The casket is carried in at the beginning of a funeral during the funeral procession. The chief mourners, including the parents, spouse, or children of the deceased, typically follow the casket during the funeral procession to symbolically escort the deceased to their final resting place.
The People Who Follow the Casket during a Funeral
During a funeral procession, the casket is carried by pallbearers. The pallbearers are sometimes joined by honorary pallbearers; people who escort the casket but do not actually carry the casket.
Honorary pallbearers typically walk either directly behind or in front of the casket.
The chief mourners walk directly behind the casket and honorary pallbearers. The chief mourners are usually the spouse, parents, or children of the deceased.
Historically, the chief mourner(s) walked directly behind the casket so that they could symbolically accompany the deceased to their final resting place. Recently, some chief mourner(s) have chosen to be pallbearers. However, most instead follow the casket so that they can focus instead on the funeral procession.
The Other Individuals Involved in a Funeral Procession
The officiant, who is the person leading the service, typically leads the funeral procession. If the officiant is joined by an assistant, they may also walk at the front of the procession. In some instances, other individuals that will be at the front of the church, such as members of the choir, who follow directly behind the officiant and join him at the altar.
The officiant is followed by the honorary pallbearers and the pallbearers carrying the casket. The casket is followed by the chief mourner(s), as discussed above.
The chief mourners are followed by family members and close friends of the deceased. The family members and friends that are in the processional typically sit in the first rows of the church, along with the pallbearers.
The order of the funeral procession is decided by the family members arranging the funeral. Family and friends who aren’t part of the funeral procession will already be in their seats when the procession occurs.
The History of Funeral Processions
The term “funeral procession” refers to the act of ceremonially transporting a person to their final resting place. It can be used to refer to the act of bringing the casket into the church at the beginning of a funeral, or carrying the casket from the funeral home or church to the cemetery.
Historically, the family was responsible for transporting the body from the family home to the cemetery for burial. As the cemetery was often far from the family home, the male family members and close friends of the deceased would carry the casket while the mourners followed. This practice has shifted over time with the modernization of roadways and vehicles.
In modern times, when there is a funeral procession from the church to the cemetery, the lead car is typically a hearse carrying the casket, followed by family and friends in their own vehicles. However, some Americans are opting for a more simplified model of the traditional funeral procession.
In these instances, the “funeral procession” refers to the casket being carried into the church at the beginning of the funeral. “Funeral recession” refers to the casket being carried from the church to the hearse for transport to the cemetery.