Officiating a Funeral: Who Does It, How to Officiate & FAQs

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Funerals are typically led by a funeral officiant. These are also sometimes called funeral celebrants or funeral conductors. A funeral officiant can be a religious leader, funeral director, or even a close friend or family member of the deceased. There are no set rules about these services and events. Anyone is legally allowed to lead a funeral or memorial service. 

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If you’re planning a funeral, you likely have a few questions about officiating a funeral. This is a significant role in the service, so you want to ensure it’s carried out with care and respect. In this guide, we’ll break down the role of the funeral officiant to answer all of your questions. 

COVID-19 tip: If you're officiating a virtual funeral using a service like GatheringUs, you can still share your thoughts or eulogy with your online guests. Coordinate with your planning team, make sure you have the right microphones and audio equipment, and send online guests digital funeral programs with the full speaking schedule.

Share your final wishes, just in case.

Create a free Cake end-of-life planning profile and instantly share your health, legal, funeral, and legacy decisions with a loved one.

Who’s Allowed to Officiate a Funeral? 

A lot of people are surprised to learn that anyone can lead a funeral or memorial service. There is no governing body or legal requirements. However, since this is such an essential role within the funeral, most families want someone experienced as their officiant. 

The funeral officiant does the following:

  • Eulogizes the person who died
  • Leads religious prayers or customs
  • Invites attendees to speak
  • Leads the service
  • Ensures everything runs smoothly

A qualified officiant has experience leading these services. They know how to handle the family’s emotions and how to personalize this service. They make this day easier. Because the officiant wears so many hats and takes such a hands-on role in the service, they’re typically religious leaders, funeral directors, or professional celebrants. For example, clergy members often lead Christian funerals.

However, family members and friends also are allowed to officiate funerals. It is not uncommon to choose someone who knew the deceased to officiate on this day. Remember that emotions run high at funerals, so having someone who is personally affected might not be the best choice. Experience is a virtue in ensuring the funeral is a seamless event. 

ยป MORE: It's normal to feel overwhelmed after a loss. Follow this step-by-step checklist to know what comes next.

 

How Do You Usually Officiate a Funeral? 

Whether you have a minister, celebrant, or close friend officiating the funeral, he or she typically follows a similar process. If someone asked you to officiate a funeral service, you might be wondering what comes next. How do you officiate a funeral? 

This often depends on the family’s unique religious beliefs, customs, and wishes. The goal of officiating is to aid the family in their final farewell to their loved one. It’s also to assist with processing emotions of grief and sorrow. Most officials follow similar steps during the funeral. We’ll outline these in the order below. 

Pre-funeral

The officiant's role begins before the funeral. They’ll arrange a meeting with the family to talk about their unique expectations. The officiant guides the family in planning the schedule for the service, and they might provide recommendations if needed. 

  • Talk to the family - First, the officiant talks to the family about their needs. This is typically done at the funeral home, but it can also be in the family’s home.
  • Religious requirements - If the family has any religious beliefs, the officiant plans to include these in the ceremony. They might need to familiarize themselves with customs, prayers, and traditions. They might prepare funeral prayers or funeral poems.
  • Create a schedule - The officiant uses the family’s wishes to create a custom schedule for the service and memorial. This might just be for the funeral, but it could also include a repast, visitation, or graveside service. 
  • Write a eulogy - In preparation for the funeral, it’s common to write a eulogy. A eulogy is an ode to someone. It’s typically written with high praise, and it highlights an individual's best qualities and accomplishments. This could be written in a personal way if the officiant knew the deceased themselves. It can also include the family’s thoughts from the first meeting. 

During the service

Think of the officiant as the leader of the service. They guide the entire event from start to finish, and this usually involves helping set up for the event. 

  • Arrive early - The officiant arrives early for the service, usually a few hours in advance. They might work with the family and walk them through the schedule. As you would expect, the funeral is hard on the family. The officiant is a pillar of support and kindness at this time. 
  • Lead the service - The celebrant leads the family and guests in the funeral service. This includes nay prayer, remembrance, eulogies, speeches, and other acknowledgments. 
  • Provide emotional support - One of the biggest challenges of hosting a funeral is that emotions run high. The officiant keeps a respectful but strong demeanor. This helps the family focus on the service.

After the service

The officiant’s role doesn’t come to a close after the service. They’re typically available to lead any post-service events or even just to provide additional support. 

  • Assist with arrangements - If there are post-funeral arrangements such as a repast or graveside service, the officiant invites guests formally. 
  • Lead additional services - For families that have additional events and services after the funeral, the officiant might lead these as well. 
  • Give space - Unless the officiant knows the family personally, they typically excuse themselves when it’s appropriate to give the family space to grieve. 

How Much Does a Funeral Officiant Usually Cost?

The cost of a funeral officiant depends on several f factors. The most affordable option, of course, is to choose someone like a friend or family member to officiate. They’re usually willing to do it for free. 

However, having a professional is a resource in itself. This is worth the cost for many families. Let’s take a different look at the types of officiants and what you can expect to pay. 

Non-denominational funeral officiant

If you’re choosing a secular funeral, such as a humanist funeral, the price varies quite a bit. Most professional celebrants are certified, and this comes with a premium. However, certified celebrants have a variety of training that’s helpful for funerals such as:

  • Funeral planning know-how
  • Family meeting facilitation skills
  • Presentation skills
  • Ceremonial writing skills
  • Emotional support training

Because of these unique qualifications, most funeral celebrants cost around $200- $500. The price depends on the location, experience, and certification. To determine the cost in your area, contact multiple celebrants, and ask about pricing. 

Clergy and religious leaders

If the deceased was a member of a religious congregation, you’re in luck. Some clergy or religious leaders perform these officiant duties free of charge, though they may expect a donation.

Even if your loved one was not a member of a religious congregation, these leaders usually perform these services for a small fee. This fee ranges from $50-$200 depending on the type of service needed. However, clergy might not have specialized funeral training like celebrants typically do. They are versed in religious customs and funeral practices, and many families welcome this option.

How to Find the Right Officiant

To determine the right officiant for you or a loved one, give thought to what type of ceremony you want. If your priority is to keep costs low, choosing a relative might be the right choice. However, if you have a list of traditions in mind, it’s likely smarter to opt for a religious leader or a certified officiant. 

Once you’ve made your decision, how do you find the right person? Follow these steps below:

  • Contact a church or funeral home - To get in touch with an officiant, contact either the church (or another place of worship) or your funeral home. Both will have a list of available officiants, and they can point you in the right direction. 
  • Contact the officiant - Reach out to the officiant to arrange your first meeting. You can do this at your home, a place of worship, or the funeral home. 
  • Prepare for your meeting - Talk to your family in preparation for your meeting. Only one to three people should be present, so agree about what type of ceremony you’re planning. If you have any traditions, prayers, or practices you’d like included, write these down. 
  • Sign a contract - Like any business transaction, ensure there’s a clear contract between you and your officiant. 
  • Create your itinerary - Work with your officiant to create the funeral’s itinerary. They lead this process using the information you provide. 
  • Let them lead - On the day of the funeral, allow the officiant to take charge. They’re prepared to handle anything. This is your time to grieve and focus on the service. 

The Bottom Line on Funeral Officiates 

It takes a special kind of person to serve others on one of the worst days of their lives. Funerals are a time when tensions are high and families are in mourning. An officiant takes charge to make this day a little bit easier. 

Whether you’re planning for your own funeral or helping prepare for a loved one’s, this guide helps with your search for an officiant. Now that you know what to expect, you’re ready to create the service that’s right for your family. 

If you're looking for more help with funeral planning, read our guide on how to pick a funeral home.

Post-planning tip: If you are the executor for a deceased loved one, you have more than just the details of the funeral to think about. Handling their unfinished business can be overwhelming without a way to organize your process. We have a post-loss checklist that will help you ensure that your loved one's family, estate, and other affairs are taken care of.



Sources

  1. “Certified Celebrant Training.” National Funeral Directors Association. NFDA.org
  2. “Funerals and Memorial Services.” Union Congregational Church, UCC. UCCpeterborough.org

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