The funeral procession is the name given to the line of cars that mourners drive, usually on the way from the church or chapel to the cemetery. The idea behind a funeral procession is two-fold. The body needs to be moved to the burial site or crematorium, but also, the procession is a way for family members and close friends to accompany the deceased on their final journey – it is both symbolic and a logistical necessity.
The history of the funeral procession
The tradition began thousands of years ago in ancient Egypt where a high priest would walk in front of the coffin as it was drawn along on a sled to the burial grounds. It was not uncommon for the Egyptian men to attend the procession unshaven and the women with torn clothes and dirt on their faces to symbolise their state of mourning. Sometimes female professional mourners were hired to add to the spectacle.
In ancient Christian traditions, the mourners formed a procession to accompany the body of the deceased from the family home to the church. There was no need for a procession after the service as the body was usually buried in the cemetery adjoining the church.
In ancient Greece, funeral processions were held before dawn and included hired pallbearers, relatives, friends and colleagues of the deceased.
In Ancient Rome, funeral processions were different depending on the status and standing of the deceased. Ordinary people were given a quiet and simple funeral procession while the wealthy and famous had processions which were loud, often included bands and performers and took hours if not days.
Often in the past, funeral processions were attended by mourners on foot, like the processions held in honour of members of the royal family in the UK. These days, the general western tradition is for a line of cars to follow behind the hearse between the service or church to the cemetery.
What is the procedure for a funeral procession?
If a procession is to take place, the funeral directors and assistants will explain the procedure to mourners. If you plan to be a part of a vehicle convoy behind the hearse, you may be asked to park your car in a certain area before the service.
After the service the cars taking part in the procession will file out of the carpark, bumper to bumper behind the hearse, which sets the speed of the procession, usually around 50 kilometers an hour.
When the funeral is over, the priest or celebrant, coffin and family will generally leave first. Family and closest friends of the deceased generally follow directly behind the hearse in the procession and they are then followed by other mourners.
Safety first in a funeral procession
In Australia it is illegal to interrupt or pass through a funeral procession and the respectful, as well as correct thing to do is to wait patiently for the procession to pass. Common sense should prevail and road rules should always be adhered to. If in doubt. Check the rules in your state, before taking part in the funeral procession. The funeral director will also provide guidance.
As a safety precaution, and a sign of respect, the first car in the procession, which may be the hearse or a dedicated lead car, will have its lights on. The car should have its hazard lights flashing and it may also be displaying white funeral flags. This will often be the case with the last car as well, to signal that the procession is over. Once the procession arrives at the cemetery, the cars peel off, leaving the hearse to park closest to the burial plot. At that point the other vehicles may find their way to a car park and mourners join the rest of the group at the graveside.
Attending the funeral of a close family member or friend can be a distressing and harrowing experience. Leaning on each other for support can help get you through a sad day, but remember the funeral directors are also there to make sure the day runs smoothly and the mourners are well looked after.
McCartney Family Funerals are on hand to help, if you find yourself in a situation where you have to plan a funeral and you live in south-east Queensland. They can also help you pre-plan your own funeral if you want to take the hassle, stress and expense away from your family. Call them on 1300 916 102 or the visit website at http://www.mccartneyfunerals.com.au.