The 40-day memorial tradition is as widely accepted as it is unique. While the time frame may seem arbitrary, several religions and cultures have adopted this tradition. In fact, there are many reasons you should know about the 40 days after death traditions. This additional time can provide comfort and strength for the bereaved.
Let's look at these Inspiring Facts about the 40 Days After Death.
Not all cultures hold funerary memorials forty days after death. Some pagan traditions believe that the soul of a recently deceased person continues to wander the earth for forty days; other religious traditions believe the soul will rest in the Lord’s hands after death. The number 40 is often used in many spiritual traditions, but the specific reason is unknown.
Here are the 40 Days after Death Count
When we say “40 days after death,” most people are not sure whether the day of death should be counted or not. Generally, it is accepted that we can begin counting the next day after a person’s death. The time of death is also an essential factor in determining exactly when the 40th day occurs.
If the time of death occurs during the second half of the day (afternoon), we would include that day and begin counting the next day. However, if it happened sometime in the first half of the day (before noon), we would not include that day and start counting on the following day. It might be necessary to ask confident religious leaders for a more accurate count.
Judaism has its own calendar.
Jewish tradition prescribes a specific order of steps to follow when someone is grieving. Family, friends, and the community offer support during each stage of mourning, which lasts a month in all. The first period of mourning begins immediately after death and ends at the burial. Shiva refers to the seven days following the burial and to the Jewish customs that are followed during this time. After sheloshim, the mourners eventually leave their mourning garments behind as they return to normal dress. Parents who have lost a child observe an extended period of formal mourning [eleven months] after the death.
40 Days of Grieving and Mourning In Islam
In Islam, the 40-day mourning period following the death can be shorter or longer depending upon a person’s relationship with the deceased. Relatives often spend time reading the Qur’an, reflecting on their own spiritual journeys, and praying or meditating on the life of the loved one they’ve lost. They also have time to engage in other activities, such as spending time with other family members or picking up hobbies they’d put aside while the loved one was alive.
40 Days After Death: The Christian Tradition
Traditions following death vary based on the denomination and location involved. For example, how a family marks a period of mourning may be different from one family to another. However, these traditions share some general principles.
The Catholic Church
The Roman Catholic Church does not endorse any particular 40-day practice (such as observing a mourning period or fasting). The theological opinions of many Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches are that for two days after death, the soul is present on earth while the body decays.
On the third through eighth days, the soul is shown what Paradise is like. Then on days nine through 39, the soul is shown what the afterlife is like. On the 40th day, the soul is brought before God’s throne, at which time its future place will be announced until the Last Judgment at the end of time.
Eastern Orthodox Christianity
The Eastern Orthodox Church also called the Orthodox Rite, or simply the Orthodox Church is the second-largest Christian denomination globally and the largest in Europe. The mourning period for a loved one’s death is usually 40 days, and on the third, ninth, and 40th days after death, many families have special events.
The first six months are also milestones in the mourning process, as are the one-year and three-year anniversaries. On each of these dates, many Eastern Orthodox families distribute “Holy Bread” and “Wheat” to the families of those who have died. It is believed that souls remain on earth for 40 days after death.
Russian Orthodox Funeral Traditions
Russian Orthodox believers mark the first, third, ninth, and 40th days after a death. Memorial prayers for the dead must be offered during those four periods and sometimes on each end anniversary.
The traditions tell how the soul passes through a series of aerial toll houses and is then judged. If it’s pure, it goes to heaven; if not, it goes to hell. After 40 days, the soul finds its eternal resting place.
Greek Orthodox 40-day Mourning Process
The Orthodox practice of mourning for a family member who has passed away lasts for 40 days. Unlike other religious denominations, adherents to Orthodox Christianity do not immediately attend social events after the death of a family member.
Instead, they will likely wear dark or black clothing for at least this amount of time. Close male relatives should refrain from shaving for this period as well. A memorial service is held on the Sunday closest to the 40th day after the passing, and Orthodox belief dictates that the soul lingers on earth until this date.
The Hindu Traditions of Mourning and Memorial Events
There is no set ritual for Hindu mourning; each family deals with death in its own way. Hindus hold a period of mourning and specific memorial events after the cremation of an individual, but observation of the 40th day after a death varies. One year after the funeral, Hindu families often mark the occasion with a special event called the “Sraddha.”
40 Days after Death: A Reflection on the Various Afterlife Traditions
Traditions are unique to every culture and can signify their identity. Traditions help shape and define cultures. When a loved one passes away, religious traditions offer comfort and guidance to the grieving. Understanding the 40-day mourning period of different religions can help families and friends better understand those who have just experienced the loss of a loved one.