QUAERITUR: Black pall for caskets in the Novus Ordo?

A question via e-mail:

With the common occurrence of white vestments at funerals and a corresponding color funeral pall, I wondered about the practice of a black funeral pall for the OF. While black vestments can be used for funerals in the OF, can the funeral pall also be black as it was in the EF? Is the connection between the white funeral pall and the white garment worn at baptism something that might prevent the use of a black funeral pall?


Yes… we must remember that before the post-Conciliar innovations the pall, if one was used, was always black, as were the draperies for a catafalque.

I do not believe in the new rite the color of the pall is prescribed.  I have seen various palls, most white, but some of other colors, of elaborate fabrics, brocade, etc. 

The idea behind white is that the last "clothing" of the body echoes the first "clothing" with the white baptismal garment in the rite of baptism. 

However, I haven’t seen anywhere – maybe I simply missed it – anything that prescribes that the color of the pall must be white in the Novus Ordo.

I assume a black pall could be used in the newer funeral rites.

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  1. CarpeNoctem says:

    Three things–

    1. I have a 1971 edition of the funeral rites by Liturgical Press which says (as part of the introductory rites), “A white pall, in rememberance of the baptismal garment, may then be placed on the coffin by pallbearers or others, and the priest may say these or similar words: ‘On the day of his/her baptism, N. put on Christ. In the day of Christ’s coming, may he/she be clothed with glory.'” I don’t have my current funeral book with me, but I don’t remember anything about the pall being written, except that one is (or perhaps ‘may be’) used. I have always included this 1971 prayer when greeting the casket under the rubric of ‘placing Christian symbols’ which is found elsewhere in the text (an appendix, I think) and has some reccommended prayers for placing a crucifix, a Book of Gospels, etc. While I don’t remember any specification in the 1989 ritual for the pall, either, I would think it is presumed white by previous practice (1971) and I, personally, would not be comfortable messing with it.

    2. I notice that a pall is was not used at the pope’s funeral and at a number of other high-profile contemporary funerals, particularly with blog-photos coming from Europe. It would seem that the pall is not at all necessary in the current ritual.

    3. I am not able to find a current edition of the Ordo Exsequiarum through the usual sources (paxbook). Anyone have a lead on where to obtain one? I’d like to know how gerrymandered the 1989 English/USCCB edition really is.

    In all, it looks like a large number of Catholic elements harkening to the venerable Requiem Mass were lost from 1971 to 1989. I’d say the funeral litugy is especially ripe for some ‘cross-polination’ with the EF.

    I, myself, when I re-write my funeral plan, am going to request an EF Requiem Mass, if it is at all possible (finding a competent priest, having all the ‘stuff’ available to do the rite, having a schola that knows what they are doing, etc).

  2. Since I am a Chinese, I always prefer to use Black Vestments for Funeral of adults. When I use Black Vestments I usually use the Black Funeral Pall as well. I got my Vestments and Pall from: paxhouse.com

    I had received very positive comments from Italian catholics who attended the funeral Mass I celebrated. They said that using black is very respectful. I think we should mourn with those who mourn. And a sign of this is to dress in black at funeral. Quite often, I would bring that idea up during the sermon at funeral: saying Black Vestments is a sign that the Church mourns with us. But I also point out the gold or silver orphery banding & vesica as a symbol of our hope of Heaven & Resurrection.

  3. ED says:

    Luv the way you guys play along with the Novus Ordo establishment ,everything they have done was done to undermine TRADITION and tradition and watered down the faith . All these guys ever wanted to be was Protestants but didnt have the guts to leave the church.

  4. John says:

    My understanding is that in the West black [and violet] were penitential colours, signs of the sins of deceased from the consequences of which requiem rites plead release for the departed.
    Black in the West, too, is the colour of mourning [IIRC, it is white in China, and I am not sure if at one time there was some dispensation there — anyone know?]

    The Funeral pall, or hearse-cloth, like so many vestments, had a purely practical purpose,to cover the uncoffined dead corpse, sometimes on a catafalque or a wheeeled bier with hoops to keep it clear of the corpse itself, wrapped in its winding-sheet or shroud, and later over the common parish coffin.
    But the pall was normally the property of the parish church or the fraternity or burial club, used for rich and poor alike.
    Only rarely might the very very rich have a pall specially made, and then often left them to the church of the funeral for general use.
    When coffins became the norm, the funeral pall continued in use.
    As funeral undertakers from the 18th century onwards began to take increasing responsibility for all practical aspects of a funeral they would a would also supply the funeral pall the church demanded be used.
    They would also supply palls in different grades dependent on the pocket of the client.
    Ultimately undertakers persuaded clients not to use a pall [by not offering one], because they wanted the coffin, their best advert, to be seen by people.
    Now, in the UK at least, you have to ask for a pall, unless the church has one and insists on its use.

    Graded palls and naked coffins, to me, undermine the chief meaning of the pall used for rich and poor alike: that under God we are all equal in death, all equally in need of his mercy.

    Symbols of the Christian’s life,beliefs, or responsibilities when used should be placed, surely, on top of the funeral pall.
    Such will vary: crown for kings, biretta and stole for clerics, book of the Gospels and crucifix for ther baptized,for example.
    Only one, I think, would appropriately replace the pall – the use of a national flag for someone in the forces – again, it makes no distinction between private and general, A.B.seaman and Admiral.

    As for the use of white at funerals to symbolise hope in the Resurrection, surely this is best symbolised by the generous use of gold, or silver, or white orphreys on the vestments, and in particular, the great cross on the funeral pall, conquering, as it were, the black ground of sin beneath.

    Of course, I continue to support the use of white and Mass of the Angels for those dying before the age of seven. But using white for adult funerals smacks to me of instant “canonization” – akin to confirming the assumption of many Protestant denominations that prayer for the departed is superflous. assuming that at the moment of death the deceased is in the presence of the blessed, and to confirming the folk belief that “daddy is now an angel”.

    China, I believe, and any other culture where white is the colour of mourning or unlucky would appear to be special cases.

    Just my twopennorth,
    John UK

  5. John says:

    Whilst posting my previous comment, I notice that Father Ho has also commented specifiacally as a Chinese. It would be good, father, if you could correct my assumptions about the Chinese and white.
    Thank you,
    John UK

  6. Fr. Bryan J. B. Pedersen says:

    I have a copy of the Ordo Exsequiarum from the new Roman Ritual, and I have not been able to find reference to any kind of pall at all in the Latin text. In regard to its usage in Ordinary Form Funerals in English Speaking countries this appears to be a local adaptation which the Ordo Exsequiarum allows local regions to make. According to the rubrics of the Order for Christian Funerals if a pall is used in the ordinary form it should be predominantly white. Here is an example where a theological idea distinct from the extraordinary form funeral rite has been incorporated into a reformed liturgical rite. I.E. that of the Baptismal Garment analogy – this is also a local adaptation and not a universal one. I am not sure if that was the same idea in operation for the black pall in the extraordinary usage. The black pall was a symbol of mourning and death. I believe it was also the custom to allow other symbols of death to be on the black pall such as the skull and cross bones. So in the reform there is a change, in the universal rite for no pall, and in the local adaptation in English Speaking countries for a white pall. It should also be remembered that in the Ordo Exsequiarum, which was one of the first parts of the reform of the ritual, the original change in regard to vestment color was a strong recommendation for purple with an allowance for black. The editio typica of the Ordo Exsequiarum does not allow white vestments save for the funerals of children. In the U.S. and other English speaking countries permission was sought and granted to allow white in addition to black. The preference of the editio typica in the new ritual is for purple. It should be also noted that the Ordo Exsequiarum itself asks Bishops Conferences to adapt the rite for their countries. In other words local adaptation through lawful means is expressly asked for in the editio typica and this is what accounts for the presence of a white pall and the allowance of white vestments in English Speaking Countries at least. Since the liturgical practice of English Speaking Countries has gained a foothold around the world I would not be surprised in many other regions also allow for a white pall. I doubt that any of them allow a purple or black pall in the ordinary form.

  7. Aquino says:

    In my home parish in the northern UK, a white pall (which simply looks like St George’s Cross) is usually used nowadays – replacing the black pall we used to use when I was a youngster there. As a family, we requested the white pall/St George’s Cross not be used at our late Father’s Requiem and that the bare, simple yet dignified coffin be left uncovered.

    In the parish where I now live, we’ve been through the St Goerge’s Cross pall, but our last parish priest reintroduced the black pall, which is very much appreciated by parishioners. I hear the new PP wants to buy (at significant expense) a new white pall (the St George’s Cross having disappeared) “because some people have asked for it”. I doubt the last statement – it’s not that sort of parish – but, hey, the PP is king.

    So, there we have it – white and black have been and are used.

  8. Geoffrey says:

    According to “The Church Visible” by James-Charles Noonan (p. 408):

    “The second use of the term pall is applied to the covering, used at burial, that is placed over the casket of the deceased. In the United States, the preferred color is white, with emblems matching the vestments of the priests. In other countries, black or violet is still in use. In some European nations, the emblem of the deceased’s family, such as their heraldic device, is emblazoned upon white cloth.”

  9. sekman says:

    I do know of a priest who uses a black pall for N.O. funerals, weather it is permissible or not I am not sure.

  10. Steve says:

    None of the coffins for Popes Paul VI, John Paul I nor John Paul II were covered with the funeral pall. I remember being in Liturgy class when this was pointed out to us after Pope Paul VI’s funeral Mass. The professor said that he noticed that there was no pall on the coffin to which I responded “That’s because Paul was IN the coffin” which brought about an outburst of laughter. I went onto explain that I thought it was OK not to have one since the PPVI was vested with an alb it would have been a duplication of symbols since the alb also symbolized the white Baptismal garment we all received at our Baptisms. The professor said he hadn’t thought of it that way but I had the right idea.

  11. Fr. Scott Bailey, C.Ss.R. says:

    The use of the funeral pall as a ceremonial aspect of the rite is, I believe, an American innovation and part of the break of liturgical continuity so loved by the American Church after VII. Only in the earlier editions of the Rite of Christian Burial does one find the ceremony for “clothing” the casket with a pall.” Along with the innovation is the connection of the pall with the white garment of baptism. In the current American adition of the Rite of Christian Funerals that ceremony has been abrogated and the pall is simply unfolded and laid over the casket in silence.

    John (above) gives an accurate history of the use of the funeral pall. It was not a liturgical requirement and was not connected with any ceremony. It was used to cover a shrouded corpse and add dignity to the rites in a day when coffins were not used nor were corpese dressed in clothing but rather wrapped in shrouds.

    I think to equate the pall with the white garment of baptism presents a problem. The white garment put on at baptism represents Christ. It is a sacramental sign that in baptism, as St Paul tells us, we have put on Christ. And having put on Christ, we do not re-clothe ourselves with Christ. We wear Him always. Thus to say the white pall is a clothing in the baptismal garment implies that somehow Christ can be put on and off which we know is not possible given the ontological nature of Baptism. It seems to me that in the search for innovations newness won out over thought and deliberation. I think it would be better to use a black or violet pall.

    However, in the USA, the rubric in the Order of Christian Funerals (OF) does direct that if a pall is used it should be predominantly white. Thus, obedience demands the use of white. But, there is no rubric that demands the use of a pall so it may be dispensed with altogether unless the casket is not suitable.

  12. In response to John’s comment, both black & white are mourning colors for the Chinese. But in the Church, white is the liturgical color of joy. That’s why I prefer black at funeral.

  13. Martin says:

    I’m not sure from reading the previous comments that the use of a pall is now or has previously been a normal custom for Catholic burials. Personally, I have never seen a pall used. Not before the new rites for funerals was introduced when my grandparents died in the 1950’s,and a couple of great-uncles and aunts in the 1960’s nor afterward when my parents died in the 1980’s or the many other Catholic funerals I have attended as well. I live in Canada so perhaps the custom just never made it to my little part of the world!

  14. Mike says:

    So, is there such a thing (as in “can be done, today”) as an EF Funeral Mass? Or is the OF Funeral Mass (Rite of Christian Burial?) the only canonically-legal option?

  15. Martin, the custom of using the funeral pall is not now universal now nor was it ever. The United States version of the Rite of Christian Burial did make provision for the use of the funeral pall. This was not part of the Editio Typica but a provision made for the United States. This rite has been abrogated and replaced with the Order of Christian Funerals which does not require the use of a funeral pall nor does it forbid its use.

    Mike, there is such a thing as an EF Funeral Mass and it is a canonically legal option at least since the promulgation of Summorum Pontificum. The entire rite (Mass and Burial) is carried out according to the liturgical books in force in 1962.

  16. Mike: So, is there such a thing (as in “can be done, today”) as an EF Funeral Mass?

    Certainly. Our TLM community has a acquired black vestments and a black pall for use when needed for this purpose.

    And, incidentally, this past April 2, I attended a solemn high Requiem Mass for John Paul II (on his 3rd anniversary) conducted by the FSSP at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament (Mother Angelica\’s) in Alabama. It being an EF Mass for the dead, there was of course no sermon at the usual point; indeed, no word in the vernacular either read, said, or sung during Mass proper.

    But after the Mass and before the blessing at the black catafalque topped with papal red, the celebrant removed his chasuble and donned the black cope hanging in the sanctuary, lit candle on one side, processional cross on the other side, signifying the deceased pontiff, and mounted the pulpit for his \”tribute\”, which never until the last two sentences mentioned the deceased, instead outlined why the solemn Requiem Mass is the most impressive (and expressive) of all Catholic liturgies, dealing directly as it does with death as the wages of sin — after which each of us can expect judgment followed by either purgatory or hell — with the sole and undiluted purpose throughout of offering sacrifice for the repose of the soul of the deceased. He ended by saying (very closely, as I recall):

    \”Perhaps someday we will be privileged to pray to John Paul as Blessed. But today we pray instead for the repose of his soul, that he may in time be permitted to join the ranks of the blesseds.\”

    Afterwards, there was some discussion why this Mass had not been televised by EWTN — there being do many JP II devotees worldwide who surely would have wanted to see it. Someone conjectured that it was considered just too hardcore Catholic, that even the post Summorum Pontificum world might not yet be ready for a traditional requiem Mass for the Dead to be seen in public view on television.

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