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A memorial service differs from a funeral service in that the body is not present. Because of this, the service does not have the tight time constraints that a funeral does. It can be held at a time when more members of the family can be in attendance.
There is no set ceremony for a memorial service, they are generally less formal affairs than a traditional funeral service. Often clergy will be present and at the head of the ceremony. Customs vary but eulogies and speaches about the departed person are common. There is often a reception with food afterwards where everyone is encouraged to mingle and share their memories.
Every religion has it's own ceremonies and rituals for dealing with death. There are three primary steps in the Roman Catholic religion. They are the Vigil which is commonly called the Wake, the funeral ceremony including a Mass, and the actual burial.
Many years ago people held a vigil over a person after death to make sure that they were dead. They were watching for them to wake, hence the name. That is no longer necessary but the custom evolved into what we now know as a Wake.
Wakes are usually held at a funeral home. It is traditional for viewings or visitations to be held for three days after death. The Wake is usually held on the night before the funeral. There will be a specific time for visiting before the Wake and a set time for it to begin. The time should be posted in the obituary.
The format for a Wake varies but in general they often open with a prayer, the priest will give a homily and scriptures will be read. Friends and family with then give eulogies and speak, often sharing funny stories. Eulogies are not allowed at the formal funeral service. There is usually a great deal of laughter to go along with the sadness. The service will be closed with a prayer.
Attire varies greatly by region, but you should dress modestly. Loud colors and prints are not appropriate. Wear clothing appropriate for work or church if in doubt. The dress will be casual in some instances but still modest and subdued.
A tradtitional funeral is the most common type of service in the United States. In a traditional funeral the body is picked up by a funeral home and prepared for burial by professionals at the funeral home. A funeral director will be in charge of leading the family through the process of setting up the arrangements.
There is usually a set time for visitations. The family is present and accepts visitors. The body is present in the casket and it may be open or closed.
A funeral service is held at either the funeral home or church followed buy burial in a cemetery.