Differences Between Protestant and Catholic Funeral Customs

By: Ian Elliott
Thursday, July 7, 2016

If you have ever attended funerals of those with differing religious beliefs, you may have noticed slight differences in the funeral customs at each service. Catholic funerals are traditionally more focused on their rituals while a Protestant funeral is less ritualistic with more said about the decedent as part of the service. 

Other differences between Catholic and Protestant funeral customs include:


The Prayer Vigil is an appropriate time, in a Catholic funeral, to eulogize the deceased or pay any fraternal or civil tributes. Eulogies are not delivered as part of the actual funeral mass.  In a Protestant service the eulogy is often part of the ceremony itself.

Views on Cremation

Historically, the Catholic Church did not support cremation. However, these days it is acceptable for a Catholic to be cremated. That said, most churches prefer that the body be present for the Funeral Mass, with cremation occurring afterward. Remains should be buried in the ground or placed in a niche wall or columbarium, and should not be scattered.  While the Protestant church also banned cremation at one point, they gradually accepted cremation into their faith after WWI. Today, most Protestants opt for cremation, especially in cities and towns where burial space is costly or limited.  For Protestants, the religion allows that ashes be scattered or interred in the ground, niche wall or columbarium. 


Both Protestant denominations and Catholics believe in holding visitations or wakes, in order to view the body and pay last respects. A Catholic viewing is held before or after the Prayer Vigil in the church.   A Protestant visitation is usually held at the funeral home the evening before the funeral service.

Priests and Ministers

One or more Catholic priest always celebrates a Catholic funeral mass. In some cases, a bishop may also celebrate a Catholic mass. This ritual consists of a series of prayers, communion and then absolution. Absolution involves sprinkling the casket with holy water and incense while a hymn is sung. After this, the body is taken from the church to the burial site or crematorium for cremation. Protestant’s have many different denominations, however, in most cases, funerals are carried out by a pastor or minister rather than a priest. There is no absolution, and the service consists of readings, prayers, eulogies, singing and music. Once the service is complete, the casket or urn is taken from the service to the burial site or the family may take the urn if scattering the cremated remains.

Burial Customs

The main difference between burials of Protestants and Catholics is the fact that Catholics will bless the ground or mausoleum before committing the body or urn to the grave. The priest offers another short prayer and once again sprinkles holy water and incense as a blessing.  Protestant burials will have just a few prayers and a committal said. Within different Protestant denominations come different burial customs. Since cremation is an accepted and popular choice for Protestants, the religion allows that ashes be scattered, where Catholics believe the ashes should stay intact. 

Regardless of the different opinions between these two faiths, it’s clear to see that both services are designed to offer comfort for the family. Whether you are planning a Protestant or Catholic funeral service for a loved one or family member, Arbutus Funeral Service in Langley, BC can help. Call 604-888-9895 for more information today. 


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