Q. A friend of mine, who is planning her mother’s funeral, mentioned working with the funeral home on “the order of service.” I’ve never heard this term before. What exactly is the order of service?
I’ve had to plan three different funerals myself, and never heard of it either. Now I’m enlightened, thanks to your question. The order of service is essentially a program of how a funeral or memorial service will proceed. The order of service may be a printed guide for attendees. Or the clergyman (or other officiant) will simply describe the schedule to follow. For example, an order of service may include music, prayers (for the bereaved, as well as the deceased), a reading of scriptures or poetry, eulogy (or eulogies), and perhaps a general sermon on the mysteries of life and death. The names of participants in each segment may be mentioned, along with an announcement of a reception (if there is one) following the service.
The order of service can be individualized to the deceased through selections of prayers or poetry that reflect his/her spirit or personality. Videos of the deceased may be included in some memorial services.
The details can differ, depending on the religion or denomination. But the idea is to ensure that this solemn occasion goes smoothly and tells attendees what to expect. The order of service can be especially helpful when you attend a funeral in an unfamiliar religion. Because it lays out exactly what will take place, the program makes you feel less like a stranger. The order of service is also a memento you can place in an album if you wish, and revisit from time to time. A Quaker order of service may include an obituary.
However, not all religions use a printed or spoken program. For example, Hindu and Islamic funerals do not include an order of service. Printed versions may be available at Jewish funerals, or the rabbi may mention the proceedings to follow.
An order of service can also be used at a stand-alone graveside funeral. The upside of a graveside funeral is it’s usually much simpler, smaller, and less costly than a full-scale funeral. On the other hand, there is less flexibility in the program. For example, music would probably not be included. This is also not the place for multiple eulogies, although brief remembrances may work.
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Florence Isaacs is the author of several books on etiquette, including My Deepest Sympathies: Meaningful Sentiments for Condolence Notes.... She writes two advice blogs for Legacy.com: Sincere Condolences and Widow in the World, a blog for bereaved spouses and partners.