What Time Should a Funeral or Viewing Start and End?

Updated

Planning a funeral service for a loved one takes a lot of thought, preparation, and more decision-making than most people are used to. Accurate timing for the funeral service, wake, or viewing is a key part of ensuring your loved one’s funeral services go smoothly and attendees can participate in showing their respect and love. 

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If you’ve never planned a funeral or you’re helping a loved one set up events, read on to understand how long a funeral should last and how to prepare for events when putting together a funeral service timeline.

How Long Does a Viewing or Wake Typically Last?

A viewing or wake traditionally occurs immediately before the funeral service is held. While traditional western viewings only take a couple of hours, some cultures may set aside several days to view, sit with, and mourn their loved one during a visitation or wake. 

Understanding tradition, faith, and cultural rules is key to timing a viewing or wake and the following services. Another important factor includes where the viewing or wake takes place. If you plan a visitation, wake, or viewing at a funeral home, it’s critical to clarify room availability and charges for room set-up and using their facility. 

Each funeral home has different rules regarding the timing for wakes and viewings. Most funeral homes permit viewings for a set number of hours with no overnight options. Some funeral homes offer cultural wakes where family members and friends can stay overnight with the deceased. 

If you plan on holding the viewing or wake at a relative’s home, you can easily set your own timeline based on cultural traditions without worrying about time limits.

Note: Many funeral homes require that the deceased’s body be embalmed to hold a viewing or wake. If cultural or faith preferences do not permit your loved one to be embalmed, you’ll need to find a funeral home that allows unembalmed viewings. 

How to Choose the Day/Time for a Wake or Viewing

Many families opt for a weekday wake or viewing because these time slots are less expensive than the weekend. However, this requires family members and friends to request time off from work in order to attend. 

The exact time you choose to hold a wake or viewing can depend on numerous factors such as:

  • How far friends and family have to travel to attend the visitation
  • How long the entire viewing or wake will be
  • How much time is provided by the funeral home
  • Special cultural requirements for the length of the viewing or wake
  • When the funeral will be held

Wakes and viewings always occur prior to the funeral or cremation service. As such, it’s important to leave enough time for friends and family to visit before the funeral service or cremation occurs.

Western viewings and visitations often occur the day of or the day before the funeral service. If you’re planning to hold the viewing and funeral service on the same day, you’ll want to provide enough time for friends and family to arrive for the viewing prior to the funeral service.

For same-day viewings and funeral services, most viewings begin in the morning with the funeral service held around or after the noon hour.

For viewings held the day before a funeral service, you might prefer to choose a later afternoon viewing to accommodate those who are working and need to get time off in order to attend. 

If you’re holding a multi-day viewing or wake, then the wake typically occurs as soon as the deceased is prepared at a relative’s home and continues for several full days until the funeral service.

How Long Does an Average Funeral Service Last?

Funeral services can last anywhere from an hour to several days, depending on faith and cultural traditions. The duration of a funeral service also depends on the type of service held and which elements are included. 

On average, a typical western funeral lasts between 40 to 60 minutes. Depending on cultural and religious obligations, some funeral services may be shorter or much longer. Here is a look at several types of funeral services and their average timeframes.

Church funeral service

An average traditional church funeral service lasts for about 40 minutes. This includes a message from the preacher, family members who speak or share a message, special elements such as a song or slideshow, and time to greet the family before or after the service.

Catholic funeral mass

A Catholic funeral mass takes around 45 minutes to an hour. It may go longer depending on the number of people who take part in the Communion service.

Funeral home service

Services that occur in the funeral home may or may not be religious. Depending on the elements included in the service, they might be as short as 15 minutes or last for an hour. Typical elements at a service held at the funeral home include:

  • A special message from a religious figure (optional)
  • A eulogy from a designated family member
  • Special messages from other family members
  • A special song or poem 
  • A slideshow or tribute video
  • Greeting of the family

Graveside funeral service

A graveside funeral service is often conducted as a standalone service and is typically much shorter than a traditional church or funeral home service. Most graveside services range from 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the included elements such as sharing a eulogy, special message, or prayer.

Burial at sea service

A burial at sea service averages around an hour from the time you leave the docks to the time you return. While you’re out at sea, the ship’s captain or a religious figure conducts the service. 

Funeral services at sea typically include all the same elements of a funeral service on land including a speech or eulogy, a special message or sermon, songs or poems, and a slideshow or tribute video viewing.

How to Choose the Time for a Funeral Service

Choosing the time for a funeral service depends on numerous factors, including:

  • Cultural expectations
  • Religious beliefs
  • Timing of the wake or viewing
  • How much travel is required to attend
  • Whether there is a luncheon or repast after the service

Funerals are typically held around noon or later to account for morning viewings, travel time, and work schedules. Holding a noon funeral also allows you to have a luncheon or repast afterward, if that’s something you desire.

Depending on your religious and cultural traditions, you might decide to hold the funeral on a weekend to enable more people to attend. However, this may not be possible if your religion or culture dictates that the deceased must be buried within 24–48 hours of their death.

In general, try and plan the funeral for:

  • Morning if followed by a luncheon
  • Noon if preceded by a viewing
  • Afternoon if it’s a shorter graveside service

One thing you want to stay away from is a long service during the lunch hour with no luncheon to follow. Doing this will lead to hungry attendees and children who may find it difficult to focus on the service instead of their growling stomachs.

How Long Does a Funeral Reception or Repast Last?

A reception or repast is usually held directly after the funeral service. The length of the repast tends to vary based on the location. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Luncheon at a restaurant: One to two hours
  • Luncheon at a funeral home’s banquet hall: One to two hours
  • Luncheon at a relative’s home: One to several hours

If the funeral party is large enough, you can typically rent a banquet room at a restaurant or funeral home for a designated time slot. If you’re simply asking the restaurant to place several tables together to accommodate your group, then you’ll need to be mindful of general restaurant etiquette and not stay much longer than it takes to eat the meal.

If you think your group would like more time to converse and be in each other’s company, you may want to consider other arrangements such as providing the luncheon at a relative’s home, instead.

How to Choose the Time for a Reception or Repast

Funeral receptions, luncheons, and repasts always occur immediately following the funeral service. This typically means they start anywhere from noon to 2:00 pm depending on what time the funeral is held. However, there are other factors that should be considered when determining the starting and ending time for the reception. 

Here are two things to consider when booking a banquet room or planning a reception at a relative’s home.

The location or venue

If the reception occurs onsite at the funeral home where services took place, then you can typically host it immediately after the service. Just be sure to allow enough time for attendees to pay their respects to the bereaved before proceeding to the banquet hall.

If the reception occurs offsite, you’ll need to factor in time for attendees to greet the bereaved and travel time to the venue before the reception begins.

The number of people in attendance

Restaurants can only feed people so quickly, and the same goes for holding a backyard meal. If the funeral home provides catering, then the number of attendees won’t factor much into the time frame for the reception. 

Typically, plan at least an hour and a half for groups or 30 or more.

Timing Is Everything

Planning for a viewing or wake, funeral service, and luncheon shouldn’t be overwhelming. As long as you take into account the travel time needed in between the events and any cultural or religious guidelines, you’ll do just fine.

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