many congregations recite a selection of Biblical verses pertaining to the nature of our lives and after-lives. (For example, “man’s days are like a shadow passing by” – Psalms 144:4; “God will redeem my soul from the depths” – Psalms 49:16, etc.) These verses are followed by the recitation of Psalm 91 (“Yosheiv Ba’seiser”), whose theme is that God is the refuge of mankind. After these readings, we’re ready to begin the actual prayer of Yizkor.

The theme of Yizkor is that we ask God to remember our relatives and to include them in the “bond of life” in paradise alongside the Patriarchs, Matriarchs and other departed righteous. In exchange for this, we commit (without making a vow) to donate charity on their behalf. The primary focus of Yizkor is on one’s parents, but it may also be recited on behalf of other relatives. The paragraphs in the siddur for father, mother and other close relatives have spaces where one can insert the names of the deceased. The Ashkenazic practice is to recite the name of the departed as the son or daughter of (their father’s name); other communities may use the name of the deceased’s mother.

Following Yizkor for one’s relatives, there are paragraphs for victims of the Holocaust and other martyrs.

After all of the Yizkor paragraphs, the prayer Keil Malei Rachamim (“God, full of compassion”) is recited. This prayer is the same one recited at a burial, an unveiling and during the Shabbos mincha service prior to the deceased’s Yahrtzeit. This is followed by the prayer Av Harachamim (“Father of compassion”), a memorial prayer recited on most Sabbaths. It may surprise some to hear that Kaddish is not part of the Yizkor service.

Should I Say Yizkor During the First Year? Should I Go Out if I’m Not Saying It?

A number of aspects of Yizkor are the subject of differences of opinion among the various authorities or matters of local custom. For example, some have the practice not to recite Yizkor during the first year following a death while the emotional wounds are still quite fresh. Others maintain that Yizkor should be recited during the first year the same as in all subsequent years.

One very familiar practice is for those not reciting Yizkor to leave the room while the mourners are saying it. Some will tell you that it is a sign of respect for one’s living parents not to remain inside while Yizkor is being recited for the deceased. Others will say that it is from fear of the ayin hara (“evil eye”) and that those with living parents go out so as not to tempt fate. Opponents of the practice say that going out is based on superstition and not recommended, or perhaps it’s just insensitive to those reciting it. Plus, there are prayers at the end that are recited for victims of the Holocaust and other martyrs; these apply to all members of the congregation, not just to those who have lost close family members. Some would advise staying inside in order to recite those prayers, or to go out and return for them.

In both of these matters, one should follow one’s own family custom or the practice of one’s community. If in doubt, ask your local rabbi.

Why is Shul So Crowded? Can Yizkor be Recited at Home?

It’s ironic that shuls become extra crowded because of a prayer that doesn’t need to be said with a minyan!

It is not uncommon that people who are not regular synagogue attendees will appear on days when Yizkor is recited. Of course there’s nothing wrong with this; it’s actually a wonderful thing that those who are not regular worshipers are willing to go the extra mile (sometimes literally) on behalf of relatives who are no longer with us. If anything, serving as the catalyst for their heirs to attend shul is a merit for the deceased. But if one cannot make it to shul, Yizkor can (and should) still be recited.

While it’s always preferable to pray in shul with a minyan, there are many legitimate reasons that prevent people from attending, such as infirmity or advanced age. If one cannot attend shul, there’s absolutely no reason not to say Yizkor in the privacy of one’s own home. And it is still appropriate to commit to donate to the synagogue or another worthy charity in merit of the departed.

Reprinted with permission from ou.org

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