Explore and Compare the Different Types of Funeral Ceremonies

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A funeral is a way to acknowledge, celebrate and honour the life of a loved one and allow family and friends to say a final goodbye. It involves some common rituals that can still greatly differ depending on the religion, culture, and specific wishes of the deceased. 

Although arranging a funeral is a very emotional time, bringing some structure to this unsettling experience is important. From traditional funeral services established by faith through direct cremation, or memorial ceremony, or even no funeral at all, the options are many. 

To help you understand them better, we will give you an overview of the different types of funeral ceremonies that take place. Get practical funeral ideas to prepare for the final farewell.

What are the different types of funerals

Faith and customs are the factors that often define what happens at a funeral. There are many different types of funerals to consider:

  • Traditional funeral
  • Graveside or committal funeral service
  • Direct burial

  • Direct cremation

The most common among these types are traditional funeral service and committal funeral service, also known as graveside service. Direct cremation or direct burial are also common funeral choices. Now let’s find out what the sequence of services is and which ones of them are essential.

What does a funeral service involve?

The type of funeral defines what the service involves as well as how common ceremony rituals are performed. Religious and cultural beliefs come with a set of guidelines for a conventional funeral. Despite the differences in certain death rituals, funeral services tend to follow the same structure and share many similar features.

The wake or viewing

A ‘wake’ or ‘viewing’ is an informal gathering of those close to the deceased who want to spend one last time with them before the actual funeral service. While viewing usually takes place at the funeral home, you can hold a wake at your home, or a favourite place. A viewing typically occurs in the presence of the casket while modern wakes happen with no coffin in sight. Either of them is a great way to say goodbye on a more personal level. They are a time to both mourn the loss and celebrate the life of a loved one.

Of course, not all viewings require a body display, they could even happen in the presence of a cremation urn instead. This service is entirely optional and depends on the specific wishes of the deceased or their relatives.

Committal service

A committal service is a graveside ritual having its origins in Christianity. It symbolizes committing the person to their final resting place and typically follows the main funeral service. Although the committal is a graveside ritual, it can also take place when burying the ashes or in a crematorium.

Burial or cremation

Burial and cremation services follow straight after the main ceremony and represent the core of any basic funeral. Unlike other elements that you can skip, carrying out either of them is essential. We will draw a detailed comparison between the two later on in this overview.

Funeral reception

A post-funeral reception is an optional service which offers family and friends the opportunity to spend time with each other and pay tribute to the life of the deceased. They are usually held in a more casual and comforting setting, styled according to your particular requirements. When organising a funeral reception, you need to choose a suitable venue, prepare catering service, and, of course, share relevant details with the guests.

Memorial service

Many families are moving away from formal funeral traditions and embracing memorial services with a range of different styles. They are a great way to create a more personalized celebration of your loved one's life. A memorial service is unrestricted in any way and can be something a bit different, such as vintage afternoon tea, or more intimate like a quiet reflection at home.

The two main funeral types compared: Burial and cremation

What does a burial include? 

Burial happens after the main funeral service when the casket is lowered into the grave. This short ceremony is attended by mourners and may include prayers and songs consistent with the religious beliefs of the dead. 

Although burials are the most common mortuary practice from a religious point of view, they cost significantly more than cremation services. You need to prepare a budget for embalming the body, casket transportation and other applicable service charges. Another disadvantage of choosing a burial is that it has adverse environmental effects as some toxic embalming fluids leach into the soil.

What is a cremation service?

Cremation is a process that uses intense heat to reduce the body to its basic elements and transform it into “ashes”. It is a popular choice for a funeral arrangement, which is gaining popularity over traditional burials. Some of the pros of cremation are that it is more affordable and allows keeping or scattering the ashes of the deceased anywhere.

Do you have to have a funeral?

Practices established by religious tradition regarding funerals are widely accepted. Still, some find the unconventional approaches more comforting. People who would prefer to omit funeral ceremonies can honour their loved one’s memory in many other ways. We are going to explore direct cremation, Christian funeral, and non-religious ceremonies as common alternatives to the traditional funeral service.

No funeral, just cremation choices

Direct cremation

Direct cremation or basic cremation are terms describing a funeral service that doesn’t involve any ceremonies or rituals. It is a simple way to carry out cremation at a minimal cost. The only formality required is completing the relevant legal paperwork. 

After the cremation process is completed, the remains of the deceased are handed to the relatives. Organizing a memorial service afterwards is a great opportunity to celebrate their life in a special and personalized way.

Scattering the ashes ceremony

Once you receive the remains of your loved one, you might want to think of a meaningful way to honour their ashes. This is a part of the grieving process, but you can still get creative to create a lasting memorial. There are a number of remarkable things to do with the ashes and you can even celebrate them with a special ceremony. 

Some scattering ashes ceremony ideas are hosting a memorial event with a special firework display or burying them and planting a tree over with family and friends. Still, if you like more traditional approaches, you can store your loved one’s ashes in a bespoke urn that perfectly reflects their personality or scatter their ashes at a place that was special to them.

Christian funerals

Christian funerals are strongly influenced by the beliefs about death advocated by the church. They follow a strict structure of rituals and services according to the religious funeral etiquette

The service takes place a week after death and begins with a reading of psalms from the Bible and personal readings. This is followed by Christian funeral songs, prayers, and a minute of silent time in memory of the deceased. The Christian funeral ends with a funeral rite of committal performed at the graveside before burying the body. Cultural rituals such as throwing dirt on the coffin by the priest and those close to the dead, are also common. They symbolize that the soul is released from the body and the deceased is returning to the earth as a final resting place. 

Many Catholic families follow the Church of England funeral service which is slightly different. It begins with songs and introductory rites followed by Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist. The Catholic funeral ends with final commendation and rite of committal when prayers are said before burial or cremation.

Non-religious and humanist funerals

Atheist funerals

As an increasing number of people adopt new philosophical life beliefs, atheist funerals are becoming more common. These funerals have no religious references but are still a way to honour the life of someone who has passed away. They celebrate the best moments of the deceased’s life. Memories and stories can be shared by loved ones. Music and readings are also common as they help the grieving family retain hope during their difficult time.

Humanist ceremonies

Similarly to atheist funerals, humanist & non-religious services are growing in prevalence. They follow a specific structure which is not restricted by a set script or rituals. It is important to find a humanist funeral celebrant who is qualified to host the funeral ceremony and perform the services you choose.

The ceremony is opened by music and welcoming words. It is followed by thoughts, readings, and tribute to a person’s life in a non-religious context. The last part of the humanist funeral includes a minute of silence, the committal service, and closing words to say a final goodbye.

Celebrations of life

Unlike the funeral, which is a more sombre occasion, a celebration of life is a memorial event that centres around the positive moments of a person’s life. As many traditions allow both mourn and rejoice, you can choose how to celebrate life in a way that is meaningful to the deceased. Whether you opt for a burial or cremation, you can hold a separate event to gather with close people and reflect on the person’s life.  

If you already have any specific wishes regarding your funeral ceremony or final resting place, it does make sense to plan ahead of time. You will not only save from the ever-rising funeral costs but also prevent your family from extra hardship and hassle when the time comes.