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How Long Do Funerals Last?

March 10, 2021
It's good to know what to expect when it comes to the length of a funeral so you have an idea of how much time to stay to remain respectful.
Written By Amanda LevineMarch 10, 2021

How long does a funeral service last? While this may seem like a simple, straightforward question, that’s not always the case. The length of a funeral ranges from less than an hour to several days (if you include mourning periods.) It depends on many factors!

It’s good to know what to expect when it comes to the length of a funeral so you have an idea of how much time to stay to remain respectful.

Potential components of funerals

The length of a funeral is largely determined by how many components it has. A funeral can be much more than just the service itself. Here are some of the potential components you might encounter at a funeral.

Visitation

This happens before the funeral service and offers family and friends the opportunity to gather together and offer condolences to the immediate family. A visitation is typically held either the day before or the day of the funeral and can be as long or short as the family wishes. Visitors typically come and stay for around 20 minutes within the visitation hours.

Viewing

This is when the deceased’s body is present in an open casket for loved ones to say a final goodbye. Some visitations include a viewing, while some families prefer to hold a viewing before visitation with a smaller, more intimate group. Like visitation, people don’t stay at viewings very long—just enough time to pay their respects.

Formal service or religious ceremony

A service can be made up of various components and are often as unique as the person they honour.

A funeral service can range in length from under one hour to several days (if you include mourning periods.) They can consist of things like readings and/or prayers if it’s religious, a eulogy celebrating the deceased’s accomplishments and reflecting on their life, speeches from close family members and friends, and other rituals specific to certain cultures and religions.

Burial or committal service

This is the service that occurs when the body (or remains of the body) is “committed” to its final resting place. These services can be a single component of a larger service, or could exist as a stand-alone service. A burial typically takes place at a cemetery or other place of burial. funeral services often take place graveside or, in the case of cremation, at the crematorium. Sometimes a burial service is referred to as a “committal” service if it’s a Catholic funeral. As with all of these components, it will It depends on what the family decides to do and whether the deceased expressed any specific wishes.

Reception and periods of mourning

Some families choose to hold a reception after the formal funeral service. They can also take place in funeral homes or other appropriate venues. If you work with a funeral director, they can help plan a reception. It’s common to offer food or a meal at a reception, so people usually stay for about 45 minutes to an hour, on average. Most cultures and religions hold something similar to a reception.

For example, in Judaism, it is customary for the grieving family to sit “shiva” for seven days after the funeral. During this time, family and friends come and go into the family residence to pay their respects. In Hinduism, close friends and family join the grieving family for 13 days of mourning. In the Catholic religion, it’s more common to hold a wake before the funeral. A wake is often a less structured, more casual environment for mourners to pay their respects and celebrate the deceased’s life. They usually last 2 to 6 hours.

how long do funerals last

Factors that affect the length of a funeral service

There are some other factors that affect how long a funeral service is. It often comes down to a few things:

  • Religion
  • How many people attend
  • Type of burial

Cultural and religious traditions

Sometimes, culture or religion will dictate the length of a funeral. If the deceased was a very religious person and wished to have a traditional burial, you can expect it to last a predetermined amount of time. For example, according to Cake:

  • Catholic services could take several hours when factoring in viewing, visitation, and traditional ceremonies.
  • Christian funerals are, on average, 30 minutes to one hour long.
  • Hindu funerals occur within 24 hours of death and on the first day of 13 days of mourning.
  • Muslim funerals often last two to three hours.
  • Jewish funerals last under an hour and are followed by shiva that lasts for 7 days.
  • Buddhist funerals include three 45 minute long rites (a type of sermon). The entire service lasts a couple of hours.

How many people attend

The size of the funeral can also dictate its length. The more people in attendance, the more people are hoping to pay their respects and have time with the grieving family during a visitation or reception/mourning period. It also might mean that more people want to do a reading at the service itself. A larger funeral also means more time is needed for everyone to settle in their seats at the service and relocate to the cemetery if there is a graveside component.

Type of burial

There are multiple options for burial, and each lasts a different length of time. The most common options are an in-ground burial and cremation.

How long does a traditional in-ground burial last?

A traditional in-ground burial is when the body is laid to rest in the ground in a casket and usually lasts around 30 minutes. Traditional in-ground burials take place graveside and offer friends and family a chance to say a final goodbye. Sometimes, everyone will throw a handful of soil on the casket after it’s lowered into the ground. These services happen after the funeral service.

what to wear to a funeral

How long does a cremation service last?

Cremation services often happen right at the crematorium. These types of services usually last around half an hour to 45 minutes. Sometimes, families will choose an in-ground burial ceremony and have the body cremated after the service.

Planning to attend a funeral

As mentioned, funerals come in all shapes, sizes, and lengths. It’s safe to expect to spend at least one hour when attending a funeral. You might want to stay longer if you were closer to the deceased and their family. And the religion and culture of the grieving family may also dictate what’s expected.
If in doubt, don’t be shy to ask. Depending on whether you feel comfortable asking a family member, you can also call the funeral home and speak directly with the funeral director about what to expect in terms of schedule.

Either way, make sure to dress appropriately and respectfully.

Attending a funeral during the COVID-19 pandemic

Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has turned the whole concept of funerals on its head. Due to emergency orders and social distancing measures, traditional in-person funerals haven’t always been possible (or safe.)

Virtual funerals have become a popular way of paying respects to a loved one during this time. Look closely at the invitation for a sense of what to expect in terms of length.

Planning for your funeral and burial

As you can see, funerals require a lot of planning and can take a variety of forms. It’s worth pointing out that a lot of this planning and preparation can occur during a person’s life. When most people make their Will, they also complete a funeral and burial wishes document.

This is a document that can be completed separate from your Will and stored alongside it. It lets you express your official wishes when it comes to your funeral and burial.

There are many online solutions available today to help you do a lot of the groundwork ahead of time. Online planning platforms, like Epilogue, include a funeral and burial wishes document as part of its service. And others let you plan and pre-pay for things like a cremation.

Written By Amanda Levine
Amanda is the Director of Content at Epilogue. She's committed to helping all Canadians learn the importance of estate planning and protecting the ones they love most. In her spare time, she fosters with a local rescue and walks her rescue dog, Louise!