Humanist and religious funerals

If you’re going to a humanist or religious funeral, here’s what you may experience on the day.

Below are some of the types of services we commonly see, however we can organise funerals to honour any faith, culture or religion. If the funeral you’re attending isn’t mentioned below, you can speak to the funeral director for information on what may happen on the day.


Humanist funerals don’t have any religious content and are based on secular (without God) beliefs. They are led by a Humanist celebrant and the service tends to focus on the person who has died, the life they led and the relationships they made. You might be invited to have a moment of silent reflection at an appropriate time, but none of the readings, poems or music will have any religious content. 


Catholic funerals are led by a priest and usually include readings from the bible or a poem selected by the family. Hymns will be sung and, in some cases, Requiem Mass may be offered followed by prayers for the person who has died. Catholic funerals don’t always feature a eulogy as family and friends are invited to say a few words at the wake or reception after the funeral. 


Christian funerals are led by a priest or vicar and usually include readings from the bible or a poem selected by the family. Prayers will be offered for the person who has died. Family members or friends may be invited to read the eulogy or a poem or reading.


Only men are to participate in the funeral prayers. It’s normal for relatives to bear the coffin, including to the graveside. Mourners will throw earth, from a simple wooden chamber, into the grave. It is also common for the family to backfill the grave. Sitting or walking on the grave or graves in the surrounding area is strictly forbidden. 


The funeral cortege may well stop on the way at places of personal significance to the deceased person for prayers to be said. Traditionally, women mourners enter the chapel before the coffin and seat themselves together on one side. The coffin will then be carried to the catafalque by family and friends. At the end of the service the immediate family will wish to witness the coffin being taken to where the cremation will take place. Family members sometimes apply oil to the deceased’s forehead and decorate the body with flower garlands, red and yellow flowers are traditional.


Genesis 37:34 is read followed by the addition of Psalm 23. A memorial prayer and a eulogy are usually included. The pallbearers are usually family and close friends, they’re also the first ones to start scattering dirt into the grave. Kaddish, the prayer for the deceased, is recited at this time. All those present at the funeral must wash their hands afterwards.

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