Planning a Christian funeral in the UK should be simple. This guide explains the beliefs, traditions and etiquette surrounding a Christian funeral service.
Christian Burial & Christian Funeral: 7 Steps to Follow when Organising or Attending
What are the Christian Beliefs Around Death?
Christians believe that a person’s soul continues to exist after the death of the body. Death is seen as a hopeful return to God. Thus, Christians mourn the death of their loved ones, but they also hold comfort with the idea of being reunited one day. For this reason, a Christian burial is a sad occasion, yet one in which there is some hope. The next 7 points will help you understand everything you need to know, before organising or attending a Christian funeral.
What Exactly is a ‘Christian Funeral’?
Christianity has many different denominations and the Christian funeral rites of each one may have slight variations. The key features of most Christian funerals include:
- a wake before the funeral service
- a religious ceremony to say goodbye to the deceased: often held in a church or chapel
- Christian funeral prayers, hymns, songs and readings
- a Christian burial in consecrated ground, or cremation
Do Christians allow embalming?
Christian funeral traditions allow for embalming. Embalming preserves the body, so that an open casket can be present at the funeral service. Christian funerals usually take place around a week after death, so the body of the deceased is usually prepared and stored at a funeral parlour during this time. Embalming uses toxic chemicals and is considered by some to be unnecessarily harmful to the environment. It is not required if the casket will remain closed at the funeral service. You can speak to your mortician or your chosen funeral director about the available options and cost involved.
What is a wake?
Most Christian denominations hold a wake before the funeral of a loved one. This is a modern version of the historical practice of “sitting with the dead”. The bereaved family members are offered condolence by friends and loved ones. Flowers and photos of the deceased are displayed. People often share their memories of the deceased and offer words of comfort to one another. The wake is held at the family home or a funeral home, a few days before the funeral service. If it is held on the same day as the service, the wake can take place in the church or chapel where the funeral will be held.
What Happens Before a Christian Funeral?
When a person of Christian faith passes away, the next of kin will start planning a funeral or memorial service for them. The family needs to decide whether their loved-one should be buried or cremated, and who is going to prepare the body.
How do you Plan a Christian Funeral?
Planning a funeral for a loved one can feel overwhelming when you are already dealing with grief. These basic steps can break the process into manageable tasks:
- find out if the deceased left any wishes in their last will and testament
- decide if you would like to work with a specific funeral home so that they can help arrange an undertaker, and the other details of a Christian funeral service and Christian burial
- choose a minister to officiate: ideally someone the deceased worshipped with or knew
- plan the order of the funeral service: together with your chosen minister or funeral director
- prepare a eulogy, or ask someone to do one on behalf of the family
- put together a service handout: this is a small booklet with the order of service, any hymns or readings, and often a portrait of the deceased
- send out invitations to the mourners, family member or friends you’d like to attend
What Happens at a Christian Funeral?
A Christian funeral service is usually held about a week after death. It can be between 30 minutes to an hour long. The length often depends on the number of guests, as mourners usually take time to greet the bereaved and offer their condolences.
Depending on the denomination, a Christian funeral may follow an order similar to this:
- mourners and family arrive at the venue (church, chapel or funeral home)
- once all guests are assembled, music may be played while the casket is carried in by pallbearers
- the minister welcomes the congregation
- a family member, or the minister, gives a eulogy remembering the life of the deceased
- readings, sermons, Christian funeral songs and prayer may be read and sung
- The minister will bless the deceased and offer words of comfort to the bereaved
- the casket is moved to the venue where the committal will take place
- the committal is held either at a cemetery for burial, or a crematorium for cremation
- the minister blesses the deceased as they are committed to the earth
Different denominations might have preferred prayers, readings or hymns. A Catholic funeral, for example, may be held as a Requiem Mass, which includes the holy communion. You can speak to your minister or funeral director for advice regarding the appropriate prayers, readings or hymns. They should help you plan a Christian funeral order of service that suits the beliefs and values of your loved one.
What are Christian Funeral Rites?
Christian runeral rites include:
- prayers, bible readings and a eulogy delivered in honour of the deceased
- burial of the deceased into consecrated ground
- cremation of the deceased
After the funeral service, a committal takes place. This is when the casket is lowered into the ground for burial. The minister recites the words: “We commit this body to the ground. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” Family members and mourners can be invited to scatter soil or flowers over the casket as it is lowered.
If the family have chosen a cremation, the casket will be taken to the crematorium after the funeral service. The minister recites the committal before the casket is closed off behind a curtain and taken to the incinerator. After the cremation is complete, the ashes are returned to the family in an urn. The family may choose to scatter the ashes at a significant site or have them kept at a Garden of Remembrance.
*Catholics have the urn buried in consecrated ground according to their beliefs.
What is the Etiquette at a Christian Funeral?
A Christian funeral is usually open to family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances of the deceased. It is an opportunity to say goodbye and to give thanks for the life lived. It may also be an chance for friends of the bereaved to show their support, even if they were not close to the deceased. If an invited guest is unable to attend the funeral service, a handwritten card can be sent to the bereaved.
What is the general atmosphere and behavior expected at a Christian funeral?
Generally, the mood at a funeral is somber:
- the atmosphere is reflective and introspective
- one should spend time thinking of the deceased and show support to the bereaved
- where appropriate, the mourners may join in the singing of hymns or reciting of prayers
- socialising and chatting should be done at the wake or reception, not at the funeral service
- cellphones should be switched off for the duration of the service
What to wear to a Christian funeral?
Traditionally, Christians wear black or dark colours to a funeral. Certain Christian denominations may have more-specific dress requirements. In general, mourners should dress smartly:
- men may wear a black suit and tie
- women may wear a smart black dress with tights, or a pantsuit
- mourners should dress modestly
What Happens After a Christian Funeral?
Most Christian funerals will have a reception or gathering after the service, where food is served. Mourners may spend time talking to one another and offering condolences to the bereaved. The atmosphere at this gathering is slightly less formal than at the funeral service. If you are planning a Christian funeral and need help with the arrangements of the service and reception gathering, don’t hesitate to contact us (insert hyperlink) at Fenix Funeral Directors. Our caring staff will support and assist you in every way possible throughout this trying time.
Can a Christian be cremated?
Most Christian denominations allow cremation as an acceptable Christian burial practice. Keep in mind that the cremated remains of a Catholic must be buried in consecrated ground. The ashes should not be scattered or kept in an urn at home. Cremation is expressly forbidden in the Orthodox Church, except in extreme cases such as during an epidemic.
What is a Church of England Funeral?
A Church of England funeral is an Anglican funeral. The Anglican Church broke from the Catholic Church in the mid 16th century. The highest cleric is the Archbishop of Canterbury and the head of the church is the Monarch of England. A Church of England Funeral service usually has a casket present at the front of the church. There is an Anglican funeral liturgy, which the family can choose to follow. Alternatively, the funeral service can be tailored to the wishes of the deceased. The funeral is followed by a burial or cremation.
At Fenix Funeral Directors, we work directly with parish councils across the UK. If you are planning a Church of England funeral Service, we will dedicate ourselves to arranging a funeral plan that suits your exact needs and budget.