All of these terms are common, but what do they really mean?
Memorial services are remembrances of the deceased. Bodies, caskets, and cremated remains are not present at memorials. They’re often held before or after a formal funeral or burial (or in place of a funeral service). These ceremonies are usually a mix of formal and informal elements, and can be solemn occasions or celebrations of the deceased’s life. Anyone can lead a memorial service.
Funeral services are usually formal and typically include a burial or cremation, although a funeral service might take place a day or two before the burial. Bodies, caskets, and cremated remains are present at funerals. For this reason, they almost always take place at a funeral home, cemetery, or columbarium. Because they tend to be formal, funerals are most often performed by ordained ministers and other clergy.
Wakes and viewings are informal events that allow friends and family to mourn a loved one in the presence of others. Bodies, caskets, and cremated remains are present at these events. They’re often held at the deceased’s home but sometimes take place at a funeral home. Different cultures have different traditions for wakes and viewings. For example, ancient Celtic and Irish wakes were long parties that took place over a full night. Anyone can lead a wake or viewing.