This guide will go through all the things that affect a funeral’s length so that you know what to plan for.
The exact length of a funeral varies depending on:
What kind of funeral it is
How many people attend
What the organisers include in the service
For example a traditional catholic funeral could include a funeral procession, a burial and a Requiem Mass. If the organisers then included a lot of readings and speeches, it could take longer than an hour.
However a funeral that was a cremation where there was no procession, and only had a few poems during the service, could be as short as 30 minutes.
We’ll go through all the different factors in detail so you can estimate how long a funeral is going to be, or plan the length of a funeral you’re organising.
Most funerals follow the same rough structure
So even though the specifics might change, there are some standard things that you can expect to happen that affect the length. A funeral usually includes:
People arriving at the venue
People will start to arrive at the venue up to half an hour before the service is due to begin. If there are lots of people attending, you’ll want to make sure you’ve booked enough time in the venue for people to enter and take their seats.
Most crematoriums offer 1-hour slots for your service.
If you’re expecting a lot of people to attend, remember to factor in the time it takes them to arrive and leave. You might be able to book a double slot if you’re worried about things overrunning.
A funeral procession
A funeral procession is when people travel with the coffin from the funeral home or residence to the location of the funeral by car or by foot.
Traditional processions are not that common anymore. But people may still carry the coffin from the hearse into the service room. It’s also completely normal for the coffin to already be in place inside the service room before everyone arrives.
If there is a procession, guests will follow it into the service room. You may have to wait for the previous service to finish before the funeral you are attending can start. So if a funeral has a procession it’s likely to be longer.
A funeral service
The funeral service can include readings, songs and, if it’s a religious service, prayers. Usually one or more people will say something about the person who’s died; who they were, what their interests were, and the things that mattered to them.
The length of the funeral will depend on how many readings and songs are included in the funeral service. This will usually be written out in an orders of service booklet that explains what is going to happen when.
In modern funerals this means the part where the coffin is lowered into the ground for a burial or removed from view for cremation. Traditionally the committal marked the physical parting of the person who’s died.
If the committal is a burial this might happen at the same place as the service, or it might happen at another location. As the coffin is lowered, it’s normal for the person leading the funeral to say a few words.
A burial tends to take longer than being removed from view for a cremation. So if the funeral includes a burial it could take up another 30 minutes or longer if it’s happening in a different location.
A reception or wake
This is a less formal part of the funeral and one that can go on for much longer than the service. It’s usually a peaceful way to spend time with others who care about the person who’s died.
Attending the reception is a personal choice and up to you, but the people who organised the reception usually appreciate others attending.
The length of a reception or wake can be anything from an hour or two to a whole afternoon and evening. However it’s usually up to you how long you stay.
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Funerals usually happen during the week between 9am to 5pm
This is because the professionals involved in organising the service keep regular business hours. A funeral director will tend to offer slots that start mid morning or early afternoon, but some places offer early morning slots at cheaper rates.
Some places will also offer funerals at weekends, but these tend to be more expensive than slots during the week.
Religious customs can influence how long a funeral is
Catholic funeral services often include a Requiem Mass - a special mass for the person who has died and includes the giving and receiving of communion. Communion is a Christian ceremony where people eat bread and drink wine that a priest has consecrated or declared sacred. This means the bread and wine now represents Christ’s flesh and blood.
There is no obligation to take communion if you’re not Catholic, but the mass does mean the service might be a little longer.
Humanist funeral services often follow the same format as religious ceremonies and are of similar lengths of 40 minutes to an hour. You can find out more about what happens at a humanist funeral here.
Jewish funerals are also often around 40 minutes to an hour in length. There is often an additional step just before the funeral starts called keriah. This is where the person leading the funeral gathers the mourners and places a black ribbon on their clothes or tears some clothing as an expression of grief.
Muslim funerals last between 30 minutes and an hour, but they can last longer if there are a lot of mourners gathered. The service is led by an Imam, and the people attending the funeral will say burial prayers for the person who has died.
Hindu funerals typically last around 30 minutes. They normally include a welcome, a ceremony and then a cremation. If you’re attending a Hindu funeral it’s custom to wear white, not black.
What the organisers include in the service affects the length
For example If the people who organise the service want to include lots of different readings, hymns, songs and speeches this will be longer than a funeral that only has a couple.
The things people can put in a funeral service that affect the length include:
Entrance and exit music
Hymns or songs
Speeches or eulogies
A eulogy is a kind of speech that honours the person who has died
It’s usually written by someone who was close to the person who has died, like a child or partner. But this isn’t always the case. Sometimes the religious leader or celebrant running the service will read the eulogy, or there doesn’t have to be a eulogy at all.
You don’t need to have a funeral service
There’s no law in the UK that says you have to have a funeral, so if you believe it’s not the right choice for your loved one that's okay. This can often be if someone said they didn’t want a funeral when they were alive, or if a funeral feels wrong for their personality.
However you do legally still have to decide what happens to the person’s body. Often the most affordable and simplest way to do this is a direct cremation.
This is when a company takes the body away to be cremated, then returns the ashes a few days later. People can decide to hold a memorial service or celebration of life in the future if they bury or scatter the ashes.
We can help you arrange a direct cremation
We can give you a quote today and organise a phone call to talk through the details.
Not everyone has a reception or a wake
A lot of people host a reception after the main funeral service, but there’s no need to have one if you do not want to. Some people feel they need to spend time with others to process their grief, but others may find receptions overwhelming and unhelpful.
There’s no set length for funeral receptions
If there is a funeral reception, it can be as long or as short as you want. It’s common for people to meet at a venue such as a family home, a village hall, a pub or a restaurant to have a few drinks and some food. This can last from an hour or two, a whole afternoon or even late into the night.
Leaving a funeral early
It happens. As much as you might want to stay for the whole funeral, sometimes it’s not possible – and that’s ok. If you do have to leave a funeral part way through, or cannot attend the whole thing, here are some things to think about:
Going to the service is what most people consider to be the main part of the funeral.
If you have to leave early, try to sit at the back near the door to minimise any disruption.
Do not feel that you have to attend the burial or committal – lots of people find this part more difficult. Sometimes only close family members and friends attend.
It’s still alright to come to the reception or wake even if you can’t attend the service. It’s still a lovely way to show you care to the people who’ve organised the event.
The length of a funeral doesn’t reflect how meaningful it is
Every funeral is different in the same way every person is different. It’s okay that some people want longer funerals, others prefer shorter ones and some prefer not to have a funeral at all.
And neither does how long someone can be there
This information will help you estimate how long the funeral you’re attending or organising will be, but it’s impossible to predict it completely accurately. It can be a good idea to keep a few hours, or even half a day, free for a funeral so you have extra time.
But this isn’t always possible if you are balancing childcare, unpaid leave or other commitments. Showing up in the time you have is still just as meaningful a way to show you care.
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