What’s the Difference Between a Funeral and Memorial Service?

The terms “funeral” and “memorial service” oftentimes are used interchangeably as if they are synonymous. Although a funeral and memorial service do have many attributes in common, they actually are different types of memorial events. Through this article, you are provided with some thoughts on the different between a funeral and memorial service.

Overview of a Funeral

A funeral is a ceremony that is connected to the burial, cremation, or other type of internment of a corpse. As a consequence, a funeral contemplates the presence of the deceased individual’s body in some form at this type of service. Indeed, in nearly all instances of a funeral, the deceased person’s remains are present.

Funerals connected to a particular religious practice oftentimes include an element of a service that provides some sort of final disposition of the remains. The final disposition essentially is the blessing of the body itself before its final internment or disposition.

There are exceptions to this general practice in cases in which the remains of a deceased person are not available for one reason or another. For example, in the aftermath of a catastrophic aircraft accident, a person’s remains may not longer be available for presentation at a funeral. Thus, a funeral service may proceed in the absence of the deceased individual’s body.

Typically, a funeral is held within a relatively short period of time from the death of the individual being memorialized through this type of service. In some religious practices, a funeral is required to be conducted in short speed, including before sunset the day following death.

Funerals tend to be services that are notably ritualistic. This certainly holds true when a funeral is a religious observance. With that noted, there are more secular funerals that also have what fairly can be called a ritualistic flair. For example, if a funeral home is overseeing a funeral for a person who is not religious, the director of the service nonetheless is likely to incorporate certain elements that commonly are used in similar types of services.

Finally, a funeral nearly always has a primary officiant, a person who oversees the conduct of the service. A funeral officiant typically is a religious leader or a funeral director.

Overview of Memorial Service

As mentioned previously, there are some similarities between a memorial service and a funeral. Nonetheless, there are a number of differences between the two types of gatherings.

The most significant different between a funeral and memorial service involves the presence of a deceased individual’s remains. Although the deceased person’s remains are nearly always present at a funeral (with the caveat noted a short time ago), such is not the case with a memorial service. The remains of the deceased are not present at a memorial service.

The time frame in which a memorial service is conducted is expansive. Unlike the timing of a funeral, a memorial service literally can be held at any time. There are instances in which a memorial service is held in close proximity to the date a person died, more often than not a memorial service is conducted a more considerable period of time following an individual’s passing. 

In addition to the timing of a memorial service, when contrasted with a funeral there exists greater flexibility as to the location of a memorial service. While funerals tend to be conducted at funeral homes or in houses of worship, memorial services are held in a myriad of locations. These do include funeral homes and houses of worships but also other venues like event centers, homes, and even a public accommodation like a restaurant or bar. A memorial service might be held at a gravesite some time after a person died and was interned.

A memorial service does not necessarily have an officiant as is the case with a funeral. A memorial service oftentimes has someone in the role of what essentially is a master of ceremonies. This very well may be a friend or family member who oversees the flow of the memorial service. If the deceased individual was part of a religion, a representative of that faith (like a pastor or rabbi) might be included in the memorial service to provide a prayer or a similar reflection.

Two Services: A Funeral and a Memorial Service

There are instances when it makes sense to have both a more traditional funeral and a memorial service for a deceased person. For example, a funeral can be held shortly after an individual’s death for an individual’s family and closest friends. At a later date a memorial service can be held for a broader group of people. Another situation in which a dual set of services is appropriate is when a funeral is held in a person’s community at the time of death and another in his or her hometown when he or she still has family and friends in that locale.

Graveside Committal

A final type of service that is fairly widely utilized is a gravesite committal. As the name suggests, this a service conducted at the gravesite, typically at the time the deceased individual is to be interned. A gravesite committal oftentimes is a fairly short service that typically includes a representative of a church, synagogue, or mosque who presents prayers and oversees other rituals associated with death and final internment.

Even if you are during the early years of your adult life you should consider taking the time to set out in writing what you would like to see done in the way of a funeral or memorial service at the time of your own passing. By taking this step you’re better ensured that your funeral or memorial service issues are carried out. You also lessen the burden on your loved ones by making these decisions before you die. You save them the stress of trying to figure out what type of funeral or memorial service you would favor.