What is a committal? A question I get asked so often. Because we are moving into a more free and diverse way of celebrating & honouring end of life, the definition of this word ‘committal’ continues to change.

Historically, the ‘committal’ is a concluding rite in a traditionally formatted funeral service. If you look online you’ll not get much more of an explanation, but basically it is the rite of passage that honours the physical parting of a deceased person by either burial or cremation. You are ‘committing’ the body either to be buried, or to be cremated.

Sounds so eloquent doesn’t it?!

In traditional funerals (whether religious or not), this is carried out with a series of formal words that looks something like this:

In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty God our brother/sister and commit his/her body to be cremated/to the earth.”


“In sadness at his/her death, but with appreciation of his/her life, we now commit the body of [name] to be cremated/to its resting place, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

Curtains would often then be closed around the coffin at this point in cremation to symbolise the parting.

It’s a one size fits all scenario; templated; discordant; generic and impersonal; and generally a non-negotiable part of a funeral.


Me personally, I have a very unique way of describing what a ‘committal’ is in my services. Simply put, it’s whatever you want it to be. For starters, I don’t like the harshness of the word ‘committal’ so opt for words such as ‘Farewell’, and while I see funeral services as a blank canvas in which to create a unique and meaningful moment, I explain to families that at some point they may want to formally acknowledge their farewells – i.e. have the opportunity to offer a personal message of love, appreciation and gratitude to honour the physical, emotional and spiritual separation from the person who has died, but in a very gentle, warm and personal way. This could be through their own chosen words or by looking through some examples I give them; it could be through a poignant poem; it could be through ritual and action or music; and it can be delivered by either myself or a family member [But generally families find this part so emotional that they prefer me to lead it].

What is important to realise here is that nothing is an obligation in a funeral – you don’t need prayers, closing curtains, formal abrasive wording etc if you don’t want to! You don’t even need to include a committal/farewell if you don’t want to! Absolutely everything that takes place can be guided by you to ensure we reflect your family and the person you’ve lost appropriately and meaningfully.

If families do want to acknowledge a farewell however,  there seems to be 2 differing ways in how they choose to do this:

[1] To have a part of the service dedicated to ‘The Farewell’.

In this instance, after the sharing of memories, stories, tributes etc, it is my role to bring the mourners into a safe and calm heart space in preparation to say their goodbyes. I always suggest using gentle and non-invasive background music to sit underneath all the words said that help fill awkward silences and give people permission to have a good cry without feeling they are being loud or interruptive. After all, I think most of us are incredibly uncomfortable with public grieving, so if we can make this part a bit more relaxing, calm and gentle then people can connect better with the moment.

With regards to asking the congregation to stand – I never do this unless the family specifically want me to. Think about it…. when you’re incredibly upset and in tears, what’s the first thing you’re likely to do? Yup, sit down. By keeping everyone seated we are not dishonouring or disrespecting the deceased, we are merely looking after the welfare of the living and allowing them to participate, process, mull and reflect as much, or as little, as they wish.

With regards to wording, this is where there is complete freedom. I have an example sheet of words and phrases that I leave with families, but ultimately it’s up to them what is to be said. It may be something as simple as ‘Thank you [name] for being you, and for everything you have contributed in this life, and may you know that wherever you are our love goes with you,’ or something longer, formal, sentimental, spiritual, casual…. anything! Look at my post here for some examples.

Similarly,  many families have resonated with the fact that words seem so inadequate at such a time, and so it is at this part of the service where we simply explain that we’re going to acknowledge our farewells through the medium of music – by honing into individual and private sentiments through reflection, meditation or prayer while listening to a poignant song. Some families also adhere to the ‘actions speak louder than words’ phrase, and instead of words they’ll physically do something – light a candle/s, pour a pint/shot and share it with immediate family, retrieve something that is on the coffin or similarly go and place something on the coffin etc.


[2] Embedding a Message of Farewell within the service as a whole.

Some families do not want a  section of the service dedicated to saying goodbye. It’s too painful or upsetting, or they just don’t resonate with with the formality of it. Whatever the reason, it’s absolutely okay to move away from the traditional and somewhat ‘expected’ ways of doing things.  For some , they benefit from the service feeling like one whole moment, instead of broken down into sections. In this case, we simply refer to the person who has died in first person at a point/s throughout the service, embedding our message into the whole feel of the service without formalising it. Similarly, when a service takes place at a different venue than the ‘committal’ [i.e. you’ve opted to use a village hall/a garden to hold the service, but the committal will take place at a crematorium/burial site] it is often a very cathartic and healthy approach to keep words brief, and rather allow the family to have the time to spend with their loved one doing whatever they wish – music can be playing, they can write messages on the coffin with sharpies [or on tags to tie onto a seagrass/wicker coffin], look through pictures, or just ‘be’.




Of course, these are just examples and every single service is so unique in its feel, content, vibe and wording, but hopefully you have gained a better insight as to how you approach a ‘Committal’ when planning a funeral for your loved one.


As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions, so feel free to get in touch.


Love and light