7 Types of Funeral Services: How To Choose the Right One

Choosing the right service to honor your loved one can be daunting, especially because there are more options than you may be aware of. You can customize the funeral service however you’d like, but it’s helpful to know your options ahead of time so you can make the right choice. 

There are different types of funeral services, including religious and non-religious services and services that include the body and those that don’t. The type of service often dictates where the service will take place. For instance, a religious service is usually held in a place of worship. 

In this article, I’ll explore the many types of funeral services in great detail to help you choose the right one. I’ll also provide a table to summarize the details in a glance. 

1. Religious 

In a traditional religious funeral service, people gather together in a place of worship to pay respects to the departed. A clergy member typically leads the funeral, and the service often includes readings from a holy book, hymns, prayers, and other religious references. 

In most religious services, the departed’s body is present and transported to the cemetery in a hearse. In some cases, a reception follows the service. If you want to hosting an unforgettable funeral reception, don’t miss my guide on the planning process.  

Possible Locations: Church or place of worship, a place with special meaning, or funeral home with a member of the clergy present  

2. Humanist 

Humanist funeral services are similar to traditional services, except there is no reference to religion, and the service is more personalized to the deceased. Instead of focusing on the afterlife, like a religious service might, a humanist service focuses on the departed’s life and the relationships they created while they were alive. 

Instead of a member of the clergy leading the service, a humanist celebrant helps mourners celebrate the departed’s life and give tributes. 

Possible Locations: Funeral home, a place with special meaning 

3. Military 

If the departed was an active member of the military or served on active duty and discharged under honorable conditions, they are eligible for military funeral honors. Standard military funeral services differ from traditional services in a number of ways, including: 

  • At least two uniformed details must be present. 
  • Playing of Taps, the national song of military remembrance. 
  • Ceremonial folding and presentation of the flag. 
  • The departed is buried with a flag. 

Depending on what’s available and the status of the departed, a military service may include other elements, such as a military flyover, a rifle volley, or color guard. 

If you want to display an American flag on the casket at a military funeral, read my article on how to fold an American flag for guidance. 

Possible Locations: Place of worship, funeral home 

4. Masonic/Fraternal 

If the departed was a member of a fraternity, specifically the Freemasons, they could receive a Masonic funeral. These funerals seek to honor the deceased’s deeds, primarily within the Masonic lodge.

Worshipful Masters lead masonic funerals. They start with an introduction, followed by funeral music, traditionally by Mozart, because of Mozart’s involvement in the Masons. Then, the Worshipful Master reads the Sacred Roll. Then, there is a prayer, more music, the display of an apron, and a eulogy.  

Possible Locations: Masonic lodge 

5. Committal 

Committal services typically take place after a traditional religious funeral service, but if you’d like, you can choose to have the committal service be the entire event. A committal service is a more brief affair that takes place at the graveside and typically involves prayer. 

After the short service of readings and prayers, loved ones can place flowers on the casket before the grave is filled. For advice on picking the right flowers for the service, check out my full guide for tips. 

Possible Locations: Cemetery 

6. Memorial 

A memorial is typically more informal than a traditional funeral service, and the body is usually not present at a memorial. Therefore, memorial services can take place any time after someone has died, instead of needing to be within a few days like traditional ceremonies. This is useful for people whose families are widespread and need time to travel for a service. 

Memorials celebrate the departed’s life by eating, drinking, sharing stories, and supporting one another. They are typically less solemn in tone than traditional funeral services. 

If the departed chose to be cremated, a memorial service typically includes a scattering of the ashes. 

Possible Locations: Place with special meaning, someone’s home, park, beach, restaurant, anywhere the family decides  

7. Viewing/Visitation   

A viewing or visitation typically occurs before a longer, more traditional service, but family members can choose to only have a viewing or visitation if they’d like. 

These services are usually reserved for close friends and family and typically feature the body in a casket in a private room where people can say intimate goodbyes. If the casket is open, it is called a viewing; if the casket is closed, it is known as visitation. 

If you need help choosing the right casket, don’t miss my article full of tips on the size, material, and more. 

Possible locations: Funeral home, place of worship 

You can use the following table to determine which type of service is best for your departed loved one: 

Type of Service Characteristics of the Departed 
Religious Religious Spiritual Church member 
Humanist Non-religious Non-spiritual Family members come from different religious backgrounds 
Military Active member of the military at the time of death Honorably discharged from the military 
Masonic/Fraternal Member of one of the three levels of brotherhood in a Mason Lodge 
Committal Religious or non-religious Family members don’t want a full service
Memorial Informal; wouldn’t want the fuss of a traditional funeral Died a while ago Family members are widespread and need advance notice for travel Body isn’t suitable for viewing or was never found 
Viewing/Visitation Family members want to say goodbye without having a full service PrivatePreferred intimate, close-knit affairs rather than large gatheringsReligious or non-religious  

Understanding the different types of funeral services and where they’re likely to take place empowers you to make the right decision for your departed loved one.

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Alex Noel

Hi there! I'm Alex Noel and live in Indianapolis, Indiana. I started this website to share my experience. My goal is to provide Americans a more fulfilling goodbye.

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