whitney coffin on shoulders*Millions of Whitney Houston fans watched final tributes from family and friends during the live broadcast of her home going celebration at Newark’s New Hope Baptist on Saturday, February 18, 2012, just one week after her untimely passing in Beverly Hills, California due to unknown causes. It was a dignified ceremony that maintained reverence of the Baptist tradition, except for a few awkward moments.

The one camera that was permitted, kept viewers abreast of the proceedings without distracting the private and emotional nature of what was going on inside. Though news outfits from all over the world vied for access, a media circus was banned from the sanctuary. By now, full accounts have been given of Dionne Warwick’s officiating, Pastor Marvin Winans’ eulogy, Tyler Perry’s sermonette, Kim Burrell’s rendition of “A Change Is Gonna Come”, CeCe Winans’ “Don’t Cry For Me,” and the chilling original requiems by BeBe Winans and Alicia Keys. It was all to be expected from the hierarchy of music stars that were Whitney Houston’s warm and personal friends. What many did not expect was the stark and noble gesture of lifting Ms. Houston’s shiny gold casket onto the shoulders of the pall bearers for the recessional as her voice rung from the speakers singing “I Will Always Love You.”

At the close of the lengthy services a troupe of uniformed men marched up the isles, but were dismissed by the woman in the gold jacket. It is reported that this was Carolyn Whigham, owner of the Whigham Funeral Home. Then another team of men entered from the sidelines. Within seconds Whitney’s casket was onto their shoulders for the march outside the church. EURweb researched ceremonial burials and came up with this historical account. The ceremonial function of pallbearers dates back to ancient Rome. The person’s cloak or garment was referred to as his pallium. It was spread over the body or coffin from home to the cemetery. The pallium was carried by a friend or a loved one, while another group of men carried the body mounted on their shoulders. By the Middle Ages, the pallium simply became the pall, a rectangular cloth that typically covers the coffin while lying in state at a Christian Church. One group of men were assigned to carry the coffin, while another were charged to proceed along side them to make sure that the pall did not drag to the ground. Over time the second group of men, became obsolete and the term “pall bearer” refers to those assigned to physically remove the casket from the place of final services to the grave site. In military and state funerals, the U. S. flag serves as a pall over the casket. Due to Whitney Houston’s career achievements, her passing was observed by flags waving half staff in New Jersey upon orders given by Governor Chris Christie. Thus the highly ceremonial nature of Whitney’s funeral was within reasonable protocol.

Ms. Houston was interred Sunday, February 19, 2012 at Fairview Cemetery in Westfield, New Jersey. It is fitting to mention that the Whigham Funeral Home has been a staple in the Jersey area for 60 years and has overseen final arrangements for jazz great Sarah Vaughn, jazz trumpeter Woody Shaw and gospel singer James Ausbin Smith, among others who were famous and not so famous.

Source for ceremonial burials: A to Z of Manners and Etiquette.