Planning the Committal Service
When it comes to funeral planning, there are several different kinds of services you will need to consider. A wake, vigil, or visitation takes place prior to the funeral, offering loved ones a chance to gather (either in the presence of the deceased’s remains or not) to give their last respects. A funeral service is the formal ceremony that takes place at a church or funeral home with the body in attendance. A memorial service is similar in format, though it does not include the body and can thus be held anywhere, at any time.
When the chosen disposition method is burial, you also have the option of holding a committal service. This brief ceremony takes place at the cemetery, usually following the funeral as the body is lowered into the ground. (It is also possible to commit the ashes of a loved one, though less common overall.) Also known as a graveside service, this is the final farewell before the remains are placed underground.
What Happens in a Committal Service?
Most committal services follow a fairly easy format:
- Loved ones arrive at the cemetery either via a procession or at a designated time following the funeral.
- Seats and/or covering from sun/rain are offered to the immediate family and elderly, but most people stand.
- A pastor/officiant says a prayer over the casket.
- Loved ones may speak or offer additional eulogies.
- Flowers, handfuls of dirt, and other symbolic gestures are placed on top of the casket. (This is also when ceremonies like doves being released or a gun salute is performed.)
- The casket is lowered into the ground.
- Everyone departs before the grave is closed.
Although you may wish to remain until the grave is all the way covered, this process can take hours (and requires the use of heavy machinery), so most families leave as soon as the ceremony is over.
Any and all of these steps are optional. For example, you can save on costs by skipping a formal procession, or you can forgo an officiant and have family members speak instead. Most cemeteries and funeral homes will be happy to work with you to plan a personalized ceremony.
Do You Have to Hold a Committal Service?
Committal services are often skipped because of the additional costs associated with the ceremony or because of privacy considerations. Most committal service costs go through the cemetery rather than the funeral home, and can cost upwards of several thousand dollars, depending on size. They are also restricted by weather. Making committal service plans only to be rained out can be especially draining on a family already struggling with costs.
There is also the matter of privacy to consider. Because funeral services and memorials are typically held indoors, it is easier to provide crowd control or ensure there is not any unwanted media attention. Outdoor services are much more difficult to control. If the death was in any way public or controversial, it may be best to skip this particular service.