QUAERITUR: In what color are priests to be buried?

From a priest:

Fr. Z.

Do you know what the traditional color chasuble is for priests to be buried in (i.e. not necessarily what is done now, but what was most often done in the past)? 

I need to write out my will and funeral directions for the chancery files and want to be sure to do things right!

Priests are traditionally buried in purple.

According to the old Rituale Romanum clerics should be dressed if possible in cassock and the apparel appropriate to his rank also with the tonsure and biretta.  

13. Sacerdos quidem super talarem vestem, amictu, alba, cingulo, manipulo, stola et casula seu planeta coloris violacei sit indutus.  [Titulus VII, Caput I De exequiis]

Priests usually vest the body.

For my part, I have a purple Roman planeta (Italian pianeta) given to me years ago which will be my burial vestment.  It is not usable for Mass, in my opinion, because it had been left exposed to the sun for a while, so the back is badly faded in part.  But it is otherwise in perfectly good shape.

So… priests should do everyone a favor set aside the proper garb against the time.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Bosco Peters says:

    Is the tradition continuing of facing lay people East at the funeral and in burying,
    and clergy West?
    In New Zealand more recently, burying East-facing for laity is dying.


  2. sekman says:

    Traditionally for the funeral the head of clergy is closest to the altar were as the lay people it is feet towards the altar.

  3. I recently was speaking to a priest about this very topic and he was saying rather vehemently that the Holy Father is buried in red (this I know is true), Cardinals in violet, Bishops in green and priests in white. If priests are buried in violet could you please expound on what higher ranking clergy are buried in as well.

  4. Geoffrey says:

    Interesting about the tonsure. Was this allowed to “grow in” at some point in the priest’s life and then reshaven at death?

  5. Father Totton says:

    REGARDIng position of priest’s body at the Requiem Mass – it was explained to me that his custom (priest with head closest to altar) long predates Masses celebrated versus populum (though everyone nowadays assumes it is becasue the priest stands behind the altar) and that it is significant of hte fact that the priest, on judgment day, will be liable to the judgment of hte faithful he was called to serve, whereas the layman will be liable to the judgment of God.

    I am glad to know that a priest should be buried in a violet chasuble (I hadn’t known that before – I was going to request a black stole over my surplice!). I have such a chasuble among my own possessions, and I will have to stipulate it in my will. In the meantime, I use this chasuble during Advent and Lent. I can only hope that such request is honored after my death.

  6. Father Totton says:

    Geoffery, God had given me tonsure before I was ever ordained a deacon – at 27! He has done the same for many priests!

    I cannot say I have ever seen a freshly shaved tonsure on the head of a corpse. But then, I have not been to too many priests’ funerals.

  7. Father Totton says:

    Is the Biretta mounted on the head of the priest or is it simply sitting in the casket on top of the body? Just curious. Shouldn’t there also be a biretta placed on top of the pall during the Requiem Mass?

  8. “Interesting about the tonsure. Was this allowed to “grow in” at some point in the priest’s life and then reshaven at death?”


    Before the tonsure was abolished all together, it was not worn in the English speaking world as a result of the custom dating back to the time of the penal laws in England.

    In the movie “The Cardinal” (not the best source, I know, but bear with me), you see the tonsure on the priests in Rome, including the Americans, but not on the priests in the U.S.

  9. Keeping the tonsure wasn’t the practice in the United States.

  10. Mitchell says:

    Fr. Z and others,

    Is there any similar traditions for Deacons?

  11. Father Totton says:

    Mitchell should be careful, lest you rekindle the fire of discontent over the permanent diaconate – in the older form of the Mass, Deacons rarely died until after they were ordained priests. But I suppose it would be safe to assume that they would be buried in the same vestments which they would have worn at a Solemn Mass – alb, stole, maniple, dalmatic and biretta. Am I right?

  12. Fr. BJ says:

    Fr. Totton:

    I am going to stipulate that at least the celebrant wear a black chasuble, and that he can wear mine if necessary (hopefully by the time I die, black chasubles will be more common and our Cathedral will have one… a set even… but just in case, they can use mine). I am also asking that the Dies Irae be chanted. (I have deemed it imprudent at this point to request that the Mozart Requiem be used!!!) Like you, I hope that my wishes will be granted.

  13. Bailey Walker says:

    Once upon a time Dominican priests were dressed in the Habit and Cappa with a violet stole. I’m not sure whether or not that is still the custom or what the custom for other Religious priests might be. An interesting field for inquiry, I would think.

  14. Steve says:

    When my brother died 21 years ago he was buried in violet vestments, crucifix in his hands and no biretta. However, I saw others whose biretta were laid at their feet, on their ankles. Even the late Cardinal Krol’s red biretta was laid at his feet. Since then, Archdiocesan priests of Philadelphia are buried in white.

  15. Steve says:

    At one time the Oblates of Saint Francis deSales custom was to have the coffin open at the funeral of one of their members. Since the change in the Catholic funeral liturgy the coffin is now closed and ther Pall placed over it. However, would that not be a duplication of symbols since the alb represents the Baprismal garb as does the Pall. I believe traditions of Orders and/or Congregations whould be left to continue and allow the OSFS to keep the coffins open.

  16. dcs says:

    the Holy Father is buried in red

    This may date back to the time when the Papal Mass had only two liturgical colors: white and red.

  17. A Random Friar says:

    Our province’s friars continue to be buried in full habit (i.e., with cappa), and the ordained friars with their respective stole (diaconal or sacerdotal). The color is not mandated in our rules, but it is still generally purple (I don’t remember another one offhand, but if for some reason a friar requested white, say, I don’t imagine it’d be denied). Custom may vary from province to province, but that is still the general observance.

    The full habit and stole is our traditional preaching vestment (not celebrating), so it makes sense for an Order of Preacher.

  18. Hmm…somewhere I was told a priest is buried in the vestments he wears for his first Mass, and that was my plan…they are white.

  19. Chris says:

    My will says I am to be buried naked, in the spirit of Job ‘Naked I came and naked I return’. The coffin will not be open!

  20. Michael Garner says:

    From the amazing Nainfa’s “Costume of Prelates of the Catholic Church”

    (This should resolve a lot of the questions asked and thought everyone might find this of interest)

    The law of the Church is that a dead ecclesiastic should
    be laid out vested in the insignia of the office or dignity
    which he held while living; but this principle must be
    rightly understood.
    As the priestly or episcopal character is what is the
    most important in the person of an ecclesiastic, and, according
    to the teaching of the Church, is destined to last
    forever, the law is that the body of a dead priest or
    Bishop should be dressed in his sacerdotal or episcopal
    vestments. There are indeed exceptions, but, in this case,
    they can be said to confirm the rule. By sacerdotal or
    episcopal vestments, we mean such ornaments as the
    Prelate or priest should put on while preparing for the
    celebration of solemn High Mass, which is the greatest
    act that a Prelate or priest can perform.

      These vestments should be of purple color.

    the body of a deceased priest will be vested in his ordinary
    cassock; amice, alb, cingulum; purple maniple, stole
    and chasuble; shoes will be put on his feet, and the
    biretta on his head. A prevailing abuse consists in placing
    a naked chalice between the clasped hands of the deceased;
    this is indeed a touching symbol, but such practice
    should not be retained ; the chalice being necessarily
    placed perpendicular to the body, such a disposition looks
    very awkward and unnatural; and, moreover, it is opposed
    to the spirit of the Church to expose sacred vessels —
    especially the chalice — to the public gaze; finally, the
    Church directs that a crucifix should be placed between
    the hands of the deceased ecclesiastic.
    When a Cardinal dies in Rome, his body is laid out
    vested in the choir dress which Cardinals usually wear
    while in Rome ; but, if the Cardinal is, at the same time, a
    residential Bishop and dies outside of Rome, the regulations
    to be followed in laying out his remains are the
    same as for an ordinary Bishop.
    When the Bishop has breathed his last and his body
    has been properly embalmed, his attendants vest him in
    his mourning choir cassock — black, trimmed in purple,
    for an Archbishop or a Bishop; purple, trimmed in scarlet,
    for a Cardinal. The train of the cassock should not be
    unfolded, for this is regarded as a sign of jurisdiction, and
    all jurisdiction ceases at the death of the Prelate. Over the
    cassock, they put the cincture — black for a Bishop, purple
    for a Cardinal — and the rochet. They then vest the Prelate
    in his pontificals of purple — stockings and sandals,
    amice, alb, cingulum, pectoral cross without relics, stole,
    tunic and dalmatic, gloves, chasuble and maniple. On the
    fourth finger of the right hand they put the ring, clasp his
    hands on his breast and place between them a crucifix,
    tying them with a purple silk ribbon to hold them in
    place, if necessary.
    If the Prelate was a Metropolitan — or otherwise entitled
    to wear the pallium — they place the pallium over
    his shoulders, if he is laid out within the limits of his
    territorial jurisdiction; if outside, the pallium should be
    placed under his head. If he has been the incumbent of
    several archbishoprics, the palliums of his previous sees
    should also be placed under his head.
    The crosier, as being the main sign of jurisdiction,
    should not be placed in the dead Prelate’s hands, or alongside
    of his body, or even in the room where the remains
    are laid out.
    On his head, the attendants place the skull-cap — red or
    purple — and the simple mitre of white silk. At the foot
    of the bier they hang the pontifical hat, red for a Cardinal,
    green for an Archbishop or a Bishop.
    The room where the body of the Prelate is laid out
    should be furnished with chairs or benches, so as to
    accommodate the clergy, who ought to recite there the ”
    Office of the Dead.”
    A crucifix, between two lighted candles, is placed on a
    credence-table, with a black stole and a black cope, the
    holy-water vessel and the censer.
    It would be proper also to erect a temporary altar, so
    as to have Masses celebrated in the room. Requiem Masses ”
    in die obitus” may be celebrated there for the deceased
    Prelate, as long as the body remains exposed, except if the
    day is a “double of first class,” or excluding the celebration
    of a feast of first class.
    The clergy recite the Office of the Dead, and, at the end
    of each Nocturn, of Lauds, and of Vespers, the senior
    member of the clergy puts on the stole and the cope and
    gives the absolution.
    The coffin should be lined in purple, and, on its lid, a
    metallic plate should bear engraved the name and coat-of-
    arms of the Prelate, with the date of his death.
    The practice, which is in vogue in some parts of the
    country, to veil or drape in black the throne of the departed
    Bishop, should be abandoned. The throne should
    be hung in purple and used by the presiding Prelate, if
    this is a Cardinal or the Metropolitan of the deceased
    Bishop. The practice of veiling the throne and leaving it
    unoccupied is an old French importation, and, as such,
    opposed by decrees of the plenary councils of Baltimore,
    which prohibit any foreign customs from being introduced
    into the liturgy of this country.
    The remains of Prelates inferior to Bishops are laid out
    vested in the purple cassock and priestly vestments. If
    the dead Prelate had the privilege of the pontificals — as is
    the case for Protonotaries Apostolic — he may be vested in
    his pontificals; but the mitre should not be put on his
    head ; his proper headdress is the prelatial biretta.
    After tbe burial of a Cardinal, or of a Bishop, his pontifical
    hat is suspended to the ceiling of the church, above
    the place where the body is interred. *

  21. Michael Garner says:

    Keep in mind that this has the old laws of wearing different colored cassocks, piping, &c. as opposed to the normal colored cassocks that corresponds to their rank because of mourning.

  22. kelly says:

    Ah-ha :P I have a feeling it will continue to be “exposed to the sun” for a very very long time, dear father… ;) When we finally meet up, it’ll be white…I’ll be like “Hey, where’s that purple outfit you had on?” :P

    Here’s to being exposed to the sun :)…er, Son….

  23. Father John Horgan says:

    In some countries, young priests who died were buried in white vestments in the 1920s and earlier (I have seen photographs of this). In Belgium, it was customary for the priest to have a small chalice with wine and water in it, sealed under a layer of wax, and an unconsecrated host on a paten. These were seen as symbolic of the priest’s earthly ministry and the “offertory gifts” that he brought with him for the Eternal Liturgy of Paradise. — a lovely, symbolic custom.

    For the funeral Mass, when the coffin is closed, the “traddy priests” that I have known have chosen to have a biretta atop their caskets, with a purple stole beneath it, extended to full length, and a large crucifix at chest level. Strictly speaking, there should be no pall underneath these articles, since the priest’s alb takes its place. But it is often not possible to do without it in certain dioceses.

    One thing I have specified in my will, is the following: “I ask that all of my priest friends, if possible, celebrate an individual Mass in the presence of my body in the day(s) preceding my burial. For these private Masses, I would like my casket to be turned toward the altar, and the lid left open, as a sign of my participation in these prayers of suffrage and a last opportunity for physical communion with my priest friends. I hope that a number of these Masses will be celebrated in the Tridentine Rite, others according to the New Rite in Latin, as well as English. I hasten to ask my brethren to offer the Holy Sacrifice in the rite and language that will be most conducive to their prayer; this is the greatest act of charity I can ask of them.”

  24. Joe says:

    I’ve never seen anything other than a Priest vested in white, corresponding to the vestments of the Priests celebrating the Mass. Purple might have been traditional, but could this simply have been an offshoot of the fact that purple was a color for a Funeral Mass? I would think that a Priest should be vested in the color generally used in his milieu for a Mass of the Resurrection, which in my experience is generally white.

  25. Michael-John says:

    Father, I wonder what you meant by the statement above, “Mitchell should be careful, lest you rekindle the fire of discontent over the permanent diaconate”. I don’t understand. Can you elaborate? Thank you!

  26. dcs says:

    could this simply have been an offshoot of the fact that purple was a color for a Funeral Mass?

    Black was (is) the proper color for a Requiem Mass.

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