This guide will explain what typically happens at a traditional Christian funeral service; including Church of England funerals and Catholic funerals.
Christian beliefs about death
Christians believe that when someone passes away, it is the end of their life on Earth and they are subsequently judged by God.
Family and close friends gather at a Christian funeral to grieve but also to celebrate the life of the deceased. It is typically held about a week after someone has passed away but traditions and customs can differ depending on each Christian denomination.
What happens at a Church of England funeral?
A Church of England funeral can be made as personal and unique as you wish. They often celebrate the life of the deceased but also take into account the circumstances of the death.
The funeral service can take place almost anywhere, including a church, cemetery or crematorium. It usually follows a general order of service, including readings, a sermon, prayers and hymns.
In addition, the service may include a eulogy written and delivered by a family member or close friend. Special requests such as the deceased’s favourite music and funeral flowers are quite common at Church of England funerals.
The funeral service often ends with a burial or cremation and is followed by a post-funeral reception, commonly known as a wake.
What happens at a Catholic funeral?
A Catholic funeral service is led by one or more priests and follows an orderly ritual; including a Vigil, Mass, Rite of Committal and Burial.
Traditionally, the Catholic Church has preferred its members to choose burial, however, cremation is allowed. If a loved one is cremated, their ashes should not be scattered or kept in an urn at home. Instead, the ashes should be buried in a respectful manner.
The Vigil allows family and friends to gather and celebrate the life of the deceased before the actual funeral service. It may take place in the deceased’s home, church or your local funeral home and prayers/songs are offered during this time.
The Funeral Mass is usually held in the church where the deceased worshiped. It is celebrated by a priest and includes the Eucharistic Prayer and the giving of the Holy Communion.
Rite of Committal
The Rite of Committal is the service performed at the grave site or the cemetery chapel. Cultural rituals such as throwing dirt on the coffin and placing material possessions on the casket are accepted at a Catholic funeral.
Sources: 'Church of England' and 'The Art of Dying Well'