Christian Funerals Guide: Etiquette and Traditions

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Christians believe that dying is the end of a person’s life on earth, but that the soul lives on in an afterlife. An attendee of a Christian funeral should therefore expect an abundance of prayer and references to Heaven. 

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What is a Christian Funeral?

The Christian funeral is seen as having three official goals: 

Traditionally, Christian funerals serve to reflect on the righteousness of the life that has ended. This gives the family hope that their loved one’s soul will go to Heaven. In that way, praying for the deceased is meant to be comforting to the family. At the same time, it is meant to be inspirational to the Christian community at large. The message is one of hope: live a righteous life without sin and you will live in Heaven in the afterlife. 

It is not required that everyone in attendance share those beliefs, but it is expected that everyone will be respectful of the Christian traditions during the funeral and burial. 

Christian Funeral Traditions

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The funeral is typically held about one week after the time of death. There may also be a wake or viewing, depending on the family’s preferences. The Christian funeral does not provide a platform for informal exchanges between mourners. Instead, it’s customary for friends and family to attend the wake or viewing in order to say goodbye and to offer condolences to the family at this time. 

Funerals are usually held in a church and led by a minister or a priest. The service may also be followed by the burial, which usually includes a short graveside service. Christian burial traditions allow for embalming, so attendees of the viewing before the funeral may have an opportunity to say goodbye to the deceased, if the viewing is open-casket.  

At the funeral, you should expect: 

If cremation has been chosen, there may be a cremation urn, which is a special container for the loved one’s ashes, in place of or in addition to the casket 

Burial flowers may be sent to the church via a florist who can help make the appropriate selections. Some families may indicate they’d prefer donations to a particular charity in lieu of flowers, so check first. 

Christian Funeral Etiquette

The funeral service is led by an officiant (usually a minister), prayers and hymns are uttered communally, and much of the service is spent listening to the minister or quietly reflecting to oneself. 

Funeral etiquette at a Christian service dictates that guests—even if they are not Christian—are encouraged to read and sing along. It’s not required, of course, but it’s encouraged out of respect for the family. 

Dress Code

The dress code at a Christian funeral is what you would expect to see at a typical church service, only in darker colors. Men should wear dark (preferably black) suits and a tie. Women should wear dark (preferably black pantsuits or dresses/skirts). In some Christian faiths, it’s customary for women to wear a hat, too (also dark colors). 

Words of Sympathy

After the funeral, there may be a brief moment to express a few words of sympathy to the family. This typically occurs outside the church. Attendees should offer brief statements of condolences and refrain from going on too long. It’s also considered insensitive to utter phrases like, “she’s in a better place now.” Don’t ask questions or say you know how the bereaved feel. “My condolences to you and your family” works well. 

Are you planning a religious funeral? Get emailed a free guide.

Christian Funeral FAQ

How long is the typical Christian funeral service? 

You can expect the service to take approximately half an hour. However, for well-known community members whose funeral will be attended by a large crowd, the service may be longer, up to an hour. Graveside services are typically very short: 20 minutes or so. 

What is a rite at a Christian funeral? 

Religions such as Christianity have funerary rituals. One rite that you may witness at a Christian funeral is the offering of prayers. Other rites include the singing of hymns, a eulogy to remember the deceased, and readings from the Bible. Another Christian rite is burial in consecrated ground. 

What kind of flowers do you get for a funeral? 

In general, Christians welcome all colors and types of flowers at their funerals. 

How do you buy flowers for a funeral? 

Contact a florist, who will have lots of helpful suggestions. Don’t buy a casket spray unless you are immediate family. As a friend of the deceased, it’s more appropriate to send a basket arrangement, live plant, wreath, spray, or bouquet in a vase. 

What do you write in a sympathy card when it’s a Christian funeral? 

A simple message of condolence is all you need to write. Common phrases such as “my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family” or “I am sorry to hear about your loss” are customary.

Want information on funerals and burials of specific religions? Or Interested in learning about non-religious funerals? Click the links below:

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