What Does a Funeral Officiant Do and How Much Should You Pay Them?

A key component of a funeral is the officiant. If you are like most people, you certainly understand that someone officiates or “leads” a funeral service. Noting that, you may also be like most individuals and not have a full and complete understanding of what a person does in the capacity of being a funeral officiant. When you face planning a funeral, you need to have a clear understanding of what you can expect from a funeral officiant.

Types of Funeral Officiants

In theory, any person designated to “preside” over a funeral can appropriately be classified as a funeral officiant. The two most common types of funeral officiants are religious leaders and funeral directors. With that said, there are situations in which a “layperson” in the form of a family member or friend will serve in the capacity of a funeral officiant. For example, home funerals are becoming more somewhat commonplace in this day and age. In a notable percentage of home funerals, the officiant will be a family member or friend.

Before the Funeral

In some instances, a funeral officiant will play a relatively active role in planning and organizing the funeral itself. For example, a frequent funeral officiant is a religious leader, like the pastor of a church. In such a situation, the prospect of that individual being a part of the overall funeral planning process is likely.

A good many churches and other religious venues like synagogues and mosques have fairly strict guidelines about what can and cannot happen during the course of a funeral. While these centers certainly attempt to honor the wishes of a deceased person and his or her loved ones, religious dictates and venue rules may impose some specific guidelines that commonly are implemented by the religious leader in his or her capacity as a funeral officiant.

On the other hand, even in some church settings, there exists a great deal of flexibility when it comes to service planning. In such a situation, a designated funeral officiant will likely be less present or active in the preparation and planning process.

Similar preparation configurations exist when a funeral director is called upon to the officiant. A funeral home is likely to have guidelines for funeral services, although they are likely to generally be more flexible than what is in place with many (but not all) religious organizations. A funeral director as the officiant is likely to take the approach of presenting ideas and service strategies that have worked well in the past.

In addition to typically playing some type of role when it comes to planning the service itself, the officiant is also likely to be involved in what might best be called “doing homework.” A funeral officiant nearly always is called upon to talk about the deceased person’s life during the course of service. These remarks are in addition to any eulogies that might be presented as well. Indeed, in many funerals, the remarks about the deceased individual made by the officiant are a focal point of the service.

Thus, in advance of the service, a funeral officiant spends time getting to know the deceased person a bit better. Of course, there are instances when an officiant knows the person who has passed very well. But, even in that situation, the officiant is likely to need to marshal together facts and information about the person being honored at a funeral service.

Gathering Time at the Funeral

In many cases when the officiant is a religious leader or funeral director, he or she is a primary player during the gathering time before the service itself. A funeral officiant tends to utilize the gathering time before a funeral service in three ways.

First, a funeral officiant consciously seeks out those in attendance to visit with them in advance of the service itself. This is done as a means of providing comfort and support and providing any information a mourner might have about the service itself.

Second, a funeral officiant also oftentimes utilizes the pre-service gathering time as to glean a bit more information about the deceased person from friends and family. This assists a funeral officiant in being even better able to talk about the deceased individual during the course of the service.

Finally, a funeral officiant (particularly if that individual is a funeral director or religious leader of some sort) spends part of the gathering time tending to the needs and wishes of the next of kin and close friends of the deceased individual. Directly before the funeral service itself is a point in time when the anxiety of those closest to the deceased person tends to peak. A funeral officiant can play a helpful role in supporting the family and close friends during the time directly before the commencement of the service.

The Funeral Itself

As mentioned a moment ago, the funeral officiant presides over the memorial service itself. The officiant is charged with the task of not only memorializing the deceased person’s life but with coordinating all of the other individuals who will be involved in the service. In many ways, a funeral officiant is something of a master of ceremonies. In fact, in a more secular memorial service, the person who plays a role comparable to a funeral officiant oftentimes is called the master of ceremonies.

The specific tasks of a funeral officiant during the service itself are likely to include:

  • Directing the overall flow of the service
  • Presenting a primary eulogy
  • Leading in prayer and the service generally
  • Inviting attendees to other events associated with the funeral, including burial
  • Executing religious and spiritual elements of service
  • Overseeing musical presentations

Cost of a Funeral Officiant

Technically speaking, a funeral officiant will preside over the service and not charge a specific fee for that assistance. In the case of a funeral director, officiating at the service itself really is part of the overall range of services provided.

If a religious leader officiates at a funeral, that individual also oftentimes does not charge a fee for doing so. Having said that, the common practice is to pay the individual an honorarium for his or her service as the funeral officiant. A common honorarium ranges from $100 to $300. In many cases, a funeral home discusses honorariums with you as part of planning for the service. If the officiant is not the funeral director, he or she commonly sees that an honorarium is paid to the officiant, the amount of money is included in the overall bill for funeral services.

In this day and age, there is a great deal of flexibility in the manner in which a funeral can be conducted. The key is to follow the directives of the deceased person as closely as possible. If there are no such clear directions, family and close friends should strive to create a funeral that would fit what they believe would be the wishes of the deceased individual, including the type of officiant selected for the service.