Polish Funeral Ceremony in Practice
Funerals in Poland, i.e. the actual ceremonies, go a long way back. In addition to mourning the dead, it has always been a time of evaluating the life of those left behind and, in line with the Catholic faith, always with a view to improve their attitude toward others. Funerals gave the priests celebrating the passage from the worldly to the (hopefully) heavenly an opportunity to rebuke the living for their sins while calling on them to lead a better life. For the believers this seems to work rather well, as everyone fears death, one way or another.
As most people in Poland are Catholic, they usually have a Christian funeral ceremony, which may or may not be similar to whatever is practiced by other Christian nations. With the death of a close one the family usually publishes an obituary (nekrolog) (in Poland this is essentially a death announcement published in one or more newspapers indicating the person who died and identifying the date and place of the funeral) and lets distant relatives know of the sad event. Similar death announcements (klepsydry) are also posted at the church at which the ceremony is to be held, and possibly also in other places, such as the home of the deceased to let their neighbors know. Funeral homes (dom pogrzebowy) are contacted to perform all of the required legal steps and provide the coffin or other funeral-related artifacts.
Once all of this is done and the day comes, people usually gather before the mass for a wake (czuwanie) by the casket (trumna) (traditionally this can last as long as an entire night) in the chapel, which is then followed by the service. In addition to the usual celebration, instead of the sermon the priest provides a brief account of the deceased’s life, concentrating on the positive aspects. Depending on the arrangements with the church, other family members may also give their own eulogies, although this is highly uncommon. Following the mass the casket is carried by the funeral home workers to the hearse (karawan) which, along with all the flowers and wreaths (kwiaty i wieńce), takes the deceased on their last journey (ostatnia podróż).
When all the mourners (żałobnicy) have arrived at the cemetery (cmentarz), the priest will commence the graveside committal service, or the final farewell (ostatnie pożegnanie). While throwing a handful of soil onto the casket lowered into the grave (grób), they will repeat the well-known phrase: “Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return” (Z prochu powstałeś i w proch się obrócisz), known in the Anglican tradition as “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust”. This is also the time when family members can say the last goodbye. After this the gravediggers (grabarze) will start their work and the overall atmosphere will become very somber and sad. It is customary for mourners to approach the closest relatives of the deceased person and offer condolences, saying for example: Moje najszczersze wyrazy współczucia (My deepest sympathy) or Proszę przyjąć moje kondolencje (Please accept my condolences). Once this has been said, it is probably best to leave the family mourners for a while to allow them a moment of solitude with their feeling of loss and sorrow.
Following the burial service (pochówek) it is also customary in Poland to offer a funeral luncheon (stypa or konsolacja) involving a meal and a gathering with the family to remember the life of the deceased. Such gathering may be held at the decedent's house or at a designated reception hall or restaurant. If you have been invited, spend some time with the family comforting them over a meal, and leave paying your final respects.