Order of service cards for funerals in the UK and how to write them

Order of service cards for funerals in the UK and how to write them

by Jon Crawford2023-12-130

When planning a funeral in the UK, one of the many elements to consider is the funeral stationery. Generally speaking, this refers to all the printed materials that are woven into the tradition surrounding death and bereavement in the UK today. 

From funeral invitations and the order of service (sometimes referred to as funeral card) to funeral thank you cards, there is a lot to arrange.

Likewise, if you are attending a funeral or wish to express your condolences to somebody who is recently bereaved, you may be looking for tips on writing a sympathy card. Finding the right words to say at such a time can be difficult, so we will also give some guidance on this too.

This article will cover the different types of funeral cards used in the UK:

  • Order of service cards or funeral cards - service cards contain details about the funeral service, including the order of events, hymns and readings.
  • Funeral memorial cards - typically part of a religious funeral, to be kept by attendees and placed in a prayer book, or kept safe somewhere else.
  • Funeral mass cards - in the Catholic faith, Mass cards are offered to request prayers for the deceased during a Mass.
  • Funeral thank you cards - these cards are sent by the grieving family to express gratitude for the support and condolences received.
  • Funeral sympathy cards - sympathy cards are commonly sent to the bereaved family to express condolences and offer comfort.

Funeral service cards or order of service cards

Funeral service or order of service cards are common at funerals in the UK. The usual format is as a booklet left on chairs or given out at the funeral. A funeral service card will normally contain an outline of the service and list any readings, hymns or songs that are to feature in the funeral. A well-planned and designed order of service card, customised by family and friends, can be a beautiful keepsake for guests and a lasting tribute to your loved one.

If you arrange a funeral through Fenix then your funeral director will be able to advise you on the options that they offer and guide you through the process.

What should a funeral service card include?

Most funerals with an attended service will have some form of order of service card. How elaborate or customised they are depends on the budget and the wishes of the family. 

Here is an outline of the essential details that are usually included on a funeral service card and the conventional order in which they appear in.

Cover design:

Choose a cover design that reflects the personality and interests of the deceased. Think about how the overall design theme can reflect your loved ones character by using symbols, colours and pictures that relate to the way they lived their life and their passions. 

Give the title and type for the funeral service or memorial, such as "Celebration of Life" or "In Loving Memory of [Full Name]." It’s also common to include the dates of birth and death of the deceased and perhaps a quotation that evokes their character.

Welcome and order of service:

A brief welcome or introduction, expressing gratitude to all those who are attending and then the opening hymn or song. 

Prayers, readings and speeches: 

List any prayers, readings, or speeches, indicating who will be leading or reading them.

Eulogies and tributes - Include details about who will be delivering the eulogy or any personal tributes.

Images and words to personalise the funeral card

Consider incorporating photographs of the deceased, along with captions or dates that highlight significant moments in their life.

Likewise, people often choose to include quotes from literature, poems, or songs that resonate with the theme of the service and the personality of the deceased.

Music for the funeral service

List any musical selections, including the title, composer, and performer. Specify if they will be live performances - often a deeply personal touch to any service - or recorded music. This can be a really nice touch as people who keep the service card will be able to find the songs and listen again.

Prayer, reflection or moments of silence

Include designated moments for reflection, prayer, or silence. Often there’s a suggestion for attendees to remember the deceased in their own way during this time.

Acknowledgements and thanks

A funeral service card will often include a few words of appreciation of the guests and thanks for their condolences and support.

Details about any donations

Donations to charities left in memory of people who have died are becoming more and more popular. The funeral service card is the ideal place to make these wishes known, providing details of any chosen charities and what they meant to your loved one. These could be a cancer charity that provided support through illness or a charity representing a lifelong passion of the deceased.

Contact details

Some people choose to include an email or phone number on the order of service card so that guests at the funeral are able to keep in touch in the future.

Back cover

Again, this is optional, but it is a nice touch to feature some more pictures and possibly a reflective prayer or verse on the back cover, something to conclude a sad event on an uplifting and comforting note.

Order of service cards can be a lasting keepsake

If you take the time and care to craft a well-designed funeral service card, it can serve as both a practical guide for attendees and a meaningful keepsake that honours the life of your loved one. 

By taking the suggestions above as a starting point and tailoring the content to reflect the individuality of the deceased and provide comfort to those in attendance you can create something truly special. 

And remember - consult closely with the funeral director and the family to ensure that the service card aligns with their preferences and cultural or religious traditions.

Should I send a funeral thank you card?

In the weeks following the funeral, some people chose to send a funeral thank you card expressing their appreciation for those who helped them through the difficult period running up to the service.

Although they are not mandatory and most people will probably now be in touch with those close to them who assisted with the funeral through other means - social media, phone and email - funeral thank you cards are still a beautiful way of showing how much you valued the support and condolences of those who attended the funeral.

Some people chose to send a small number of personal thank you cards to, for example:

  • Funeral director
  • Pallbearers 
  • Florists
  • Minister or officiant
  • Close friends of the family who were involved in the funeral planning

Other people may choose to have a funeral card designed and printed for them that they can send to all those who helped with and attended the funeral with a more general message.

Examples of wording for a general funeral thank you card

“Thank you so much for your support and kind wishes during the difficult time around the passing of ______. We felt so lucky to be surrounded by such good friends.”

“Dear friends. We could not have got through the past few weeks without your help, love and support. The whole family send their thanks and well wishes to you.”

“Thank you for your kind condolences and sympathy. It really meant a lot to all of us in the family.”

“Thank you so much for the beautiful flowers and generous donations to ______ charity. The flowers brightened up a dark period for us and ______ would be so happy to see so many of you supporting a cause that was so important to them.”

As you can see, a thank you card does not have to be a long affair. Some simple and sincere words can suffice.

What are memorial cards?

Memorial cards are different to funeral order of service cards. Instead of featuring the events of the funeral service, they are commemorative, deeply personal keepsakes. They are designed to be kept by those close to the deceased, offering solace and a tangible connection to their lost loved one.

Memorial cards are not incredibly common in all parts of the UK these days, but are still used regularly in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Some defining features of memorial cards

Pocket-sized cards

Typically, these cards are compact and portable, designed to be kept close—whether tucked into a wallet, placed in a prayer book, or displayed on a mantle. 

Photograph of the deceased on the front

Memorial cards will most often feature a picture of the deceased on the front side, though they can be designed to your wishes with another image.

Text content on memorial cards

  • Full name and any nicknames of the deceased
  • Place and date of birth and death
  • A short verse, poem or prayer
  • Occasionally, though space is limited, a short obituary

Personalised design

The design, colour scheme and tone of memorial cards are often personalised to honour and reflect the character of the deceased.

Memorial cards used to be predominantly religious in their theme and message, closely connected with the Catholic faith. These days, although they are still more commonly sent following a religious funeral, they can be customised to the unique taste of every family.

The main intention of memorial cards is that they honour the deceased by reflecting their character and contain a verse or prayer that was meaningful to them and those who knew them well. Secondly, they serve to provide comfort and support to grieving family and friends.

Popular verses and prayers for memorial cards

John 14:27

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. 
Not as the world gives do I give to you. 
Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

“The Day God Called you Home” - Anon

It broke our hearts to lose you
But you didn’t go alone,
For part of us went with you
The day God called you home.

Revelation 21:4

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

What are Funeral Mass cards? 

Funeral mass cards are a mainly Catholic tradition. Like funeral memorial cards, they are often a personal, small format card - business card size so they fit in a wallet - but they fulfil a different purpose.

While both types of cards may be distributed at funeral services, funeral mass cards are specifically tied to the Catholic practice of Mass intentions - calling for ongoing prayer for the soul of the deceased. They can bring great comfort to the recently bereaved, giving them knowledge that their loved one is being prayed for.

When somebody who is a Catholic dies, friends and family may send a funeral mass card along with - or in place of - flowers. It shows that the deceased will be remembered in their hearts and prayers and that a mass will be said for them. It is often common for donations to be encouraged by mass cards, which benefit the priest performing the mass and their church.

The most popular prayers for Catholic funeral mass cards

Prayer for the Faithful Departed (In Paradisum):

May angels lead you into Paradise; may the martyrs receive you at your coming and lead you to the holy city of Jerusalem. May the ranks of angels receive you, and, with Lazarus, the poor man, may you have eternal rest.

Psalm 23 (The Lord is My Shepherd):

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff - they comfort me.

Prayer for the Dead (De Profundis):

O God, the Creator and Redeemer of all the faithful; grant to the souls of Thy servants departed the remission of all their sins, that by our devout supplications they may obtain that pardon which they have always desired. Who livest and reignest world without end. Amen.

Sympathy and condolence cards

Other than the order of service cards present at most funerals, sympathy cards are probably the most common card surrounding bereavement in the UK. It is customary to send a short card to the recently bereaved expressing sadness and sympathy for the passing of their loved one. 

Sending a sympathy card lets the bereaved know that they do not have to navigate the grieving process alone, that their wider network of friends and family is there to help. If you cannot attend the funeral or it is a small, family only service, sending a card is a way to express your solidarity without being there in person.

A brief history of funeral sympathy cards in the UK

Like so many of the traditional customs surrounding death and bereavement in the UK, the growth in popularity of sympathy cards can be loosely traced back to Victorian times. It was an era somewhat dominated by a sombre air thanks to Queen Victoria’s elongated mourning period and it coincided with printing becoming more widely available to the masses.

At first it was said that condolences should only be sent to close acquaintances. Another quirk of the age was that people were expected to wait to receive a mourning card from the bereaved - signalling that they were ready to receive messages of sympathy - before making contact with them.

These days, sympathy cards have evolved from being formal communications with dark colour schemes as they were in the past. Now you will find them available alongside birthday cards in supermarkets and general stores.

In a reflection of the secularisation of society in the UK, most sympathy cards available ‘off the shelf’ are non religious, offering general words of condolence and support. There are always many designs to choose from, meaning it’s usually no problem finding something to suit the occasion and the recipient perfectly.

What to write in a sympathy card in the UK

When confronting difficult and emotional events - death being perhaps the greatest of all these - it can be difficult to put pen to paper and get started.

It’s best to remember that everybody feels this way and that no matter how short your message may be, if it’s from the heart and genuine, the bereaved will really appreciate it.

Some tips for writing a sympathy card

  • Don’t let fear of saying the wrong thing stop you from saying anything at all.
    As long as you write in a respectful tone, offering something as simple as “So sorry for your loss”, the gesture will not offend.
  • Be sincere
    Speak from the heart and be genuine. For example, if you didn’t know the person very well, don’t be afraid to acknowledge this. Something like the following line may be appropriate.  “I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing _____ for long, but I could tell they were a kind and loyal friend to many”.
  • Keep it brief
    Unless you know the person very well there is no need to write an essay. Just simply express your sadness at the loss and offer help in any way you can.
  • Choose the right tone for your relation to the bereaved
    Writing a sympathy card after the passing of a beloved family member you knew intimately will be a different process - and a more personal tone - compared to writing one to the family or partner of a work colleague.
  • Add ‘and family’
    A bereavement affects the whole family of the person who has passed away. If you know the bereaved has a family, consider addressing your condolences to them too. It’s a thoughtful touch to show you care.
  • If you can, offer assistance
    If you live nearby the bereaved then you could offer to call in with some food or ask if they need help with anything else. These small gestures can really help somebody suffering from the loneliness of bereavement feel supported and remembered.
  • Include your contact details if you want to
    If you feel like you can offer support and friendship, add your phone number or social media handles to the sympathy card.

Some thoughtful phrases to write in sympathy cards

These phrases may give you some initial inspiration of what to write to someone who is recently bereaved. They are also suitable for messages with funeral flowers, where typically there is not a lot of space to write a longer message.

So sorry for your loss. We will never forget ______. 

Heartfelt condolences to you and the family. Such a loss to us all.

Thinking of you at this tough time. All our love.

Sending positive vibes at this sad time. If I can help in any way, just let me know.

So shocked to hear the news of _______’s passing. Sending love and sympathy. 

With deepest sympathy. Sending our wishes.

So sad to hear of your loss. Call anytime if you feel like talking.

It was an honour knowing _____. They will be sadly missed. 

Sending you strength and peace at this testing time.

_____ will remain in our hearts and thoughts forever.

You and your family are in our prayers. Our sincere sympathy.

Adding a personal touch

If you know the bereaved well, then you may wish to write a longer message. Sharing a memory of their loved one that was special to you can be well-received and comforting. It shows how they touched the lives of others around them while they were alive. 

People will often recount how much somebody helped them at a difficult time in their own life or made them feel welcome in unfamiliar situations, for example.

It goes without saying, but remember to always use a respectful tone and not to share any memories or stories that could cause offence or upset to their family.

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